It's 8 a.m. on a Saturday and Kim Barfield is in the midst of two days of nonstop receptions, luncheons, speakers and reunion dinners.
More than 400 UTMB alumni and their guests have descended upon the San Luis Resort in Galveston for Homecoming Weekend—an October event that Barfield, assistant director of Alumni Relations and Annual Giving, and her team have been preparing for all year.
“Good morning, are you all checked in?” Barfield says as she smiles and greets a group of alumni who walk up to the registration table, which is set up in the hotel lobby.
She sifts through hundreds of nametags and explains that this year’s homecoming is honoring the 50th anniversary of the Class of 1967, as well as the classes of 1972, 1977, 1982, 1987, 1992, 1997, 2002 and 2007 from all four UTMB schools. Proud alumni have traveled from as far away as Anchorage, Alaska, for the festivities.
“It says a lot about the institution when the alumni are really proud of where they came from; UTMB has a pretty cool story, so our alumni are very passionate,” says Barfield. “There are so many facets to this weekend and it’s not just about our events and raising money—it’s also about building relationships. We want people to love UTMB so much that they want to stay connected— and it’s a home to them. When alumni arrived on campus this weekend, we told them ‘Welcome home!’ and they were all excited—a lot of them haven’t been here for a long time.”
Barfield took the lead on organizing the School of Medicine’s homecoming events, and tells me her role that day will be to act as the “home base” person—keeping the registration area going, answering questions and making sure everything runs smoothly. It’s obvious that Barfield has done this before. In fact, this is the 10th year she has helped coordinate homecoming and the myriad of events that come with it.
“It really is a team effort to pull this all off,” she says, pointing to her small team of Alumni Relations colleagues. “Between the six of us, there are so many different details to keep track of, from planning the agenda to promoting and managing RSVPs and making sure everything goes well during the actual events. I print everything out and put it in a binder to refer back to—it’s a ‘Kim’s mind in a binder’ kind of thing. But we all work together so well—it’s this crazy family dynamic and it just clicks.”
Barfield’s energy and enthusiasm is contagious. Several alumni are drawn to her outgoing personality and excitedly launch into stories about how UTMB was in the “old days.”
“It’s always fun to talk to doctors and their spouses about their days here at UTMB and how much it’s changed,” she says. “It was a different dynamic decades ago because there weren’t as many women in medical school. To see how it has changed over the years is amazing.”
By 10 a.m., the large crowd that had formed near the registration table disappeared into a conference room to hear UTMB President David Callender provide an update on the university. Barfield takes the rare opportunity to sit for a moment and describe her responsibilities outside of homecoming weekend.
“Homecoming is just one small part of my job. I see my role as part of a continuum, to build connections between students and alumni,” said Barfield. “I work closely with all our school alumni associations, the Student Government Association, and even helped establish a parent program that is very active. When everyone is engaged and supporting their alma mater by committing time and personal resources, UTMB can truly thrive.”
As Dr. Callender’s presentation ends, Barfield helps direct people upstairs to the President’s Luncheon, which will honor the class of ’67 and recognize distinguished alumni. Although she is in contact with thousands of alums each year, she recognizes many names and faces—and even gets some people involved in a friendly competition to get their friends to join the alumni association.
“We just started offering a challenge coin—much like the coins collected by military service members—to those who are currently in an alumni association and challenge another alumnus to join, as well,” says Barfield. “People have gotten pretty excited about it. And it’s a way for us to show our appreciation.
“We try to add a personal touch to everything we do and make sure everyone knows they are appreciated, whether they volunteer or give $5 or $500. Our assistant vice president (Kevin Haslam) is a big proponent of hand-written thank you letters—he has a massive pile of pens in his office.”
As the afternoon transitions into evening, the team members turn their focus to the Alumni Reception, which includes a cocktail hour and School of Medicine class photos. Barfield hands out signs with the various class years printed on them to help gather SOM alumni with their classmates. It’s a little chaotic at first, but Barfield is in her element, corralling the excited and distracted physicians, then taking the microphone to announce which classes will be first to have their photos taken.
“Kim is very detail-oriented, as you can see, and prepared for anything,” says Haslam. “We really have a blast. Our team is a bunch of really passionate people who genuinely care about each other and work tirelessly to make UTMB successful.”
Once all class photos have been taken and alumni and their guests have been escorted to their various dining locations, I say goodbye to Barfield. It’s going on 8 p.m., but she wants to stay “just to make sure” the night ends without a hitch.
As if the two days of events weren’t enough to tire a person out, I learn Barfield is getting married at the very same location—the San Luis Resort—the following weekend. She still has much to do to plan for that event, but it doesn’t faze her. As the mother of a 3-year-old and a self-professed Wizard of Oz fanatic, Barfield is happy to be right where she is, discovering her own path in life and enjoying the journey.
“You could say I’ve scoped the venue out pretty well,” she laughs. “It’s been a little overwhelming at times but I’d much rather be busy and feel challenged than be bored. A lesson I take to heart from the Wizard of Oz is when in doubt, look within. We are all more powerful than we think.”