University takes steps to fortify alumni network

Many of this year’s graduates will soon begin a new life in a new city, but GW is working to help ease the transition to an unfamiliar town full of unknown faces.

The University is in the process of improving its database of alumni to help create a support network for those alumni moving out of the District and into another city, University President Steven Knapp said.

“Now, you are much more likely to move around from city to city, from job to job,” Knapp said. “So to have a place so that when you go to a new community, you have people who know you and can open doors to you and introduce you to people, and just tell you where the best supermarkets are. That’s a real advantage.”

Knapp said he hopes his hands-on approach to alumni relations will help build a more continuous relationship between GW and its graduates.

“The traditional pattern with alumni is you graduate from college, you go out working for a few years, maybe start a family, who knows what – and then after 20 years out, you starting thinking, ‘Maybe I will send them a contribution or maybe I will go to a reunion or something like that,'” Knapp said. “But often there is a kind of a loss of connection when people first leave, and I think we are not alone in that.”

After Sunday’s Commencement, the class of 2008 will automatically join more than 220,000 fellow GW graduates as members of the alumni network. While some colleges require alumni to pay dues to be considered part of their alumni organizations, GW only asks that students pick up their diploma to join the alumni community.

Although a major component of alumni relations is fundraising, officials said they are not focused on getting money from recent graduates. The University’s mission is to build a “culture of philanthropy” where giving doesn’t just pertain to monetary donations, said Matt Lindsay, director of alumni communications.

“We’ve been looking at the student’s entire life cycle and seeing how alumni can get involved at different points,” Lindsay said. “Becoming a career mentor for another GW student, for example – that’s something any recent graduate with a job can do, and it builds a culture of GW students helping out other GW students.”

In 2006, Ellen Wexler launched the Young Alumni Network as part of her work as a Presidential Administrative Fellow. Wexler, a second-year graduate student, said she hopes the program will help build institutional loyalty.

“When (alumni) get married, they don’t say thank you to GW for their best man, they thank the frat they were in,” Wexler said. “The challenge is to make alumni see GW was the umbrella under which they found their friends and their jobs.”

Part of the programming for young alumni includes free informational learning sessions designed to supplement a GW education with real-world lessons like financial seminars about investing and managing student loans.

Some graduating students said they are eager to take advantage of GW’s alumni network after hearing about its benefits for four years.

Senior Sierra Strattner said she is moving to Connecticut after graduation to participate in the Teach for America program. But after her two-year commitment is up, she plans to move back to D.C. and utilize her GW alumni connections.

“I imagine I will rekindle my ties, so to speak, when the time comes to get a job here in the city,” Strattner said. “I am curious to see how helpful my GW education will be in acquiring a job.”

The University’s official alumni network is not the only resource students plan on using to network after college. Senior Julia King, a member of GW’s Greek life, said she planned to use alumni connections through her sorority to navigate Chicago, where she is moving after graduation.

“My sorority is headquartered in Chicago, Alpha Phi, and I plan on tapping into that resource,” King said. “Many of my friends at GW have also extended their friends and connections to me. All of this will be invaluable, because as of yet, I don’t know anyone in the city.”

-Andrew Ramonas contributed to this report.

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