The Flying Jayhawks’ latest group of travelers took a cruise to experience the history of the Mediterranean. From October 7 to October 17, the 10-day adventure across Italy, France and Spain brought the Flying Jayhawks to 11 historical cities to experience their sights, sounds and culture. Danny Woods, assistant director of legacy and alumni programs, hosted the trip and shared his story of the trip.
We arrived in Rome to the best good news-bad news situation that could have possibly happened. The bad news: The ship wasn’t ready. The good news: The ship wasn’t ready. This could only mean one thing: a guided bus and walking tour of one of the most historically prominent cities in the world. The first stop was the elegant St. Paul’s Basilica. As we walked through the hallowed halls, we were transported into the pages of a Dan Brown novel. We spent the afternoon with a full drive around The Colosseum.
As we arrived at the ship it looked like a line to enter Allen Fieldhouse because of all the crimson and blue. However, no one in this line was entering the famed cathedral of basketball. Instead, this line of 44 Jayhawk faithful was geared up to board Oceania’s MS Riviera. The night was capped with a welcome reception where everyone officially met.
We arrived in the Port of Livorno and guests had the option to tour Florence, Pisa or Tuscany. Many of the guests traveled to the the picturesque landscapes of Cinque Terre. The excursion included views of the terraced cliffside homes that overlook the sea. We were able to explore three of the five villages.
Adventures in Italy continued as we arrived in Portofino. Upon entering this fishing village, you are greeted with views of vibrant colors that adorn the buildings lining the port. We were welcomed by local waiters offering an assortment of wines. An evening happy hour provided the Flying Jayhawks an opportunity to relax and get to know our fellow travelers.
The favored vacation spot of celebrities like Jay-z and Beyonce, Saint-Tropez, France, welcomed the flying Jayhawks with its very best! Jayhawks were able to chose between many day trips, including the walking tour Highlights of Saint-Tropez and the Peninsula of Hilltop villages. After the excursions Jayhawks had ample free time to explore the city that used to be a military stronghold.
Our first stop in Spain felt like we were walking through the set of Game of Thrones. Palamos felt like a town that has not changed in centuries. As you looked down you saw cobble stone streets, buildings covered with vinery and flags hanging over the streets strung between buildings.
Barcelona, or as it pronounced, “Barthelona”, did not disappoint. Most of the excursions included some aspect of the notable architecture that is seen throughout the city. This city epitomized the culture and energy of the Catalonian region of Spain. The buildings looked like something out of Alice in Wonderland. The pictures that the Flying Jayhawks took don’t even do the city justice. When the Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família came into view jaws dropped. Although construction of Sagrada Família started in 1882, the massive structure will not be completed until 2026. When we arrived back on the ship, a private reception was waiting for the KU travelers.
The Flying Jayhawks indulged in some of the best food the planet has to offer, paella. The traditional rice dish was created and perfected in Valencia. After fighting off the food coma we were able to zag our way through the streets and markets of Valencia, the third largest in Spain. The city was truly the intersection of urban contemporary and historic rustic.
Although short, our trip to Palma de Mallorca was incredible. Many of the Jayhawks took this day as a day of leisure while others took time to explore nearby underground caves. We may or may not have gotten in a little trouble for yelling Rock Chalk just to hear it echo in the cave.
Our last full on the trip. We arrived in Marseille, one of the largest ports in all of France. Many Jayhawks decided to take a journey to the home of Vincent van Gogh. (Now when I say home, I actually mean the mental institution he lived in!) As we returned to the ship it was group photo time!
The cruise director told us “You don’t gotta go home, but you sure can’t stay here.” As I disembarked and reminisced on the the trip I realized that over the last 10 days I met and got to spend time with so many great Jayhawks! I heard a thousand stories of KU past and present, ate some of the best food of my life and got to see locations that I couldn’t believe were real. Here’s to the next one!
Watch the slideshow below to see more pictures from the trip, or view the photos on Flickr. You can download photos for personal use. For more information about Flying Jayhawks trips, including a schedule, visit our website.
The pair of KU Alumni Association program staffers are looking at potential growth cities as part of their goal of unique and diverse programming across the nation. Their itinerary included visits to Atlanta, Portland, Seattle, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Phoenix, and New York City.
Kallail, d’04, l’07, and Woods, j’13, hosted a meeting at each stop to connect existing network leaders with new area volunteers. They introduced their plan for successful networks to the group, and then let the local alumni plan amongst themselves.
“We really want to empower all of the network leaders,” Woods said. “These leaders know their network way better than we ever could. We just want to give them the tools to build a successful network and let them run with it. This will ultimately help the network sustain and grow for years to come.”
One of the main goals of the network visits was to promote planning events in all of the five event buckets such as Rock Chalk Connect, which provides networking opportunities, and Rock Chalk Cultivate, which gives alumni the opportunity to learn a new skill—often from other Jayhawks.
“For our network moving forward, I would like to see the meeting’s enthusiasm to continue,” Brandon Snook, New York City network leader, said. “I want us to fully embrace the new event branding, which I love…especially KU Cares. It will be a great way for us to give back to the community, and strengthen our bonds in the process. I hope the new branding will be a springboard for our network board, and that everyone involved won’t be hesitant in popping out fresh new ideas for programming.”
Kallail and Woods also introduced a new structure for network leadership. Instead of traditional roles such as president, vice president, and treasurer, networks will have leaders who manage event buckets. “I like the concept of having a group with individuals focused on different areas of outreach for the Alumni Association,” Scott Lundgren, Portland network leader, said.
After the planning meeting, other local Jayhawks joined for a happy hour. Both Snook and fellow New York City network leader Kellie Johnson were pleased with their meeting. “We assembled a nice variety of people who seem enthusiastic to lead,” Snook said.
Wherever they went, Kallail and Woods were excited to see the networks’ turnout. Johnson has a theory why.
“I think KU alumni attend the events to keep that special connection alive. I’ve met several people from other schools who have noted that KU alumni are the most loyal they have ever met. One told me he doesn’t get involved with his alumni because he left nothing there – and when I asked him to clarify – he said it was clear all of us had left our hearts in Lawrence.”
When Nick Kallail and Danny Woods joined the Alumni Association as staff members in August 2016, their mission was simple: Grow the Association’s 59 national networks and connect more alumni with KU. Less than a year into their new roles, the two Jayhawks have found a distinct way to accomplish that.
Kallail, d’04, l’07, assistant vice president of alumni and career programs, and Woods, j’12, assistant director of legacy and alumni programs, developed a new volunteer support strategy that makes it easier for Jayhawks to volunteer their time and service and participate in alumni events across the country.
“We took everything that was already in place and put a brand on it,” says Woods.
That meant funneling popular alumni events like watch parties, networking breakfasts and community service projects into clear, concise categories, or “buckets.” They are:
A few of the more memorable events Kallail and Woods have organized in the past year include a KU vs. Iowa State men’s basketball watch party for 180 Jayhawks at the top of the Space Needle in Seattle and a toy drive in Tampa, Florida, that raised more than $2,000 in gifts for foster families.
New roles for volunteers
The two also created new designations for alumni volunteers who serve their networks. Instead of assigning traditional titles like president, vice president, treasurer and secretary, Kallail and Woods developed roles based on the volunteers’ primary responsibilities in their respective Jayhawk communities, including social media and event coordinators and admissions and legislative liaisons.
“We wanted to empower more people within the network,” says Woods.
Communication is key
Each alumni network maintains its own Facebook page to promote local events and share photos and updates. Network leaders also share a private Facebook page, which Kallail notes is a great way for networks to learn what other Jayhawks are doing across the country and discuss best practices for alumni engagement.
“I look at our network leaders as a family,” Kallail says. “They need to know each other and see what others are doing.”
Preparing future leaders
Also important to Kallail and Woods is preparing current KU students to become active alumni when they leave the Hill. The two meet regularly with the Student Alumni Leadership Board and other student groups in KU Admissions, Endowment and Athletics. They also are planning an event to introduce students to the Lawrence alumni network.
As evidenced by the enthusiastic turnouts and strong alumni response to events in the past few months, Kallail and Woods are confident they’re on the right track.
“This isn’t a new plan,” Kallail says. “The house was already built; we’re just tricking it out.”