Whilst you would not know it from the outside (or possibly even on the inside), UVa’s engagement and development structure is quite complex. All of the programming for alumni, students, parents and friends is delivered through a combination of an independent Alumni Association, the University-led Office of Engagement and staff directly reporting to a number of decentralised teams based in individual Schools, Units or Foundations.
On the surface this centralised / decentralised model should be too complicated to be effective however, against the odds, it seems to work really well! This, however, is not down to pure fate or fortitude; all of the teams work very closely together to maintain a coalition that is constituent led, coordinated and as efficient as possible. During my time at UVa I had the opportunity to spend time in both the central units and also within a team dedicated to a School – the McIntire School of Commerce.
The first thing to say is that McIntire is beyond gorgeous. Not only is it architecturally stunning, it is a fantastic School with amazing facilities, which is consistently ranked as one of the best Schools of Commerce in the country. It really is an inspirational learning and working environment – so much so, that much of this blog has been penned from its garden, terrace or reading room!
Students can only enter McIntire in their 3rd year and the opportunity to ‘major’ on a programme within the School is extremely competitive. If successful, such is the enhanced learning experience, that students are required to pay an additional $5k in tuition fees. This means that there is often a heightened expectation in terms of student experience; not that dissimilar to the situation that we are now facing in the UK. This is where a local engagement team has been invaluable in being able to work with their alumni in very targeted and specific ways.
The key McIntire message is that the value you get from the School is much greater than the two years you spend studying in the building; when you major at McIntire you are immediately entering into a valuable lifetime network. Recognition of alumni donations are littered throughout the building, both permanently and temporarily (students are encouraged to participate in annual ‘thankathon’ where they physically label the School with their messages of gratitude around Thanksgiving). Ultimately, you would be very hard pressed not to realise the impact that graduates have on the life and fabric of the School!
Whilst in-School class and young alumni giving is prominent and highly successful (see McIntireONE for one example of this), the McIntire team want to ensure that alumni feel valued for their expertise and constantly look for opportunities to recognise their involvement. Their tailored alumni engagement programme is testament to this. Graduates are frequently brought into the classroom to enhance the student experience and, where distance makes this challenging, the School facilitate webinars, virtual open hours – where students can schedule time with alumni on the phone and recently compiled an advice book for the class of 2013 purely comprised of wisdom from recent graduating classes.
Alumni directly support recruitment and admissions activity including acting on behalf of the School to provide feedback on student interviews. They have a young alumni council and a graduate alumni board, which aims to provide a channel for graduate advice and contributions and keeps graduates connected to the School. They run successful events for young alumni including a programme called ‘City Circles’ a series of dinners in key locations and focuses on key topics, which offer recent graduates the chance to connect and share their thoughts with more experienced alumni. For further details of the breadth of their initiatives, check out their webpages: http://www.commerce.virginia.edu/alumni/Pages/Get-Involved.aspx
From a careers perspective, McIntire has its own devolved careers team who are constantly soliciting alumni input to ensure their student services remain relevant, innovative, timely and respond to the needs of current employers. They actively encourage students to network with alumni either by facilitating events and / or virtually connecting them, they encourage student – student and student – alumni informal mentoring, utilise alumni expertise to update students on current industry trends, offer direct access to their workplaces on student trips and visits etc. They work closely with the local alumni engagement team and constantly aim to explicitly highlight alumni involvement to build a sense of gratitude and obligation in the student body. Essentially, the message is…your experience has significantly been enhanced through alumni involvement and therefore, when you graduate, we hope you will remember this and stay involved…
Whilst it is clear that McIntire benefits from having decentralised support, collaboration with the more centralised teams are important; the provision of on-going graduate careers support is a great example of this. The in-School team don’t have the capacity to be able to offer on-going careers support however, this is something that the Alumni Association are able to offer and is particularly relevant for young alumni. Life members of the Alumni Association receive free advice, whilst non-members are still able to access professional careers support at a highly discounted rate. The professional and bespoke alumni careers team also offer a range of webinars, skills sessions, drop in’s, online networking, a job posting database etc. A fantastic range of services that enable all alumni to be well supported and guided in areas such as finding their first job, changing careers, looking for industry contacts etc. This demonstrates the value of being one part of a coordinated network as McIntire alumni are able to continue to benefit from support well beyond the capacity of the school’s own decentralised team.
This is just one example of a School led programme. There are many other Schools and Foundations that operate in this way however, McIntire has a highly developed programme and most importantly, this was the School that I was able to spend most time in! It was fascinating to get an insight into how these programmes work and complement each other. Critically, not only do the teams work hard to co-ordinate their activity but they also provide direct support to ensure provision for alumni and students is successful. Over two weeks, I ran into a number of familiar faces, in a variety of different contexts, across a number of the events and activities I was engaged in. True collaborative UVa spirit in action!
Some pics of McIntire…