Since I joined the Alumni Association Engagement Board (AAEB) in 2007, our structure and purpose have evolved as the needs of alumni, the goals of the College and the tools at our disposal have evolved. At first we were primarily an advisory board that met periodically on campus and worked with the Alumni Engagement team. Over time, we took a much more active approach, interacting with alumni at Homecoming and supporting College events. Eventually, we formed committees to address key focus areas for the Engagement Board, which included involving alumni in student recruitment; providing internships, externships and mentoring; serving as volunteers; and making charitable contributions to the College.
As we worked in our committees, we found that this structure was very successful in engaging the board and partnering with the College; however, we felt it wasn’t able to go far enough in reaching out to engage alumni. The question we asked ourselves was, how can the board become the best conduit it can be in representing the alumni community? How do we connect our alums with lifetime access to career networking, mentorship opportunities and friendships (new and old)?
That’s when the board started talking about taking a more regional approach to our activities. The thought behind a regional approach started quite some time ago. When I moved to New York City in 2008, I started the first Hornet Happy Hour. It was, for me, a chance to reach out and meet people in a new city, but also, as a member of the Alumni Board, I wondered if it was something that could potentially scale to other cities.
What we’ve learned through Hornet Happy Hours and similar events is that there’s tremendous value in engaging with alumni where they are at—in their cities and in their hometowns. It allows us to better get to know our fellow alumni, get to know their cities and facilitate conversations with them about what they want to see at the College. For alums who haven’t engaged with the College in a number of years, it can provide a way to touch base and reconnect them with the community that set them on their path toward “more in a lifetime.”
For this reason, we are establishing nine regions in which to focus our activities: the Southwest, West, South, Northwest, East, Central, Midwest, Michigan and International. We broke Michigan out into its own region because we have such a high concentration of alumni in the state.
While we don’t have AAEB members living in every state, we will assign members to cover each region, and over time, our hope is that we can engage with the class agents and other active alumni in this region and generate a grassroots effort to create these networking and event opportunities.
From talking with alumni, we know that some people are interested in participating in events or getting something going in their areas, but they don’t know how to start. The alumni directory makes it very easy to search for alumni in your area just by typing in a zip code. And depending on where you live, you can often find free and fun events where you can connect. For instance, in Washington, D.C., the Smithsonian Museums let you schedule free tours, so last year we sent out an invitation and got 30 people together and had a great time touring the National Zoo. Alumni can also visit the alumni section of kzoo.edu and in the alumni events section, there’s a link where you can learn how to be a “Hornet Host”; through the website you can fill out a form and work with the Alumni Engagement team to plan your own event. And as our regional approach evolves, we hope to have contact information for regional board members there as well, so we can answer questions and support alumni in their efforts.
“Life with K” extends long past graduation. As we go forward, the AAEB encourages its fellow alumni to update their information in the alumni directory, read the monthly alumni emails and check in with the events page. I can’t overstate the value of our K network—it’s an amazing way to supplement your personal and career growth, develop current students and connect with others. And the more people we engage, the more alumni who champion K, the better job we do of sharing the story of Kalamazoo College and preserving its legacy for future generations.