Alumnus Among Us: A Word with Northeastern’s VP of Alumni Relations, Rick Davis

After two decades of being the Director of Alumni Enrichment Programs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Rick Davis was hired by Northeastern in May 2015. Accredited with several cutting-edge programs at UNC Chapel Hill, Davis is hard at work keeping up Northeastern’s good name and history of greatness while creating intriguing alumni opportunities for the upcoming generations at his new university up north. It hasn’t taken Rick Davis long to settle into his new digs. Alumni Relations runs through Davis’s blood and with Northeastern’s already world-renowned reputation in one of the world’s greatest cities, Davis is happy to spend his time living and working near The Fenway, a place like no other. Welcome to Boston, Mr. Davis.

You are now VP of Alumni Relations at Northeastern University. What does that entail and how does that differ from your previous work at UNC Chapel Hill?
At UNC I was Director of Enrichment Programs and served in a variety of roles within that capacity. At Northeastern, I am serving as Vice President for the University and Alumni Relations. What that entails is I stand to deliver programs that engage in global opportunities for more than 230,000 alumni all over the world. There are a variety of different ways that we do that, but that is my present position and my social function at Northeastern University.

Why did you choose to work in Boston? Looking at your resúmé it seems as though you’ve spent much of your time down south, specifically in North Carolina.
Northeastern reached out to me. During my 20-year career I had a few offers from a few other schools, but they just weren’t the right fit. I’m very much in touch with the universities and colleges around the country. Northeastern has a very, very unique tradition. It has a co-op and entrepreneur core and brand that sends a synergy across the university. No matter what class you’re in, you are always in a position to really try and create your own business model and be as innovative and forward-thinking as possible. And that speaks for the larger Boston scene. I’ve lived in New York a good deal in my tenure and that’s part of the reason of why I came to Boston and Northeastern. Boston supports Northeastern, if you will. It’s sort of the Silicon Valley of the East.

And then why The Fenway neighborhood?
As much as I looked around Boston, I really wanted to give some careful thought and consideration to where I was actually going to live. Every corner of Boston is fabulous. I’m a runner and I can actually run around the city’s circumference. But what I found was that The Fenway was what worked for me because it opens up. Other areas of town are quite dense, but The Fenway has this openness. Yet within two or three blocks I have everything I need. Also, I can actually walk to work. I thought The Fenway was extraordinarily attractive because I could actually lookout and see where I work. I can walk downstairs and go to Target. I can go across the street and go to the doctor. There’s a spin class two doors down. I can get a cup of coffee at Pavement.  

You’re coming in at an interesting time where things like technology used to be centered over the river in Cambridge, and even in the last year, there has been so much growth in the innovation sector in Northeastern’s backyard. Can you talk a little about that from Northeastern’s perspectiveespecially regarding the new businesses that are sprouting up around there?
Well, speaking from the entrepreneurial spirit that runs across the university, I see fingers and legs and a lot of venture capital and people responsible for people in classrooms in a variety of those types of businesses. All I can tell you from that front is that NASA just decided to put two of its new robots in Boston. They put one in MIT, and even though you would have thought they would have put the other out in California, they gave it to Northeastern. You expected that with MIT, but with Northeastern the government said that they liked our entrepreneurial approach and problem-plotting, decision-making to what we were doing in the engineering school.  

Have you had any big plans that you’ve started implementing here? Also, do you have notable alumni or board members you’re excited to work with in your new settings?
One thing that we’ve done in this short period of time is we have satellite Northeastern locations in Charlotte, North Carolina, Seattle, Silicon Valley and they just announced a Toronto location. So it’s been about 3 years since those happened and we worked very quickly to make sure that those graduates and those alumni, even though they don’t live in Boston, feel that they can participate without being in Boston specifically. We’ve built alumni programs with people all over the country and those are some of the highlights. We also just went very quickly with something that I’d done at UNC, which is build a larger lineage of career services.

On a lighter leveljust being new to the areaare there any local haunts that you like to frequent?
One of things you can do to be authentic is ask people what their favorite restaurants are. We always try to go to different parts of town, but I do find when you live in The Fenway area, you have so many great places one or two blocks away, so you rarely need to go anywhere else. So, in that regard the Citizen Public House sees me quite a bit and Basho sees me quite a bit. There’s also the new restaurant Tiger Mama, which is also fabulous. I’m almost skeptical to talk about Sweet Cheeks because I grew up in the South. Listen it’s great and I’ve been, but I have to tell you, I avoid that stuff only because I grew up on that stuff for so long. Also, there is nothing wrong with a Tasty Burger and Wahlburgers is great too.

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Rick is certainly making himself at home in the neighborhood. Any other spots he should hit?

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