Jim Vellas: Ford Fund alum gives time, advice

What happens after a UDM student graduates?

Do alumni leave Michigan for bigger and better places?

Is everyone given a commemorative coffee mug and sent on their way?

Are there passes given to take the secret elevator to the speak-easy at the top of the clock tower?

Maybe, but for Jim Vella, president of Ford Motor Company Fund, being a alumnus meant more than free elevator rides, coffee mugs and forgetting his alma mater.

"I owe a lot of my success, both personally and professionally, to my education here," said Vella. "I was able to build a strong, solid foundation and strengthen my moral compass, and that has guided me in both good times and

Vella attended the university from 1974-1978 and came back to finish his degree in communications in 1989. He has been working at Ford Motor Company for 23 years, but before Ford he worked at various news stations around the country.

Ford Motor Company Fund supports "not-for-profit organizations in three major areas: innovation and education, community development and American legacy, and auto-related safety education," and UDM is one of the many universities and organizations that Vella and Ford Motor Company Fund are working with.

Recently, Vella partnered up with Fr. Tim Hipskind at UDM.

"We are providing small financial grants to students who are willing to work with local non-profits on addressing community needs," he said. "Fr. Tim has launched this with great enthusiasm, and we are hoping to share what we learn here with students on other campuses."

Vella enjoys having as much contact with UDM students as his schedule will allow.

"I try to get back to campus three to four times a year," he said. "I try to share the experiences that shaped my life and career to hopefully help students think through their own challenges."

On campus recently for Alumni Week, Vella was surprised by the structure – the future fitness center – being erected next to the engineering building.

"I think it is an exciting time to be a student at UDM," he said. "There is an air of change in campus with the construction, and I am envious of the new student fitness and recreational center that is being constructed."

Vella said that the new building and the resurgence of the Titans basketball team have helped bolster school pride and created a very exciting campus with a positive future.

Though Vella serves on the boards of about a dozen non-profits, he holds his work with UDM in a special place.

He said that because the university helped forge his moral and educational foundations, "I hope to continue to reach out and help students build their foundations as well. Giving to others is one of the most important things we can do with our lives."