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Tuesday, Sep 17, 2019

Campuses are winning students back as alumni networks get stronger

It’s no longer just annual meets and reunions. The focus today is on networking, updating skills, raising funds and more.

education Updated: Sep 11, 2019 20:00 IST
Utsavi Jha
Utsavi Jha
Hindustan Times
(iStock)
         

What happened when you complete college? You pick up your degree, smile in your best clothes at the convocation ceremony and head out of the gates forever – taking with you knowledge and invaluable memories. Do those gates open for you again? As an alumnus or former student, they swing wide, inviting you to share your experiences of the world outside with new students who’ve taken your place.

In most elite institutions, the power of the alumni association is undeniable. Colleges work to keep in touch with former students, and the students themselves form strong networks, drawing on campus relationships to leverage power and build trust particularly among MBAs and engineers. Now, other colleges are investing in harnessing the strength of their one-time students. They’re executing innovative activities to foster a strong sense of belonging and give back to the colleges.

Babita Krishnan, head of alumni relations and student welfare at Somaiya Vidyavihar believes that most students willingly join alumni bodies. “They would host a reunion, and that is where the role ended until a couple of years ago,” she says. “In recent times, the institutes have realised that the success of their alumni is an important part of their brand building.”

Kimberly Dixit, who runs the study-abroad consultancy The Red Pen, says graduates are being called on to “mentor students or become or subject matter experts, entrepreneurship guides, attend and support competitions, and most importantly help influence policy and raise funds” she says. “The colleges lean on influential alumni and turn to them for advice. Millions of rupees are being remitted to colleges by alumni. An innovative strategy is to ask the 10-year, 25-year and perhaps even the 50-year batch to help raise an annual amount.”

BACK TO CLASS

Of course, reunion meets are fun. Now they’re becoming more frequent, specific and innovative than before. Whistling Woods International’s annual alumni meet connects 2,000 former students from all the departments to help them interact, build contacts and exchange work-related leads. Department-specific alumni meets are also held so students across batches can connect and share perspective and job-opportunity news. At Somaiya Vidyavihar, annual events like Somaiya Super Sixes and the Somaiya Alumni Reunion invite once-time students to come forward and help a sister institute.“RiiDL, an innovation and startup incubator, has seen the involvement of many alumni, even as angel investors,” adds Krishnan.

Rajni Desai, chairperson of Sophia College Ex-Students’ Association says the alumni association would previously meet once a year for a lunch or dinner. “Since 2000, there have been monthly meetings, an elected core committee of at least 12 members, a modified constitution, vision and mission,” she says.

The institution has nine registered associations and four under process. They’re designed to reconnect with alumni from across the globe.

EXTENDED COURSE

Whistling Woods’ programme invites alumni to learn new technologies and methods that they may have missed out on. The VR lab retrains alumni in the newest branch of filmmaking, something they probably didn’t have the opportunity to do when they were in school. Sugar and Spice, an event by Sophia College, invites senior alumni to learn a new skill: art, dance, diet and nutrition, wellness and the like, help to overcome loneliness and forge new friendships.

Many alumni efforts are also directed towards social causes. Sophia’s new initiatives in Raigad began with rainwater harvesting, supported by CSR funds. They now work towards sanitation and hygiene, education and self-help groups. ‘In Dahanu, we support an E-Teach program in 40 schools,” says Desai. Somaiya’s alumni donate funds specifically towards helping economically weaker students.

Rahul Puri, managing director at Mukta Arts, which runs Whistling Woods, says the institute regularly invites alumni to conduct sessions with the current students to connect and develop the next generation of talent. “A few alumni return as adjunct faculty. That means a steady flow of information, networking, opportunities as well as professional development and learning is something that all associations look to foster,” he says.

These are all efforts not just to help current students, one time students and underprivileged, but to boost the profile of the colleges. “Institutes have realised that a great way to promote themselves is through their alumni,” says Karan Gupta, an education counsellor. Alums become authentic, valuable endorsements in the outside world. They’re better placed to open their wallets to help the institute that taught them. “Some associations have hikes heritage walks that encourage teamwork and bonding among members,” Gupta says. “Events are now more focused on networking. People want to come to events where they will meet new people.”

First Published: Sep 11, 2019 20:00 IST