Alumni affairs offices are busy planning events and inviting alumni back to their lively campuses.
Between athletic games, concerts, cultural events, and reunion gatherings, alumni are encouraged to engage with a community that has played a significant role in their lives.
Although I love these events, I often wonder: Have student affairs professionals done enough to make alumni excited about re-engaging with us? Have we done our due diligence in providing support for them post-graduation?
Students only spend a few years taking classes and participating in co-curricular campus opportunities, but I would argue that they’re members of our campus communities for a lifetime. Through programs, services, and events, we can set current students up to become lifelong learners who’ll continue to eagerly engage with our institutions long after they toss their graduation caps into the air.
I am fortunate to work at an institution that truly embraces and celebrates our alumni. We make it clear that they are part of our community — not just by hosting fun gatherings but by creatively engaging them in programming across campus, all year long.
I believe that all student affairs professionals have the resources and skills to engage with and support our alumni communities. And the best way to do that is by collaborating with alumni affairs.
Here are some ideas of what a collaborative partnership can involve for your institution.
1. Create Two-Way Engagement through Alumni Mentorship
We know that students often feel connected to campus through co-curricular programs and student organizations — opportunities made possible by SA pros.
I think we should capitalize on those highly personal connections that students had while on campus to re-engage them as alumni. At my institution, the College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University, we do this really well with our Sophomore Exploration through Alumni Mentorship (S.E.A.M.) program, which is facilitated through our Experience & Professional Development (XPD) Office.
By partnering with Alumni Relations, the XPD office is able to market this opportunity to alumni who may be interested in mentoring second-year students. Many of the alumni who became mentors had a strong connection with XPD when they were students themselves.
Through S.E.A.M., students shadow an alumnus for a week, learning about their career, exploring professionalism and industry trends, and discussing how to build a professional network. The program enables XPD and Alumni Relations to help students explore career paths and support alumni in the career development opportunity of mentoring an emerging professional.
Another great two-way engagement opportunity might be through your campus multicultural center. Whitman College’s Intercultural Center facilitates a Students and Alumni of Color Coalition (SAoCC). This group was created in response to a question posed by alumni of color in 2017: “Why would we return to Whitman, a homogeneously white campus?” These alumni felt that being a person of color on campus was draining and isolating.
Five years later, SAoCC includes current students and alumni of color, and is supported by staff and student interns in Whitman’s Intercultural Center. SAoCC aims to create a bridge between students and alumni to ensure that the college is — and continues to be —a place where students of color can thrive.
The Alumni of Color Mentoring Initiative has been a key part of SAoCC. This initiative pair students with alumni and includes clear mentor/mentee expectations to make mentorship an effective, transformational experience for every participant.
Additionally, the Intercultural Center helps the SAoCC maintain a database that assists students and alumni in creating relationships. Through this effort, the SAoCC is able to plan gatherings at Whitman or in cities across the U.S. that help foster community and belonging.
Another great example of two-way engagement is Santa Clara University’s LEAD Scholars Program, which focuses on current first-gen students and first-gen alumni. The program’s staff facilitate continued professional and personal development opportunities for first-gen alumni — including the chance to engage with current LEAD Scholars through mentorship circles, serve as a guest speaker in seminar courses, and sponsor snacks for the program office.
2. Expand Your Co-Curricular Programs & Services to Alumni
In recent years, many institutions have expanded their career services beyond current students to include alumni.
Career counselors can support alumni in their post-grad journeys through resume critiques, job fairs, job search databases, and more. It’s just one example of a simple, yet highly successful, partnership with alumni affairs that many institutions have already put into practice.
But why stop there? If you’re not a career counselor, consider your office’s capacity to provide the same support or services to alumni that you provide current students.
For example, my office, the Office of Undergraduate Research and Competitive Fellowships, provides in-depth fellowship application advisement and support to any alumnus who would like to apply for the U.S. Fulbright Student Program, just as we do for current students. By partnering with alumni affairs, we’re able to communicate and highlight this service to alumni.
This expansion of services does not incur us any additional costs, nor does it place a burden on our staffing structure. Plus, we’re able to connect alumni to new opportunities abroad! It’s a win all around.
Another innovative, high-impact partnership with alumni affairs could involve the expansion of your campus’s Basic Needs Support & Services. Food and housing insecurity, lack of transportation and child care, and mental health have become increasing concerns for today’s college students. In response, many campuses have hired Basic Needs Coordinators or Benefits Navigators, created food pantries, and maintain virtual hubs on their websites that connect students to resources in the local community.
With support from your alumni relations office, consider exploring if your campus Basic Needs Support could be expanded to serve recent graduates as they get started in their new careers.
3. Make Engagement Accessible from Anywhere
No matter what opportunities you partner with alumni affairs on, I encourage you to think about accessibility. For some alumni, it is simply not feasible to visit campus — frequently or ever. But, this doesn’t need to be a deterrent to engagement.
My institution offers a series of St. Ben’s At-Home sessions through which staff, faculty, and students connect with alumni via video calls to share campus updates, advanced information about changes in our offices or programs, and virtual access to events.
Student affairs professionals have a unique opportunity to support our alumni communities. By recognizing that engagement with our institution should be a lifelong journey, we’ll follow through on our promise of supporting and preparing our students for life after graduation.
How else have you collaborated with Alumni Affairs? We’d love to hear your stories. Connect with us on Twitter @HelloPresence.