A volunteer goes pro

J. Weili Cheng ’77 is the new director of the Association of Yale Alumni.

Julie Brown

Julie Brown

J. Weili Cheng ’77 officially becomes AYA executive director July 18, but she made the rounds during this year’s June reunions, checking in with alumni and rediscovering the campus. View full image

J. Weili Cheng ’77, the newly named executive director of the Association of Yale Alumni (AYA), really didn’t expect to go to Yale. Her father told her she’d go to the University of Hawaii, where he was a professor. But Cheng applied to Yale anyway, got in, and arrived in New Haven in 1973—early enough in Yale’s march toward coeducation that she vividly remembers having a hard time finding the women’s bathrooms. “They were in obscure locations,” she says, laughing. Even so, Cheng says she loved it from the start.

Although a lawyer by profession, Cheng says that for the last 35 years her second career has been as a Yale volunteer: as head of her class council, as an admissions interviewer, as president of the Yale Club of Washington, DC, as chair of the board of governors of the AYA, and as chair of the board of Yale Alumni Publications (which until recently published the Yale Alumni Magazine). “I think it is fantastic that, for the first time, we have an executive director who has been the volunteer leader of the AYA and thus had huge personal experience with alumni affairs at the university,” says former vice president Linda Koch Lorimer ’77JD. She is known for getting things done: “Weili always goes above and beyond,” says Jimmy Lu ’77, immediate past chair of the AYA board.

After graduating from Georgetown University Law Center in 1980, Cheng spent time in private practice, then in the US Department of Justice,  before joining Marriott International, Inc.; she eventually became senior vice president and deputy general counsel of Ritz Carlton Hotels, a Marriott subsidiary. 

In her new role, Cheng takes on management of the organization tasked with keeping Yale alumni engaged—through reunions, the annual Yale Day of Service, some 45 trips to more than 25 countries annually, and many other activities. “I like to think that I’m turning an avocation into a vocation,” she says of her new post; “my first priority is to listen.”

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