According to a Gallup poll, almost 70% of graduates say that their alumni network was neither helpful nor unhelpful to them in the job market. While these statistics might seem bleak, Sam Welch ’86 argues that Hamilton College’s alumni network stands out among other schools. As associate vice president for constituent engagement in Hamilton’s Career Center, Welch manages the College’s alumni network, which engages hundreds of alumni each year in various on and off campus programs.
How does our alumni network function? In what ways does it help both students and graduates?
There are about 20,000 to 21,000 alumni in the Hamilton network right now. The best way to give back is through career development for students—it’s the primary vehicle for them to give to the College.
We have a huge number of alumni who have raised their hand to volunteer for the Career Center. They do everything from coming back to campus for career programs to providing job shadowing opportunities for students. It’s all about career preparedness through informational interviews, networking, and helping them find jobs after graduation.
Have you heard from students and graduates themselves about the alumni network? If so, what do they say?
One thing that students struggle to understand is that alumni want to help. Most people these days aren’t as comfortable picking up the phone or emailing someone they don’t know. But that’s what the alumni want to be there for.
Once they cross that initial barrier of actually picking up the phone and calling their first alumnus, they realize that these people are really nice and they’re there to help. When I talk to students who have crossed that hurdle, they love it. Now all they have to do is go on Linkedin, find alumni in their industry, and start connecting with them.
In terms of our alumni, they love working with and talking to our students. Every single alumnus that I talk to that had an interaction with a student tells me how much they enjoyed the conversation and how impressed they are with the student. By and large, they’re just thrilled to connect with students on campus.
What sets Hamilton’s alumni network apart from other schools?
Something that students often ask when applying to the College is: What makes a Hamilton student? Admission will talk about a lot of different things, but when it comes down to it, they say that Hamilton students are just nice people. It’s not cutthroat or competitive —they’re just students who really want to learn and are engaged in their work.
That attitude carries through to our alumni. It’s who our students are as people and who they become when they graduate. Really nice students turn into really nice alumni who go off and do big things in life. Then they’re ready to turn around and help other students get there too.
What are some of the ways the Career Center encourages alumni to connect with students?
Informational interviews are one of the best ways that students can engage with our alumni. Just by contacting alumni over the phone or by email, they can ask questions about what they do for a living and what it means to do the work that they do. It’s a great way for students to get a sense of that particular career and to start thinking about post-graduation plans.
Another way that alumni get involved is by returning to campus for career or industry education through the Connect Teams. These student-run programs are responsible for contacting alumni and planning several programs each semester. These programs can also include job shadowing opportunities in several major cities.
Alumni can also return to campus to get involved in the recruiting process. They can post job and internship opportunities to encourage Hamilton students to get involved in that particular industry and to give them concrete opportunities for career exploration.
What are the statistics relating to the alumni network?
In the past two semesters, the Connect Teams have worked with 213 alumni, planned 53 on-campus programs, and engaged 738 students with their programs. Since the program was created in 2016, their outreach numbers, response rate, and number of programs have increased significantly.
How do you plan to increase alumni engagement?
We want to explore affinity based career development. We target students based on their industry of interest, but there are already natural organizations that exist on campus around Greek, athletics, and other clubs. These groups tend to have great connectivity with their alumni base.
For example, we have a whole network of football alumni that are connected to the football players. We have an opportunity to insert career opportunities and career development into that relationship. What we’re doing is creating a more formal structure to connect students and alumni around their affinities of interest.
Looking toward the future, what’s next for the Career Center?
Moving forward, we’re planning to build up the alumni component of the career network. While the Connect Teams are a way for students to better connect with alumni, we want to build a parallel structure for alumni so that we have direct connectivity by industry between alumni and students.
For example, the leader of a Connect Team would have an alumni counterpart who would work with them on what kind of programming they should do, what kind of alumni they should bring to campus, and how to create more job opportunities through the alumni network. That direct connectivity will create a more seamless line between our alumni and our students.