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Volume 4, Issue 2

Students Help College Profile Alumni

The alumni relations staff at an Illinois community college recently partnered with an English 101 class on a project to interview alumni and write profiles about them. The new collaboration has already proven itself a win-win for all involved.

This past spring, 19 English 101 students at Elgin Community College, located in an eponymous suburb of Chicago, Ill., were matched with alumni. The students interviewed the graduates about their time at the institution, what it meant to them and what they've done since leaving the institution. By semester's end, the students produced an 800-1,000 word profile of the alumnus they were assigned.

"This project was born out of necessity," says Katherine Sawyer, executive director of institutional advancement and the ECC Foundation. "We're constantly trying to build profiles of alumni and find ways to engage them with the institution. We thought about engaging an external writer to help with that. But it dawned on us that we have English classes filled with students where this might make an interesting project or assignment, if we had willing partners."

Alison Douglas, associate professor of English, agreed to take on the project in her class—mostly as a practical way for students to hone their writing, editing, interviewing and research skills. As the semester went on, though, she says the profiles blossomed into much more than a writing assignment. She says the research and writing helped her students not only identify with alumni who were once in their position but also appreciate the value of their community college education.

"A lot of our students, they see ECC as their only choice," she says. "They're here because they couldn't afford to go elsewhere or didn't have the grades. When these students start talking to our alumni—people who have important jobs or are important in the community—they see themselves as having made a good decision in coming here. The alumni were fabulous. They told the students things like ‘coming to ECC was the best decision I ever made' or ‘ECC got me on the right track.'"

Student Marisa Meadows wrote about Elgin alumnus Phil Ranstrom, a documentary filmmaker.

Diane Stredde, alumni relations coordinator, says she is already sharing some of the finished profiles with the college's communications department and plans to feature some of them in various alumni publications in the coming months. She says the alumni office plans to work with two English classes this fall, hopefully generating 40 more alumni profiles.

Stredde and Douglas share the following suggestions for others wishing to replicate this project at their institution:

  • At the beginning of the semester, stage a mock interview between a communications professional and an alumnus for the participating class to give the students an idea of what to expect from the interview and to offer them some tips.
  • Make sure volunteer alumni know what to expect from the assignment—and that they should be willing to share some of their personal history—before pairing them with students.
  • Face-to-face interviews are preferable, but schedules don't always allow for them. Be willing to allow students and alumni to converse via phone or email.

This article is from the August 2014 issue of the Community College Advancement News.

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