Keeping international alumni connected to UB

Wei Loon Leong pictured outside on UB North Campus.

As director of international alumni engagement, Wei Loon Leong is responsible for 11 alumni chapters and as many as 26,000 alumni living overseas. Photo: Douglas Levere

Wei Loon Leong, MBA ’05, has the very big job of tracking UB alumni across a very big globe.

“The joke in the office is that someone is responsible for the alumni networks in the U.S. — and then I have the rest of the world,” cracks Leong. “I take it as a compliment.”

Leong, 41, was hired as director of international alumni engagement in 2013 to cultivate new opportunities for alumni development, fundraising, research, student recruitment and other university-sponsored programs by tapping into UB’s vast network of international alumni.

As many as 26,000 are on record as residing overseas. They include the secretary of the Department of Science and Technology in India; the minister of finance and human resource management of the state of Tamil Nadu in India; the co-founder of Baidu, China’s equivalent to Google; and the former minister of education in China.

Outside the U.S., the university has 11 alumni chapters. India has the most UB graduates, followed by China, Singapore, South Korea and Canada. The smallest is in the United Arab Emirates, where an alumni chapter started last year amid the pandemic.

It’s up to Leong to keep them all connected to UB.

On any given day, Leong is working his contacts and orchestrating philanthropic gifts. He’s asking alums to help recruit students, offer students career advice or provide them with experiential learning opportunities. He’s also fielding requests from alumni seeking assistance from UB.

“I see myself as a bridge builder, if you will,” Leong says. “We’re asking alumni for help, but we’re helping them, as well. It’s one of those things I see as a win-win for UB and our alumni.”

For Leong, the job is a balancing act between time zones.

An alumni event in Bangalore, India, following the commencement ceremony of the UB-Amrita master’s programs.

His day starts early, catching up on emails at home before heading to campus, where he’ll work with the various academic and administrative units to engage their alumni base overseas.

Then, when he’s home in the evening, his workday picks up again. That’s when he’s able to talk by phone or by Zoom to alums who are on the other side of the world and unavailable during the day because of the time difference.

Three times a year — fall, winter, spring — Leong makes a business trip overseas to meet with alumni in person, although that hasn’t happened since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Efforts have started to bear fruit, he says.

For example, he says, philanthropic giving from international alumni tends to remain at modest levels, considering the tough economy in many parts of the world. But, he adds, UB saw a 28% spike from international donors during the past fiscal year. That’s a significant increase, especially during a year affected by the pandemic, Leong says.

“I really want to make an impact because UB has made an impact on my life and my career,” he says.

A native of Malaysia, Leong graduated from UB with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 2003 and a master’s in business administration in 2005.

After graduation, he worked eight years in China, where he held management positions at an international school in Beijing and helped with the expansion of an American manufacturing operation.

All the while, he remained loyal to his alma mater. He served as a volunteer for the Office of International Education as its China liaison for student recruitment and alumni development. It was Leong’s way of giving back to UB and former Vice Provost for International Education Stephen Dunnett, who helped shape his life.

UB alumni in Singapore make an impact in their community during the COVID-19 pandemic by distributing care packages to residents in a lower-income area as part of the annual UB Alumni Month Day of Service.

So, Leong says, when the opportunity became available to “contribute to President Tripathi’s vision of advancing UB to greater success,” it was a natural decision for him to accept the job and return to his alma mater.

Leong now lives in Amherst with wife, Xiaoli, and daughter, Janice. He enjoys golf and the outdoors. This year, he took on added responsibilities as co-president of the PTA at Maple East Elementary, where his daughter attends.

As for his position at UB, the international role is still relatively new across higher education. In fact, it was a first for the university upon hiring Leong.

That’s why Leong occasionally will get an inquisitive response when he reaches out to an alum for the first time.

“What took you so long?” they ask.

Written by Jay Rey