JDP Update, Part II: Alumni Outreach

In my last update as the JDP Fellow, I talked about the new workshops I had developed in consultation with both current students and Programme alumni. As good as it feels to have created new career-related content for the JDP experience, however, these workshops only represent one part of a larger, ongoing project: developing alumni relations and connecting current students with graduates. Let’s take a look at what I’ve been doing.

It started last fall when I received an Excel spreadsheet listing all current and past students of the Programme. My academic supervisor with the JDP, Marcus Holmes, had mentioned that he’d like to get a sense of where graduates had ended up professionally so that we could present more accurate information to prospective students. I went through the list and made notes. Luckily for me, previous fellows had already made some preliminary categorizations, distinguishing not only current students from graduates, but also actual alumni from students who had transferred out of the Programme, as it’s not unusual for JDP students to decide to stay at either W&M or St Andrews exclusively to finish their undergraduate degree. Since we were interested in JDP alumni though, I focused on this group, figuring a future graduate fellow could dive deeper into the students who transferred out of the Programme and their reasons for doing so.

I wanted to get a better sense of the JDP initiative itself in terms of major distribution, so I started by going through the lists and tallying up the different majors for both current students and alumni. After all, I wanted to be better informed about which fields were most prevalent so that I could learn about them in terms of job markets. Not surprisingly, given the global nature of the program, International Relations is the most popular major, with about half of all students enrolled in it both past and present. This was followed by Economics, History, English, and finally Film and Classical Studies. Since these last two majors were added to the Programme selection more recently, there aren’t as many students enrolled in them yet.

I opted to use LinkedIn for looking up alumni since we already encourage undergraduates to use this platform for networking.

From there, I started looking up alumni on LinkedIn, as this is a platform we encourage students to use when networking. I managed to identify the current whereabouts of about 140 students, or about 90% of the known alumni, and compiled them into an Excel spreadsheet. For this spreadsheet I listed their major, graduating year, current role and how long they’ve been in it, location, and the link to their profile. My rationale behind this list was to create a resource that students could use to help them with networking, something that would provide them with basic information and the link to contact them. With this in mind, I also created additional spreadsheets where I grouped alumni by major, so I could easily pull up everyone who had studied International Relations, History, and so forth for current students. When I meet with JDP students, I usually end up sharing at least one of these lists with them. It’s arguably the most helpful resource I have because no one understands better the nuances of navigating the JDP experience and life post-graduation than the people who have already done it.

But then I started thinking, how could this resource benefit my other projects? After all, as the JDP Fellow, shouldn’t I also be connected with alumni, both to serve as an intermediary between graduates and current students but also to tap into their knowledge and expertise? So I started reaching out to them over LinkedIn, introducing myself as the JDP Fellow and explaining my aspirations for bolstering student-alumni relations. The response was enthusiastic, and between initially reaching out in November and the end of the semester, I connected with over seventy graduates.

In addition to the workshops, I put together a virtual panel of alumni across the different majors to share their experiences and connect with current students.

If the fall semester was all about getting a sense of the program’s major distributions and tracking down alumni, this semester has been about tapping into alumni resources and increasing my position’s institutional longevity. As mentioned in my previous post, I distributed a questionnaire to alumni asking for their suggestions regarding the Programme, and their insights into their lives post-graduation formed the basis of all three workshops. Additionally, I invited alumni to participate in the workshops by having them join in during the last fifteen minutes, where they could share some of their experiences and be available for questions. On April 13th, I’ll also host an alumni panel, with graduates across the different majors coming together for a conversation about their experiences. Rather than give a PowerPoint presentation, I’ll assume the role of facilitator, asking questions to help guide the conversation while letting the alumni lead the discussion. Throughout all these experiences, I’ve been learning that JDP alumni are enthusiastic about working with current students, which opens up a world of possibilities in terms of organizing panels, workshops, meetups, and other events.

One of the charts I put together illustrating the different majors and their distribution across the student body.

In addition to organizing events, I’ve been taking the information I’ve gathered about alumni and current students regarding their majors and professions and making it more visually presentable. Using the chart function in Excel, I created a series of pie charts illustrating different facets about the program and its graduates, and put them all together into a PowerPoint that I then converted to a PDF. My goal with this project was to provide a snapshot of the program, something that would give students, faculty, and career advisors an overview in terms of preferred majors, places to live after graduation, and line of work.

But most importantly, in my opinion, I’ve been working on the institutional longevity of the JDP Fellow as a position. One of the drawbacks of having a graduate student occupy the role for one year is that there’s a period of inertia over the summer and fall, as new students undergo extensive training in both the program itself and more broadly in career advising. I worried that the momentum I had garnered networking with alumni would dissipate after I departed the role, so I started thinking of ways to maintain the energy even as new fellows underwent their training.

The easiest way to do this, I decided, was to make sure that the infrastructure underpinning my networking wasn’t exclusively connected to me personally, as I didn’t want any future fellows to have to start over when it came to connecting with alumni. So I created an institutional account for the JDP Fellow on LinkedIn and reconnected with all the alumni I had first reached out to last semester. Since this account runs through the JDP Fellow’s address instead of my personal one, all of the connections it’s made will stay with this account long after I’ve departed the role. Whoever the next JDP fellow is, they’ll have a network of alumni ready and eager to collaborate with them on future projects.

Between the alumni outreach and workshop development, this assistantship has been keeping me on my toes, but I still haven’t shared the most exciting part of this experience. Next time I write a JDP update, I’ll tell you about the culminating event of this assistantship:

Visiting St Andrews.

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