by Nick Koziol
What better way to get both alumni and students engaged than creation of a program that brings both worlds together. Yes you have students that meet alumni during executive in residences or alumni guest speakers. You also have internships that alumni offer through their businesses. Creating a vibrant internship program has many immediate and potential benefits.
I Am Not An Alum Yet
Many students think that they cannot be involved with alumni until they graduate. Some schools have Alum from Day One programs that start developing relationships with students prior to graduation but often they don't have a group of students that fully understand what it means to be involved in Alumni Engagement. An Alumni Engagement Internship program develops that core group for you. Your interns become your strongest advocates for programming and can help connect to their fellow students and later young alumni. They often are on the cutting edge for technology and can keep your office in better connection with what is trending.
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What do the students get? True college credit or a small stipend. However if you are like many of the other alumni offices in our profession you know that your office is often the one stop shop. You work with almost every department and office on campus. You have access to a database of alumni that are all potential network connections and the students have the potential to learn a variety of skills directly from you including communication, marketing, event planning, fundraising and the list goes on.
Alumni Engagement Benefits
Besides the satisfaction of providing a hands-on experience for a future alum there are many things that you and your office will get from this experience. First off you get an extra set of hands and a student that will graduate knowing how important your services are. These alumni will often become your most devoted volunteers. They will be willing to take on interns of their own, come back to campus and support your programming efforts. They will be regional supporters and may even become permanent employees at their alma mater. They will do this all because they lived it through this experience.
Some Things to Keep in Mind as You Get Started
Start small: Obviously these things don't happen over night. You want to start with one or two students. You also probably don't have the time to create an all encompassing program from scratch to finish overnight. Create a potential starter program by identifying what you can work with students on. They need clear objectives and ways to keep on task. We utilize Asana as our project management system. It is a great way to organize projects with multiple team members. Utilize campus resources like Career Services and speak to other offices that use interns for ideas. It is my experience that students need to be paid or receive college credit or there is little holding them to the commitment. It is also important that you understand what they want to get out of the experience and create objectives that work for your program and their needs. This is a learning experience for them and you.
Create a plan
Have objective measurable goals
Specific hours for the intern that are tracked and make sure that you are available to touch base for at least part of the time
Start with one or two students (maybe ones that you already know that are looking for experience)
Make sure they are either getting paid or course credit
Talk to them and make sure they set goals for themselves
Trial and Error
This is not a perfect science since every office is different and has different needs. Also each intern will have different strengths and weaknesses so things like with real professional staff may need to be tweaked to play to the skills that are available. Don't be afraid to try new things and listen to their ideas. We have changed several things in our procedures as a direct result of intern suggestions. We tried to grow to quickly and had too many interns at one point. However we began to hire an intern for a second semester and developed a Head Intern position that gave that student more responsibility and assisted with the training of new interns. This allowed us as professionals to focus more on the tasks at hand and less on the day to day training.
Give interns the chance to start a program and finish it
Listen to suggestions and make changes to the program if necessary
Allow opportunities for leadership
Don't be afraid of change or taking a chance on something new
Assessment and Final Thoughts
Make sure that you are constantly evaluating the program. It is not easy at first but as you develop and fine tune the program it becomes much easier to manage. Consider hiring interns for specific roles such as social media content editor, Regional Events, Reunion or even Student Alumni Association liaison. Your interns can also help recruit for the next semester. Make sure you stay in touch with them. Consider starting a LinkedIn group where interns can post content that pertains to the experience. It also will provide a place for new interns to get in touch with former interns.
Inquire at least quarterly if the internship is meeting the expectations of the students
Have a feedback form or exit interview so you know what is working for them
Don't be afraid to change things along the way
Review your objectives and goals for the semester and the upcoming semester determine what else interns can help with and what changes you want to make for the next semester
Have current and former interns lead your recruitment effort and process
There are many things that paraprofessionals can do to help strengthen your program. They will need time to be trained and guided along the weigh but the benefits definitely make it all worth it. Feel free to contact me with any questions email@example.com as I would be happy to assist you with creating a program.