‘Commencement” is the positive term applied to the mass exit of over 4,000 undergraduates from UR. The word implies a new beginning, or a fresh start.
But not everyone sees the practice in such a bright light. To hear UR Vice President and General Secretary Paul Burgett tell it, commencement is when seniors jump off a metaphorical cliff into ‘the Abyss.”
To shed some light into the depths, the Office of Alumni Relations and the Career Center launched the Rochester Career Advisory Network in January, hoping to assist primarily seniors in reaching out to alumni for assistance in finding an employer. At the end of April, that service had approximately 11,000 alumni volunteers registered, according to Director of Alumni Programs Anne Shields. Yet only 1,237 students have registered.
‘Networking is often put off by the people who could most benefit from it,” Shields said.
To that end, Shields has been overseeing an aggressive RCAN publicity campaign. In mid-April Alumni Relations, once again collaborating with the Career Center, hosted ‘7 Truths About Networking,” a dinner workshop emphasizing certain networking skills. The event drew 61 students and counted as a substitute for the orientation session that is prerequisite to joining RCAN.
The fact that RCAN only launched three months ago and has over 1,200 students registered is arguably decent, since younger classes are unlikely to join just yet. But events such as ‘7 Truths About Networking” do not reach a key targeted demographic which has so pervasively evaded RCAN: alumni.
The College has just over 59,000 alumni. Of the 10,878 of those registered for RCAN, only 1,577 are College alumni the graduate schools combined have two-thirds the number of alumni as the College, yet comprise almost 86 percent of RCAN.
The discrepancy reflects the problem of keeping alumni tied to the school after they graduate. The fight for alumni participation is an important one, too, since graduates donate millions of dollars to UR annually Chairman of the Board of Trustees Ed Hajim’s $30 million donation being the most notable example.
Alumni make up a sizeable portion of Meliora Weekend visitors (when they’re inspired to donate) and they provide help at networking events, teaching current students how to gain employment (and make money to donate).
At the moment, the primary device employed to keep alumni in touch is the Rochester Review, which is delivered every two months to over 50,000 people, according to its editor, Scott Hauser. On top of that, in March 2008, Alumni Relations and the Office of Communications collaborated to launch the Rochester Buzz, akin to the Weekly Buzz for undergraduates, but targeted toward alumni.
In addition, the Office of Alumni Relations has made more proactive attempts to bring alumni in various regions together. Using means of communication such as Facebook, Alumni Relations has established unofficial groups for New York City, Boston, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and Boston.
‘We host these events to help build awareness among alumni living in the same regions and to continue the University’s relationship with alumni by bringing a part of UR to them through faculty speakers and student performance groups,” Assistant Director for Alumni Relations Megan Campbell said.
Executive Director of Alumni Relations Kevin Wesley holds that there is no guaranteed formula for what binds an alumnus to an alma mater, whether those graduates were former athletes, Greeks, a cappella singers, etc.
‘We haven’t done a lot of that knee-deep analysis and I don’t think we’d release that if wedid,” Wesley said in a statement.
However, Wesley says that the number of connections doesn’t necessarily guarantee how close an alumnus is to an institution experiences as a whole matter more.
‘Alumni can reflect on their own success, in their own interactions and in their own talking about [UR], and help to perpetuate and grow what Rochester means,” Wesley stated.
Nevertheless, that reflection itself is not always simple. For older alumni, there tends to be a greater affinity for graduate school, and younger alumni have yet to settle down.
‘It’s very hard for the University to lead a solid networking campaign for recent alumni,” Sean Tanny ’09 said. ‘I know my life has been in flux because of the rough economy and my own uncertainties. That aspect, coupled with my own distrust that the University will only hound me for money, has made me hesitant to supply the University with my address, e-mail, etc.”
And the Office of Alumni Relations has one challenge over which it wields considerably less influence: time. The school that alumni once loved may not be the school that still exists.
For Justin Gorski ’08, alumni have been invaluable, whether by providing REACH Funding or solid networking. And he recognizes the need to help. But after visiting friends this past Dandelion Day when alumni are actively discouraged from returning he felt dismayed at the heavy security and overall downbeat tone.
‘This past trip to Rochester will most likely be my last,” Gorski said. The spirit of the College seems to have died. I will probably be less inclined to give to the College once I pay off my loans. Instead, I will give to my graduate institution or my high school.”
Brenneman is a Take Five Scholar.