New Rutgers University Alumni Association (RUAA) Board Chair Gloria Vanderham—who has a quarter century of experience supporting the university—is energized to lead in her new role.

Gloria Vanderham was a junior in fall 1998 when she took charge of marketing and communications for the Rutgers University Dance Marathon, an annual fundraising event that began in New Brunswick in 1971 but discontinued in the late eighties.

The revived spring 1999 edition of the dance marathon, which she helped lead, proved a major success. It sent Vanderham RC’00, SCILS’00 to New York to appear on a Children’s Miracle Network broadcast to present an oversized check to a children’s hospital. “It was one of those moments where I couldn't imagine that as a college student that I would ever have the opportunity to be able to raise money in a way that was so meaningful and impactful,” she says.

Gloria Vanderham
Gloria Vanderham on the College Avenue campus in New Brunswick.
Anthony Grippa

This past spring, Vanderham spoke with student leaders and helped celebrate the 25th consecutive edition of the dance marathon, which has become the largest student-run philanthropy in the state and has raised more than $10 million since she helped revive it

Her experience in helping lead the dance marathon revival is just one in a long line of activities supporting Rutgers’ programs for Vanderham, a healthcare communications professional who has served in senior corporate roles before founding and becoming CEO of Bliss Bio Health, a life sciences marketing and communications firm. Vanderham, who joined the RUAA board in 2016 and has held a number of committee assignments and executive committee roles, began leading the board as chair on July 1. 

“I am humbled by the opportunity to serve as the chair for the RUAA Board and represent nearly 600,000 Rutgers alumni and alumni groups,” Vanderham says.

Vanderham follows Debra A. Holston O’Neal, who has chaired the board since 2021. “It has been an honor and a privilege to represent Rutgers alumni,” O’Neal LC’87 says. “Two important goals have been to continue the forward progress that the RUAA has made since its inception and ensure the Board was intentional about including alumni from all generations, educational disciplines, and diverse backgrounds. I am pleased that recent successes toward these goals are evident in the activities, events, and actions of the RUAA.”

O’Neal says she is happy to be succeeded by Vanderham. “She is an excellent Rutgers ambassador and will engage Rutgers alumni through her leadership,” O’Neal says.

Vanderham will be supported by an experienced but new executive committee. The new RUAA officers are Vice Chair Talib Morgan NCAS’96, RBSG’98; Vice Chair Christopher Maizys LC’93; and Secretary Priscilla Glover RC’92. You can find a listing of the full RUAA board on the web site, as well as a “Who We Are” overview about the RUAA organization.

A Rutgers Family

A resident of Holmdel, New Jersey, Vanderham was born in Illinois but her family moved to Freehold, New Jersey, when she was seven. After graduating from Freehold Township High School, she followed her older brother, Eric Friedmann LC’97, who graduated with honors, to Rutgers. She met her husband, Gary RC’97, RBS’99, a fellow Rutgers student, while working at Six Flags Great Adventure. (They now have three children, with their oldest being 17 and starting his college search). Her younger brother, Brian Friedmann RC’03, followed her to Rutgers and met his wife, Kaitlin RC ‘04. Her mother also holds an ESL certificate from Rutgers. “We say we bleed Scarlet in our family,” she says.

Debra A. Holston O’Neal
Debra A. Holston O’Neal
Photo by Anthony Grippa

At Rutgers, she double majored in communication and journalism and mass media and minored in music. Her many activities included serving as a preceptor, a member of the Kirkpatrick Chapel Choir, a member of the Delta Gamma Fraternity, and vice president for recruitment for the Rutgers University Panhellenic Council. She won numerous awards, including being named Greek Woman of the Year in 2000. “Rutgers really enveloped me and gave me confidence in my abilities to try new things,” she says.

After graduation, she worked in public relations, including six years at Fleishman-Hillard in New York and more than four years at Johnson & Johnson in New Jersey before moving to Novartis. She spent 14 years at Novartis, including three in Switzerland as vice president and deputy global head of Novartis Oncology communications, and then led Europe Communications for Novartis. “I have always had a curiosity for what’s next and how I can help amplify the patient voice through applying new technologies and data science to make an impact, build trust, and continue to innovate,” she says.

In February, in addition to the role as CEO of Bliss Bio Health, Vanderham became the CEO of the Next Practices Group Health. Both global companies are New Jersey-based.

Rutgers’ Priorities and Goals

Gloria Vanderham
Vanderham in the Rutgers Alumni House at Van Nest Hall.
Photo by Anthony Grippa

Vanderham says she is excited to amplify the three key Rutgers initiatives of academic excellence, beloved community, and the common good. “I am energized by President Holloway’s ambitions for the university in the years to come and how we can work together across our talented and forward-thinking alumni network to reach others where they are in their life stages,” she says. “Whether you are just starting out, or career-pivoting at 45, there is a network or affinity group for you to join and learn from.”

Regardless of where she has lived, she says throughout her career she has interacted with and met numerous Rutgers alumni, relationships which she cherishes. As chair of the RUAA Board, she hopes to do more to engage the vast alumni population, celebrate our individual and collective successes, and enable others to connect and re-engage with Rutgers. 

She is inspired by President Holloway’s words about the university’s “remarkable alumni body,” spoken at his Stakeholder address in October 2022, where he celebrated alumni who are “applying their Rutgers degrees and Scarlet grit to lives of purpose and to careers of accomplishment.” She encourages alumni to get involved by connecting with Rutgers social media and noting their alumni status in profiles, reading the Rutgers Today newsletter, joining one of the many charter and affinity groups, and participating in events on campus and off

“Rutgers alumni continue to pave the way and learn from each other,” she says. “There are infinite opportunities that they have by coming back ‘home’ and being an active part of the Rutgers community. There's so much connection that we've created across the university, their boards, and their alumni groups that I really believe the sky is the limit.”