It’s 2:30am on the 12th of March 2020. My husband woke me to detail the news that the US was planning an imminent closure of their international borders. He figured Canada would follow. At 3:00am we booked flights to Canada for a few weeks to wait out this unfolding situation.
A few weeks turned into 5 months.
KITE- Keep in Touch Education was still my shiny new business. I had a few contracts of work starting in mid-March 2020. By the time we arrived in Halifax, Nova Scotia on the 16th of March, all this client work was withdrawn with the uncertainty of the situation. (And Canada did close its borders on the 17th).
I was left, like many, floating in this unknown.
I focused my efforts on seeing what was happening in alumni relations- an area of alumni potential that remains my passion. This curiosity turned into a micro research project that I wrote about here
(or if you prefer to listen I spoke about it on the inaugural podcast episode of Brite Ideas here) with a longer paper available for fireside reading here.
What I observed was an alumni relations pivot.
This pivot was from the traditional year in, year out, in-person reunions, homecoming and networking events. I wrote:
“The new cornerstone of alumni relations was emerging, one of kindness, support, and concern.
The graduates of 2020 were entering the most challenging job market in over a decade.
Early and mid-career alumni faced career uncertainty or found themselves working from home…
Creating a sense of community online was no longer a nice to have, it was a need to have.”
I identified 4 key themes of the work of alumni relations during this unprecedented time:
Sharing: online events to inform alumni on the pandemic, to inspire alumni with new ideas on the workplace and, to offer advice related to their careers.
Caring: Programming that showed the concern and support for the emotional, psychological, and physical well-being of alumni. Their span of events seemed boundless: yoga and meditation, free online courses, live online music concerts, and theatre productions.
Daring: Instead of alumni as the passive recipients of institutional knowledge, alumni relations offered interactive activities to increase virtual participation. Alumni were also challenged to support students to find internships or offer career placements for fellow alumni.
Snaring: This is far from a trap! The lockdown also brought another level of action to alumni relations. A call for philanthropic gifts from student support to pandemic related research.
This breathed new revitalized life into justifying the value of alumni relations – and countless stories of impact of these efforts on the careers of students and alumni along with their mental, physical and emotional health.
Three years on, on the cusp of my own 25th undergrad reunion, I wonder: has alumni relations made the pivot permanent?
We don’t want to lose the learning from the pandemic, especially around how alumni build lifelong relationships with each other and with their alma mater — in a virtual way.
The focus (and indeed pressure) on employability and career readiness is crucial, however it shouldn’t be at the expense of a holistic alumni program. A holistic alumni program that connects alumni (and students) to becoming and being well-rounded citizens of the world. Caring not only for their own careers but also caring for others, sharing their expertise and stretching balance to their interests and their lives. These creates relevance to connect with alumni where they are now in their lives and across all aspects of their lives.
It’s easy to veer off course. To take a safe path back to traditional alumni offerings or narrow the focus on alumni careers.
Education is a transformational experience across all aspects of our senses and our being. Our alumni should feel this frisson of excitement of all that life after graduation can hold– not just in a career, but how they can inspire others into education, volunteer in their community, find passionate pastimes, take care of themselves and others with vitality.
It’s risky. To look at life in such a holistic way, it might mean missing a great job opportunity, but it’s just not for you. It might mean taking the leap to engage in an alumni event that tugs at the heartstrings. This might be a cause, issue or value held dear.
As alumni and as alumni relations professionals let’s stay the course in finding ways that encourages balance. Stephen Covey in his bestselling business book of all time 7 Habits of Highly Effective People calls this balance ‘sharpening the saw.’ We can’t keep doing one thing. We need balance in our mind, body, mind and soul. (Yes these are the four themes from the Passion trait in The Alumni Way book too!- good eye!). This keeps us on course to a fulfilling, meaningful life. The life we want for ourselves and the life we want for our alumni.
(I stayed the course with KITE and my passion for alumni potential. I love offering alumni inspiration and insights every week – I will do this– and many other things!- for years to come! If I can help from that passion to your alumni program let’s talk! )