Appetizers and Alumni: Lunch with the TIAA

By Jake Strickler, Editor-in-Chief

Days before the start of Foundations, with the click-clack sound of luggage being rolled along the sidewalks in the air as new students arriving from parts far-flung moved into their rooms, the executive leadership of the Thunderbird Independent Alumni Association (TIAA) assembled in the Tower conference room. The occasion: a luncheon with new and continuing members of the TIAA Scholars Program, along with members of the Thunderbird faculty and administration.

In the latter group were school CEO Allen Morrison, along with Professors Lena Booth and Glenn Fong, now Academic Director of the MAGAM program.

Courtesy TIAA.
Courtesy TIAA.

The continuing members of the Scholars Program in attendance were Dawson Law (MGM, Fall ’16), Brett Panitz (MGM, Fall ’16), Jake Strickler (MAGAM, Spring ’17), Ayse Ulgen (MGM, Spring’17), and Cedric Yumba (MGM, Fall ’16). Joining them were new students Belinda Chiu (MGM, ’17) and Sapphire Nguyen (MGM, ’17).

Representing the TIAA were Board Members Merle Hinrich (’65), Doug Deardorf (’84), Thomas Greer (’73), and Felipe Martinez (’03), as well as Executive Director Lenora Peppers Greene (’02) and Executive Assistant Jennifer Demoney. Also present was Ms. Nguyen’s alumnus sponsor Aara Picklesheimer (’82).

After rubbing shoulders and allowing the unacquainted to become acquainted, the group loaded up their plates from a buffet provided by the school’s catering service and took their seats around the table.

Mr. Hinrich first went around the table and asked all present to introduce themselves and describe the unique paths that brought them to Thunderbird. Said Ms. Ulgen of this experience, “It was certainly interesting to hear everyone’s stories of how they first heard about Thunderbird and how it transformed their lives and careers exponentially!”

Indeed, one of the pleasures of getting to know somebody at this school is learning about what brought them to it: no two stories are alike, yet all share that certain underlying something that pulled the individual toward Glendale, Arizona, like a magnetic force. I hesitate to overuse the “M” word, but this pull is the Mystique at work.

Next the attendees heard speeches from Misters Hinrich and Morrison. Both expressed excitement about the increased enrollment numbers for the term, and encouraged the students to make the absolute most of their time here.

Courtesy TIAA.
Courtesy TIAA.

Mr. Law reacted: “It was great to meet some amazing TIAA Board Members and see how close the TIAA relationship is with school administration.” For him the lunch proved, “how diverse and amazing our Thunderbird community is.”

Mr. Panitz echoed these comments: “It was great to sit down and chat with the Executive Team again, many of whom I first met at the 70th Anniversary celebration. It was also a pleasure to get to meet the new Scholars.”

Ms. Nguyen was thankful for such a pleasant introduction to the school and its community: “I feel truly blessed and honored to be a part of this organization. The luncheon was the perfect start to my Thunderbird journey.”

Following dessert, the group moved outside for photographs. Multiple generations of Thunderbirds posed together in front of the historic Tower building, a spot where countless such pictures have been taken in the past, and, due in large part to the love and respect that the alumni network has for the school, many more will likely be taken, long into the future.

Courtesy TIAA.
Courtesy TIAA.

The author can be reached at Note that current students can become members of the TIAA for free for the duration of their time at the school at And please read Mrs. Peppers Greene’s welcome letter, published in this edition, here.

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