If you mention the term "lost and found" around California State University, Northridge, these days, some campus officials will not immediately think of misplaced backpacks, forgotten books or dusty offices filled with odds and ends.
Instead, what may come to mind are "lost" alumni--more than 100,000 of them--whose whereabouts are unknown to campus officials, even after more than two years of trying to find them.
The hunt, however, may now become easier as CSUN begins benefitting from a $200,000 drive by the California State University system to locate missing graduates.
The statewide campaign began in May in Northern California, but it had not reached the San Fernando Valley until earlier this month when billboard, newspaper and television advertisements began appearing to get alumni to call the school.
An estimated 600,000 graduates of the state system are unaccounted for, said Lolita Beltramo, who organized the search for the CSU Statewide Alumni Council. University system officials want the alumni's home addresses "to reacquaint them with our educational system and to encourage them to use our resources," she said.
It's also easier to raise funds from people who can be contacted through the mail or over the phone, Beltramo acknowledged, although that prospect is "strictly long term and certainly not why we wanted to do this."
The campaign, which is using the slogan "One in a Million," is financed by a grant from the Menlo Park-based Hewlett Foundation and funds from the alumni council.
Betty Wallis, CSUN's director of alumni affairs, said the $200,000 grant "just covers the essentials"--advertising, promotional events and a toll-free telephone line that can be used by graduates who want to get in touch with their alma mater.
CSUN, however, is in no position to quibble about money, Wallis said.
Until 1984, when officials at the Northridge campus began the search for former students, school administrators had the home addresses of only 1,028 graduates and virtually no resources to conduct the hunt. Since then, about 85,000 former students have been located, and, in the last month, about 250 CSUN graduates have contacted the school after hearing about the drive to track them down, Wallis said.
"The tragedy is that nobody kept any records, so we've really had to start from scratch to find them," Wallis said. "You are technically a lost alumnus if the university has never contacted you or if you have never contacted the university since graduation."
To find the alumni, Wallis said, her office has been using simple means such as checking telephone books, relying on word of mouth and boasting about such well-known CSUN alumni as actresses Sally Fields, Debra Winger and Morgan Brittany.
The CSU-sponsored search will end in the fall and will be highlighted at CSUN on Oct. 25 when all alumni who graduated since the school opened in 1958 will be invited to a reception on campus.
CSUN officials say the school has about 200,000 alumni--graduates and students who took at least 12 credits.
Alumni donated less than $2,000 to the school last year, according to Wallis.