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An unprecedented launch
Earlier this summer, the LSA Opportunity Hub launched the college’s first-ever online networking and mentoring platform—and it couldn't have come at a more fortuitous time. In the midst of the uncertainty, disruption, and isolation caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, LSA students gained unprecedented access to LSA alums from across the globe and wasted no time ‘connecting’ with alums on topics like navigating careers during an economic crisis and exploring alternative internship opportunities.
Over 1,400 messages have been exchanged through the platform since July with students reporting their recent experiences with alums as both “meaningful” and “impactful.” This is exactly the kind of student experience that the program administrators of LSA Connect were hoping LSA alums could shape.
“LSA Connect is an online community where alums and students can have authentic mentoring experiences. The beauty of it is that LSA alums have unique career journeys to share, ones that aren’t so linear, like students often think. Our LSA alums have pivoted into various industries, subject areas, and interests, and these revelations about the adaptive nature of a liberal arts degree is so important for LSA students to understand,” says DeMario Bell, Mentorship Program Manager at the Hub.
The mission of the Hub has consistently focused on supporting students as they make connections between what they’re learning in the classroom and their career goals and aspirations. By virtue of their experience, alums understand this firsthand—and many have answered the call. Over 200 LSA alums have already joined the platform and J.D. Cronin (Economics ‘86), director of enterprise risk management at BMO Financial Group, is one of them.
“The interplay and feedback that I receive from our students is vibrant and affirming of all the best qualities of Michigan—a sense of enthusiasm, forward-looking thoughts, and most importantly, optimism about the future. What’s been most fulfilling for both the students and I has been the thoughtful and robust conversations about each LSA student’s journey, their intended professional path, and the insight I have been able to provide,” says J.D.
Nancy Baldwin (History ‘86), vice president of corporate services at the NBA, has also had an enriching experience talking with students.
“So far my experience connecting with students on LSA Connect has been positive. I’ve texted with a few students and alums and I am looking forward to more interactions in the future. I had a great video chat with one senior and she was terrific; she was smart, thoughtful, ambitious, and inquisitive. Exactly, how I hoped people saw me at that age," she shares.
Alums are at the center of it all
This is what’s at the heart of LSA Connect—alums that are at the center of a student’s career exploration journey. How can students truly learn about the power of networking and building relationships? How can students discover all the career possibilities out there? Where can they get “insider” knowledge about the working world? Meaningful engagement with LSA alums in LSA Connect is the answer to questions like these.
DeMario Bell is leading out those efforts with alums: he’s recruiting, building relationships, helping them to understand their potential impact on students, and striving to see their perspective.
“What I’m hoping is that alums become an integral part in how we shape student development and student exploration here at LSA,” Bell said. “They know firsthand what it means to navigate this global marketplace because they’re out in it and they’ve had to do it. So I’m hoping that through this platform, our community becomes stronger and a little more omnipresent,” he shares.
And in less than two months, incredible progress has been made. Over 33,000 actions have taken place on the platform, relevant actions such as joining the community, sending messages, scheduling meetings, posting on the discussion board, viewing profiles, and so much more. The online LSA community is buzzing with excitement which keeps both students and alums coming back for more.
J.D. sums it up best: “Connect is the operative word [here]... Networking and connection are the two most important practices to keep one’s professional life fresh and active. I share my experiences, offer some advice about the realities of searching for a job, and developing one’s career and I have found tremendous uptake from the students with whom I have engaged.”
A call for alums, like you, to join today
LSA alums often confess how they wish this kind of support was available to them while they were students. Thankfully, this missing need is what inevitably becomes a compelling motivator for alums to support current students, especially now as COVID-19 has irrevocably shaped the student college experience.
“LSA alums are always looking at ways they can give back through their time and talent,” DeMario says.“The great thing about LSA Connect is no matter if an alum responds to one student or 10, an alum can have an impact regardless.”
However, DeMario doesn’t view the student-alum relationship as one-sided, and hopes that alums will learn from students as well.
“The impact really goes both ways,” DeMario reveals. “There are alums who are still learning, who are lifelong learners. So to be able to connect with students now and to see what they’re learning, what they’re doing, and see how things are at Michigan, that impact goes a very long way.”
So how can you, as an alum, get involved? Step one, click here to sign up. The sign-up process is designed to be quick and easy by seamlessly allowing alums to populate the content from their LinkedIn account. Step two, connect with a single student. Step three, discover the enduring impact you make on that student’s life.
“The time away from my work commitments [due to COVID-19] helped me to see what was truly important—giving back and supporting [LSA students] through this unprecedented time. They don't need to have all of the answers now and might not even know what the questions to ask are. They feel like they have the weight of the world on their shoulders, and I want to help them in any way that I can,” Nancy concludes.
If you’d like to learn more about LSA Connect first, please visit our website.