How can you engage with Alumni and/or guest speakers to better help your own students?
How can this best be done? I have not mastered this, by any means, but in an ideal world, with lots more time on my side, an administrative assistant on hand, and an empty calendar ahead (!!) – this would be the ideal – and what I would aim for.
In order of priority:
- Engage with Alumni via linked in – to keep in touch with what they are doing, what they are studying, what ventures they are setting up and what career directions they are heading off in. If you have a Community Relations or Alumni/Marketing executive it is also helpful to collaborate with them. We are lucky at Emanuel School that our Development Officer – Alumni & Community Relations, Sonia Newell, is very well connected within the community.
- Connect these Alumni with current senior students. I find this helpful for current students to see the varied paths ahead, and where paths can lead. An example of this took place this week, where a student recently in Year 11, is keen to get into hospitality. I have connected him with an ex-student, who is now an international Michelin-star chef. As of Monday – in consultation with parents – who have been involved in these discussions, they are having a phone conversation to discuss the pro’s and con’s of the restaurant industry. The Alum was TAFE-trained and the student is considering a private college and is keen to hear the industry insights into the various pathways.
- School visit – getting the Alumni back into school. Once a year we run an Alumni event, called Careers Space. We try and bring back between 25 – 35 Alumni from a variety of paths. We run a multi-styled speed-dating style event, for our Senior Students, where students get to rotate with the Alumni, chat and interview them. We then run a tertiary room, with rotating Alumni who are tertiary students only. I modified this idea from an event that Samantha McFetridge from Wenona School was running (thank you!) and modified it to suit our school environment.
- Video Library – this is an initiative we are launching this year called Aluminator. We are going to ask Alumni to take a few minutes video of themselves in their own workplace, answering a few career related questions. Examples such as a) what made you decide on this career b) what are the pros and cons of this profession c) what else were you considering and so on. This library can then grow over time and be accessed by students.
- Work Experience – future ventures – I have had students make connections from this connectivity that have moved them into work experience roles, moved them into business venture set-ups, had meetups and coffee’s for students to connect and converse about their paths. Different to a mentoring project, which we have tried with Alumni, the spontaneous version has been more successful due to the non-enforced nature of the set up.
What are the benefits of engaging with Alumni?
- Engagement In short, the speakers who come in talk the same language. What do the current students have in common with our Alumni? They are from the same background, come from the same place and are from the same tight knit community. They often know each other or their families, siblings, parents and friends. They often know each other via social media. This creates an instant and easy connection.
- Non-linear paths – I always enjoy showcasing the zigzag way. I recently brought in a start-up founder, Dan Brockwell, who has just received venture capital funding on a start-up, EarlyWork created in 2020, that began its journey as a newsletter to 10 friends. It is now expanding – by coincidence – in the careers sphere and has gained backing by Seek. He spoke about time in the US, time as a programmer, as an intern, as a business start-up, as a multitude of different roles, recently resigning from Atlassian, to go ‘all-in’ on his current business.
- Community – engagement with Alumni is great for community building for the whole school. It keeps the connections alive; we have recently had Alumni who came in to visit the school, and then chose to enrol their children back here. It fosters a great culture of pay-back and returning the great values and experiences, that were given to them as students. They then want to share in that giving-back to the current students.
- Variety – for schools with an eagle-eye on results – sometimes, to the detriment of student wellbeing, it is great showcasing pathways that were forged by students who maybe did not get the best results. Or simply did not enjoy school. Or did not find school easy. Some of the richest conversations I have had, were from students who struggled at school but then found their way once they left. They then found they had skills in areas that were only realised once they left school. This can be incredibly helpful for those students who are disengaged or are simply struggling with their senior studies and are worried that they may not find their road ahead.
I hope some of these points have been helpful for other careers advisors in engaging with their wider community to benefit their own students.