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Alumni Council works to connect students with public service mentors

By
October 30, 2006

Although many students may not have been aware, Alumni Council had its fall meeting over this past weekend. The Council is composed of over fifty alumni who have been nominated by their fellow alumni to work to support current students, the college administration, and the larger alumni community. The Alumni/Student Networking Dinner on Friday night was an opportunity for students to meet the current members of the Council and discuss career opportunities.

For the majority of the weekend, Alumni Council was split into three working groups, one on student support, one on alumni support, and one on college support. The Gazette sat in on one of the sessions of the student support group, which is currently chaired by Meghan Moore ’97. Moore described the group as “responsible for making sure student-alumni interactions happen.” This includes well-established programs such as the externship program and the networking dinners, but the group is always looking for new ways to connect alumni with students. Moore encouraged students with ideas to e-mail her at meghan [at] megpix [dot] com.

The session began with a discussion of ways to improve the networking dinner. Students always wish that more alumni with a greater range of careers attended the event, so one suggestion was to invite local alumni as well as the Council. Another idea was to encourage alumni to bring business cards to hand out so as to increase the possibility of a connection lasting after the dinner.

One such recently established program was the Internet career chats, where three alumni in a particular field participate in a discussion with students on the Internet. Many of the chats have been small, at the most extreme a Performing Arts chat that attracted only one student. However, Assistant Director of Career Services Jennifer Barrington described the chats as “free-flowing informal conversations” that are “very valuable” to everyone involved. “The alumni enjoy talking with each other just as much as they enjoy talking with the students.” After the chats, the transcripts are posted at http://www.swarthmore.edu/x5727.xml.

Another initiative the student support group discussed at length was creating a database of alumni involved in public service careers or significant public service activities who could offer their skills and experience to social activism groups on campus. For example, if a new political group was forming, they could use this database to find a lawyer to offer legal advice or an activist with ideas about how to organize large-scale protests. Pat James of the Lang Center also wanted students to find personal mentors in the alumni community. She said that students at Swarthmore “often see public service as an either/or proposition… either they spend all their time doing service, or they spend none of it. They need to figure out how to balance things.” Many such students hit a “service burnout” by the end of sophomore year, and James felt that alumni have valuable life experiences to share with these students.

There are already three databases with information about alumni-the general alumni relations database, the Online Community of over 8,000 alumni, and the Career Profiles website, which can be found at http://www.swarthmore.edu/Admin/career_services/profiles/. The committee concluded that starting a new database just for public service might not be the most efficient use of resources. Instead, they are considering integrating more questions about public service into the Alumni Career Profiles website. Another related idea was to hold a conference on alumni in social entrepreneurship, who use the principles of the business world to tackle societal problems. Many alumni were interested in organizing such a conference, and it may be held sometime in the next year.

While the student support group was discussing these things, the alumni support and college support groups were also meeting, and they reported on their discussions in a concluding session on Sunday. The alumni support group focused on ways to create more events around the country for alumni with minimal cost and minimal work-for example, finding out where faculty are going to be traveling in the course of their research and having them give an alumni lecture there.

The college support group primarily focuses on advising the Board of Managers. For example, the group recommended that the board should take on an outside consultant with an objective viewpoint to aid them in the college’s current strategic planning initiative. The Board of Managers needs and appreciates this alumni input: according to Samuel Awuah ’94, co-chair of the group, a member of the board recently said to him, “you’re having important discussions on the alumni level that are not yet being had on the Board of Managers level.”

The concluding words were given by Council president Seth Brenzel ’94, who summarized the purpose of Council by saying, “within ourselves, we often ask the existential question about why Alumni Council exists, but everyone is impressed and gratified that this group continues to come here and continues to engage in important dialogue about the future of the college.” The next Alumni Council meeting will be held on April 20-22 in the spring semester.