Alumni are like extended kin: both are based on “connections.” With kin, association is based on family (e.g., marriage/partnership, offspring) while connections with alumni come about by virtue of shared experience – typically in a college or university.

How many of us have ever reached out to an alum? Has it ever occurred to us that they might be an excellent source of insight and useful advice? And what do we think about their willingness to engage with someone who aspires to be, or is a part of, that same higher education experience? Likely? Unlikely? It seems that the “unlikely” response would be…well, unlikely.

This blog post celebrates alumni as the resource of the month. The Anthropology Career Readiness Network has created a new tool and a new exercise to help establish, reinvigorate, or enhance bonds between Anthropology programs and alumni of those programs.

Why Stay in Touch with Alumni from Your Institution?

The Benefits

The one-page tool, “Building Department-Alumni Connections,” identifies the rationale and the benefits to the parties involved. Why cultivate those relationships? The answer is straightforward: alumni are an untapped resource for students with the ability to offer career advice and preparation, along with networking.

Students can benefit is specific ways. They:

  • can acquire experience developing a professional relationship.
  • can gather information on work and workplaces as well as “must-have” skills for those workplaces.
  • have the potential to seek advice and suggestions on the job search, professionalization skills, and internships and jobs.

The new exercise, “Connecting Students with Alumni,” ensures that students develop key skills during an interaction with an alum. It lays out three objectives for the student: find an alum to interview, develop career-related questions for the interview, and conduct and validate the interview.

Advantages for instructors and programs accrue too! Alumni can serve as guest speakers, whether for courses or departmental events. They may be willing to work directly with individual students, or an entire class, on a project that matters to the alum’s organization. In fact, discussion- or project-related interactions with alums help to reinforce course readings and methods. Additionally, alumni and their organizations have the potential to serve as a pipeline to internships and jobs, assuming the applicants possess the necessary qualifications.

How do alumni benefit from departmental connections? Many cherish the invitation to return to campus, whether in-person or virtually. The visit allows them the opportunity to reconnect with their alma mater as well as to “pay it forward” to those from their institution. In the process, alums are exposed to current students and their instructors and are positioned to learn about their interests and views of the future. Moreover, they may find a potential pool of applicants for openings in their organization.

The Strategies

Numerous strategies for creating and maintaining alumni connections are in place in a limited number of anthropology programs. Here are some specific examples.

  • Western University (London, ON) started a LinkedIn group for its alums several years ago. Current students and instructors can access the group to network and build community.
  • The University of Memphis (Memphis, TN) welcomes all its alums back to campus every year for a day of specialty programming. Alums have an opportunity to pass along their thoughts and experiences on panels and in discussions, while students have the chance to learn directly through friendly exchanges and conversations.
  • Wayne State University (Detroit, MI) frequently convenes alumni panels dedicated to careers and career preparation for its undergraduate and graduate students.
  • Ohio State University (Columbus, OH) has dedicated an entire section of its departmental website to career profiles of its alums. Students develop these profiles while enrolled in a course called “Careers with Anthropology.” These profiles offer insights on specific careers and how anthropological skills and knowledge are used in those careers.
  • Three anthropology students from Minnesota State University Mankato (Mankato, MN) completed a research project on alumni relations (2023). They suggested greater communication with alumni and planned opportunities (in-person or virtual) for students and alumni to interact.

Many other options for building relationships with alumni are suggested on the one-page tool.

The Network strongly encourages instructors and department or program chairs to review these two new documents and consider ways to reconnect your own alums with their alma mater. We believe you will be glad you did.

About the Author: Elizabeth Briody

Elizabeth Briody
Elizabeth K. Briody has been involved in cultural-change efforts for 35+ years—first at General Motors Research and later through her consulting practice, Cultural Keys. Her projects have spanned many industries including automotive, health care, research institutions, aerospace, insurance, consumer products, and petrochemicals.  Among her books are Transforming Culture and The Cultural Dimension of Global Business (9th ed.). She leads the Anthropology Career Readiness Network with Riall Nolan to improve student preparation for careers. She is Past President of NAPA and served as AAA Secretary. In 2020, Briody was honored by the Society for Applied Anthropology’s Bronislaw Malinowski award for lifetime achievement.