Imperial College Brings Alumni Together for Coffee and Coaching
As Head of Alumni Relations at Imperial College London, Jo Gardner loves to find unexpected, creative ways to bring alumni together. With that idea in mind, she and her team at the U.K. institution developed a program called Coffee & Coach three years ago. They wanted to put a different spin on alumni mentoring programs, which are often run through an institution’s career services office.
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Through Coffee & Coach, alumni with long career experience are paired with early-career alumni who have graduated within the last 10 years. The coach/coachee sessions are meant to take place in a relaxed setting. That’s where the coffee comes in.
As the initiative was just about to launch in 2020, the pandemic came along. Rather than put the program on hold, the Imperial team launched it online. While the original intent of meeting in person was lost, the new virtual program was able to expand to include alumni across the globe who still found a way to form relationships over a cup of coffee, but through a computer screen.
In 2022, Gardner’s team matched 29 coaches with 36 coachees (some coaches take on more than one individual to coach) across 16 countries. The success of the program, says Gardner, comes from its intentionality. And that starts with the matchmaking. Those applying to be coached fill out a survey. Gardner credits Kellianne Bartley, Alumni Engagement Officer, who oversees the program, with making perfect pairings.
“She has an innate sense of the right fit. All the time we hear things like, ‘My coach was able to give me that push I needed to try something out of my comfort zone. It was such a great match for me,’” Gardner says.
Alumna Renay Taylor, an executive coach and leadership trainer, provides training for all coaches. Coachees participate in an introductory session on how to get the most out of the endeavor. The coaching sessions are limited to a six-month span to set parameters on the commitment. And the coaches and coachees check in as a group midway through the sessions and at the program’s completion.
The program description states, “Coaching uses a combination of observation, questioning, listening, and feedback to create a conversation that is rich in insight and learning and will allow you to develop greater self-awareness and feel empowered to take action.”
Gardner says one of the keys to keeping the coaching relationship focused is centering the sessions on themes, rather than general discussions.
“We ask the young alumni to come to the program with something specific they would like to work on such as career development and transitions, promotions, or returning to work after a career break,” she explains. “Feedback from participants tells us that has proven quite effective.”
Said one coachee in a survey, “I gained more clarity about my goals and it was incredibly useful to have someone else’s perspective on what I’m going through.” And from another: “I had to have a challenging discussion at work. My coach helped me through the situation, supported me, and provided constructive feedback.”
The coaches are responding with high satisfaction as well. As one coach stated, “It was very rewarding to help graduates work on their possibilities, goals, and dreams.”
The staff in alumni relations finds not just the rewards in connecting alumni, but the benefits that come from continued engagement.
“The younger alumni are getting involved in other ways with the college. And our coaches have now become a go-to group that we can call on for advice or other involvement,” says Gardner. “It’s a beautiful example of how alumni relations teams can create deep connections within our communities.”
About the author(s)
Ellen N. Woods is a CASE content creator.
Article appears in:
March - April 2023
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