Shamaila Usmani graduated from the University of Minnesota 10 years ago, but never got involved as an alumna until Friday, when the Muslim Alumni Network hosted its first event.
Though the University Alumni Association regularly hosts events, the kickoff was a first for not only Usmani, but several other Muslim alumni. Dozens of attendees filled the basement of Masjid Al-Iman in Northeast Minneapolis Friday evening to network over refreshments and celebrate the launch of the affinity group.
The Muslim Alumni Network, the University’s first religious alumni affinity group, was founded in October by Rami Shaker, a 2017 graduate who saw a need for the resource in his community. At the alumni events he attended, Shaker said he noticed there were not many Muslim alumni present, so he created an avenue for Muslim alumni to come back and connect.
Despite finding significant interest in maintaining ties with the University, Shaker said that many did not attend alumni events because they were not sure whether they would know people there.
“I really want to see a lot more Muslim alumni involvement in alumni affairs, both in attending events and in the chances where alumni can speak,” Shaker said.
Alumni events feel big and less intimate, Usmani said, noting she received several invitations for them in the mail. For her, the Muslim Alumni Network provides a more personal environment to connect with other professionals.
“People want to connect in ways that are unique to them and of value to them,” said Steve Davis Jr., the University Alumni Association’s director of affinity engagement. “We think that it's very important as well, so we're trying to help to create those spaces so that communities can connect in the ways that they want to connect.”
The network is planning to host social events, resume workshops and other networking opportunities to provide support for alumni. There are also plans to collaborate with the Muslim Student Association in future events to help coordinate guest speakers.
He said he hopes the network can advise alumni and help them navigate workplace difficulties that are unique to Muslims, such as prayer accommodations. He found that many alumni had questions about how to work prayer into their work schedules and how to request those accommodations from employers.
“It’s hard to get real answers unless someone's already done it,” Shaker said.
The Muslim Alumni Network is one of ten alumni affinity groups.
Clarification: a previous version of this story incorrectly identified which entity created the new alumni group. It was created by the Alumni Association.