Networking in New York

Against a backdrop of gorgeous stained-glass windows and ornate chandeliers, over 135 alumni, parents, and friends of the College came out to converse with one another on Tuesday night at the Penn Club near Times Square. But the elegant, formal décor was enlivened by the high energy the crowd brought with it and the forward-thinking discussion that ensued. I posed two questions to the group that related to our ongoing strategic planning exercise.

The first had to do with core competencies or skills that we believe will be most essential to Swarthmore graduates in the coming years. On campus, we are immersed in what has so far been primarily a faculty-led conversation about the changing nature of knowledge, teaching and learning.  One of the themes that recurs is the question of literacies or competencies required for contemporary application of critical thinking and how that most effectively meshes with long-established requirements for critical thinking. Visual literacy, numerical and scientific literacy, trans-lingual and trans-cultural literacies are all emerging as critical competencies across the disciplines. And many think we need to expand the teaching of oral communication skills, including rhetorical argument and civil discourse.

So with all of this in mind, I asked our friends in New York this question: if you had to identify the core skills or competencies every Swarthmore graduate should have, what would they be?

I heard many excellent suggestions including the need to develop a stronger set of leadership skills so that our multi-talented students emerge from their four years with us fully equipped to lead in whatever professional path they pursue. I also heard a great deal about what I would call “communications” skills – artful presentation, keen emotional intelligence, and highly developed interpersonal skills. A few remarked that some Swarthmore students find social settings uncomfortable or awkward. They urged us to consider ways to link students to alumni very early on, so that alumni can more effectively serve as mentors or role models.

I also asked for advice about the most effective ways in which we can engage with alumni. We do many things well in this regard, but what other opportunities are there for us to facilitate greater alumni/student and alumni/faculty relationships in order to enhance our alumni’s engagement with the College?

Several alumni said that while it is difficult for them to devote an entire week to mentoring an undergraduate (for example through our extern program), they would be happy to volunteer for an hour or two occasionally.  In doing so, alumni could serve as a resource for undergraduates who want to further develop specific skills or would welcome advice about skills that will help them succeed in various professions after graduation.

Another suggestion was to offer “webinars” to alumni in order that they may continue their education informally, by participating in a class or seminar offered by a Swarthmore faculty member or a panel of experts.

Following our group conversation, alumni and parents spent another hour with one another in animated conversation, networking and sharing their affection for – and critical attention to – Swarthmore College.