Guest post by Maria Gallo, EdD - Founder and Principal of KITE – Keep in Touch Education
Do you remember your first day on campus? I’ll never forget the kindness of the friendly student volunteers that helped me settle into my student residence 25 years ago. The following year, I volunteered to welcome the new students on campus. This was my gateway into campus community involvement, student government and eventually life as an active alum.
I am not alone. Institutions are recognizing that from the moment students set foot on campus, they are an important part of the institutional ecosystem. Graduation might be too late. By then, students-turned-graduates have already formed their opinion of their alma mater. With a degree in hand, many graduates see the university is part of their past. This is why some institutions have adopted an Alum From Day One strategy.
Do not confuse “Alum From Day One” with the “student as customer” idea, unfortunately seeping into institutions. At the core of an Alum From Day One strategy is that students—and indeed alumni—are shareholders in the institution. They are investing in their academic learning to reap lifelong dividends, getting as much out of the experience as they are putting in.
What does an Alum From Day One strategy look like?
It starts from the top. Key institutional leaders need to recognize the value of this students-as-alumni model. This is a shift in cultural mindset within the institution. Even describing students as ‘alumni of the future’ or ‘Future Class of X’ begins to set the right tone within the institution. Offer alumni benefits on the first day. The alumni office or association often participates in first-year student orientation. This is a strategic step in raising awareness of the institution’s alumni activity. The next step is to build on this momentum by offering something meaningful for students. What if your students joined the online alumni community from Day One? This means curating content relevant to both students and alumni, which might include enlisting support from the Careers Service or even from students themselves.
How does an Alumni From Day One strategy boost alumni engagement?
Being an engaged alum becomes normal. New students are learning to navigate the campus, make new friends and understand how it all works. Imagine if joining the alumni online community became the norm for all students? This brings them onto the alumni radar early. They get a mentor. They connect with an alum for an informational interview. They tell their friends and classmates. Students perceive value in alumni engagement, spilling into life after graduation.
It creates an intergenerational family. If the Alum From Day One strategy is successful, your students recognize they are part of a wider, global community. They become aware of alumni services and the benefits of alumni connection. They attend alumni events and meet fellow alumni, making an easier transition between student involvement to alumni engagement. This makes it easier to ask for career advice, seek a mentor or connect online. By graduation, it is hoped that these newest alumni will prioritize paying this forward and supporting the next generation of students. Insight goes both ways. Seasoned alumni can also yield great benefit from this strategy. Experienced alumni might find that engaging with students brings them insights into the student or younger demographic. They might be able to identify and foster future talent for their organization. It can be immensely satisfying too to provide mentorship, advice and support to current students too.
Diffusing alumni work across the institution. Students are found in every corner of the institution. By adopting an Alum From Day One strategy, the same should be said for alumni. Every department, college and administrative office should be mindful on the ways to engage alumni too. Can alumni offer a guest lecture, create a live case study or service-learning project? Can alumni support campus extra-curricular activities? Are alumni the next students on part-time or professional lifelong learning courses? Can alumni participate in institutional governance? Alumni are not only the responsibility of the alumni relations office. Alumni becomes embedded in the minds of everyone in the institution so when there is a seminar, webinar, new professional course or committee vacancy, alumni become the prospective audience, participant, learner or supporter.
As advancement professionals, we need to allow this diffusion of alumni to happen across the institution. Perhaps an academic faculty member contributes to online alumni community posts, a student takes over the institution’s Instagram posts for a day or a collaborative think-in event involves alumni, students and faculty tackle some of the challenges of the Global Goals. There are ample creative ways to keep alumni in the hearts and minds of everyone on campus.
With an Alum From Day One strategy, alumni become everyone’s business. Advocating for an Alum From Day One strategy at your institution could be a simple and effective way to see alumni engagement increase over time. Imagine: What would it be like if all students considered themselves an alum from day one?
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