An old but fresh perspective
The University should foster closer relations between alumni and current and prospective students
May is just around the corner and the graduation finish line is almost in sight. That knocking on my door is the future beckoning. I must admit to mixed feelings - excitement and trepidation in equal measure. It seems like I am crossing a bridge - from being a full-time student to being a full-time lawyer.
Yet the more I think about the idea of a bridge, the more I am reassured. After all, a bridge connects and transcends divisions. All of us need to be bridge builders: alumni, current students and prospective students.
Alumni are perhaps the most underappreciated and underutilized segment of the University community. We tend to think of alumni simply as a key source of reliable funding for the University - or a possible source of future employment. No doubt they are indispensable with respect to money, but they are important in other ways as well. Of course, as one who expects to join the alumni ranks shortly, I guess I am a bit biased.
Alumni can play a vital role as a bridge to current students. Alumni - particularly recent graduates - can also serve as mentors for current students. \nRecent graduates have successfully navigated the undergraduate obstacle course. Alumni have a keen appreciation of the various course offerings, professors and administrators, as well as the numerous extracurricular activities available to students.
Recent alumni have the experience and judgment which student peer advisors simply lack. This is not to belittle peer advisors - I was one myself.
Given this, I would advise every student organization on Grounds to have a recent graduate as a mentor. For undergraduate students, there is an easily accessible potential pool of alumni mentors in the form of recent University alumni who are continuing their studies at the University as graduate students, including the various professional schools. We must find creative ways to connect current students with such proximal alumni.
Current student leaders are the quintessential bridge builders with respect to the University community. Student leaders face the challenge of understanding, articulating and addressing the concerns of their fellow students. Particularly at a large institution like the University, it is necessary to balance and reconcile diverse cultural and social values related to areas such as race, gender, sexual behavior, alcohol and drugs. Alumni student leaders, particularly recent graduates, have the experience of dealing with similar problems. Alumni student leaders can provide valuable guidance regarding mistakes made, opportunities lost, pitfalls avoided, as well as achieved successes. I would recommend that every student organization have a designated current student officer responsible for alumni outreach - its organization would benefit enormously. As a side note, I do want to give full disclosure - I was the director of alumni relations when I served on the managing board of the Virginia Law Review.
For prospective students, alumni can be the key to nurturing one of the University's most important features - diversity, and not just diversity in the traditional sense. Alumni have long been involved in the outreach efforts of the various University admissions offices. But alumni can be particularly useful in helping to highlight the facets of the University which appeal to students of virtually all backgrounds and experiences. In this regard, I have the following suggestion.
Every student organization on campus should be invited to nominate one of its recent alumni members to be a point of contact for the admissions office. These individuals would form a pool of alumni ambassadors. Applicants to the University have the option of writing an essay describing "what you would bring to the diversity in a college community." Shortly after the admissions deadline, all applicants who have submitted such an essay would be invited to participate in an online web chat with a group of alumni ambassadors. These web chats would focus on various aspects of the University experience and would be organized and moderated by the admissions office. Hopefully, these web conversations would be an effective way to convey the value the University places on creating an engaging environment for all its students, while at the same time building a bridge between prospective students and recent alumni.
I have spent three wonderful years at the University. This May there will be many more fellow graduates who echo similar sentiments. While each new alumnus should find a way to build his own bridge that nurtures a link to our alma mater, it is up to the University to help lay the groundwork.
Sanjiv Tata's column appears Mondays in The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.