Dinner with a Dozen

Student Alumni Association program brings together alumni and students to break bread

Georgia State’s Student Alumni Association’s (SAA) Dinner with 12 Panthers is based on a simple idea: bring together local alumni, faculty and current students for a sit-down meal to meet, eat, converse and, ultimately, make Georgia State a smaller and friendlier place.

The dinners are the SAA’s most popular event. And the organization, with 2,250 members, is the largest student organization on campus.

The first dinners were held in 2011 when seven alumni hosted five dinners for 40 students. Brittany Hood (B.B.A. ‘13), now the student relations coordinator for the Alumni Association, was one of the first students to participate.

Jay Bernath_Hawksley

Diane Hawksley (B.B.A. ’95) and Jay Bernath (MBA ’92) have hosted a Dinner with 12 Panthers every year.

Hood remembers her first dinner, hosted by Brad (B.B.A. ’81) and Patricia (B.A. ’71, M.Ed. ’75) Ferrer. Brad Ferrer is executive vice president of finance and administration for CNN and a past-president of the Alumni Association. The Ferrers treated the students to dinner at 4th and Swift.

“Putting us around professionals like Mr. Ferrer was so beneficial,” Hood said. “We were getting firsthand looks at leaders in their respective industries.”

“It’s not every day that a student gets to eat in places like these,” Ferrer said.

The Ferrers also invited associate professors of finance Craig Ruff and Vikas Agarwal, and the four led the students in discussions about their career paths and choices.

“It was important that they had the chance to talk to us in a social setting,” Ferrer says. “The evenings were both full of conversation.”

This year, Hood paid it forward. She and fellow new graduate Mia Hawley (B.A. ‘13), business manager with the Alumni Association, co-hosted their very own dinner at the new Georgia State Alumni Center for juniors and seniors to discuss life after graduation and how students can better be prepared to pursue their careers.

“We enjoyed the dinners so much that we didn’t want to miss out on participating after graduation,” Hood says, laughing.

This spring, 34 alumni, faculty, staff and friends hosted 19 dinners — ranging from catered affairs to home-cooked fare — for more than 200 students.

Jay Bernath (MBA ’92), past-president of the Alumni Association, and Darlene Hawksley (B.B.A. ’95) have co-hosted a Dinner with 12 Panthers every year since its inception.

“I honestly believe we have more fun than the students,” Bernath said. “I love hearing about all the great things they are doing and what they have planned out for their futures. It’s also my opportunity to hear about the current things going on at Georgia State, and what better way to hear it than from the students themselves.”

Mia Hawley & Brittany Hood (2)

As students, Brittany Hood (B.B.A. ’13) (left) and Mia Hawley (B.A. ’13) attended a handful of Dinner with 12 Panthers. This year, the two co-hosted their own.

This spring, First Lady Laura Voisinet, hosted a dinner at her home in conjunction with the Women’s Philanthropy Initiative group. Voisinet invited 12 SAA students to dinner to meet the group and build connections.

“Not many students can say that they have had dinner at their University President’s home, but I can,” said student Andrew Steward. “It was my best experience thus far here at Georgia State.”