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Bridging the Gap

While the 2008 economic decline left many institutions with worried students and disengaged alumni, one liberal arts college saw an opportunity to build a bridge between the two, as reported in the November/December issue of Currents.

"Colgate's career center was underperforming," explains Michael Sciola, Colgate's associate vice president for institutional advancement and director of career services, in the November/December issue of Currents. "Students, parents, alumni and advancement folks were all complaining about the lack of opportunities for leveraging our incredible alumni groups worldwide."

The university decided to merge its alumni relations department with its center for career services, creating the Colgate Professional Networks: 10 industry-specific groups of alumni that help guide graduates and students through the changing professional climate.

The outcome was fruitful. Since launching in 2013, CPNs have a successful track record of keeping alumni engaged while providing students with opportunities to prepare for their careers.

Here's how Colgate did it.

Rooted in research. Sciola first analyzed "alumni and employment data" to identify opportunities and weaknesses. In doing so, he identified the strongest regional clusters of alumni and their industries, such as Colgate's presence in the New York real estate business and Boston's health care systems. Sciola's research paved the way for CPNs to form, with guidelines that ensure each network supports the university, alumni and students in professional advancement.

Modeling the best. A prosperous alumni real estate event in New York City served as the model for future CPN networking events across the country. Then, in 2011, Colgate volunteers organized a location, guest speaker and email list to bring 85 alumni together in one of the university's highest-attended events, explains Colgate media relations director Daniel DeVries. With successful recreations in Boston and San Francisco, and a subsequent 50 events in 2016 alone, CPNs earned full-time employees and funding to continue the programs.

Staying relevant. Highlighting newsworthy, industry-relevant topics at CPN events attracts alumni and students. "Any topic when we can hit on a national conversation is really popular," explains Jillian Cole, CPN's associate director. From social media journalism to the migrant crisis, relevant subject matter keeps participants well-informed on the issues each industry is facing. Other popular events include hackathons, company tours and expert panel discussions.

"It's a virtuous cycle to build bridges," Colgate's senior vice president of external relations Murray Decock says. "Students are grateful for the opportunities, so they're more likely to engage and give back, and our alumni see that we're staying current with the changing world of work and the global economy, and they want to stay connected."

This article is from the November 2017 BriefCASE issue of BriefCASE.