Recommendation 6. Swarthmore should nurture lifelong relationships with alumni and foster greater alumni-student engagement.

Swarthmore is deeply grateful to the generations of graduates who have created the College we enjoy today. We want our alumni to be able to more fully extend their learning experiences into an enduring liberal arts inquiry, whether through online courses, greater exposure to faculty on the road, lifelong learning programs, or faculty podcasts. In equal measure, we seek to learn more about how our alumni put the liberal arts into practice. We commit to offering alumni deeper, more generative relationships with the College and each other; more enriching academic experiences; and more active connections with current students, thus enhancing the intimacy and excellence that defines Swarthmore.

This recommendation has four parts:

Evaluate the effectiveness of existing alumni engagement activities and introduce new programs that reach across a broad spectrum of interests. Before introducing new opportunities, we should learn more about the effectiveness of current alumni-outreach activities and use that knowledge to guide the commitment of dollars, staff, and time. That done, we should combine new technology and creative thinking to encourage ongoing involvement in the life of the College, beginning with a “virtual hub” that will boost alumni engagement and serve as the single online space for alumni to explore volunteer opportunities and campus events, pose questions, contribute information, and take advantage of online book clubs and other special programs.

The College should produce high quality, provocative Swarthmore talks for the Web— similar to the popular TED series—designed to showcase the talents, knowledge, and expertise of faculty and alumni. Similarly, an online “experts bureau” would allow knowledgeable faculty and alumni to share expertise and serve as resources for the College and the broader public.

Passionate about their interests, Swarthmore alumni are eager to connect with others who share them. Opportunities for creating new programming abound such as those already created like the Business Affinity Group and the Black Alumni Student Advisory Group.

Our distinguished faculty and alumni can be valuable partners in our efforts to foster deeper connections to the College. We should create online discussions led by interested faculty members, perhaps either right before or right after a lecture. Online conversations would connect—and reconnect—alumni with faculty and to one another.

Swarthmore had a tremendous influence in making me an entrepreneur….Entrepreneurs are … driven to make change. They break out of the mold to innovate and to make their mark. I think this is essentially Swarthmorean thinking.

Iqbal Quadir, ’81 at Commencement 2011

As useful as technology can be, College events both on and off campus present unparalleled opportunities to connect alumni face-to-face with students and one another to relive the Swarthmore experience and learn first-hand about the College’s mission, needs, and aspirations. Because events build community and foster lifelong attachment, we propose creating a central event office with the professional staff and expertise to make more effective, consistent use of resources and leverage economies of scale.

Create more opportunities to engage alumni as volunteers. An important way to engage alumni is to enlist their support as volunteers, and we need to enhance our volunteer outreach. An expanded volunteer program would help to identify alumni who may serve effectively in leadership roles and provide expertise to admissions, career services, alumni relations, development, and other departments that gain greatly from alumni support.

Build bridges to bring students and alumni together in ways that are rewarding for all. Alumni and students alike benefit from close alliances with one another. Initiatives to cultivate stronger student-alumni relationships include a mentoring program to match alumni and students who share interests; shorter-term encounters that offer career advice, hone job-interviewing skills, and address other specific needs; and service trips that bring alumni and students together to help others in the United States and around the world in times of need.

Implement a social media strategy to promote more effective communications and build community. Social media can build a more productive volunteer base; increase attendance at events; bring classmates and affinity groups together for “virtual reunions;” and create a more seamless connection between prospective students, current students, alumni, parents, faculty, and staff by helping them share information in virtual spaces. We should develop a social media strategy that evaluates and coordinates current efforts, learn more about why and when our alumni visit social media sites, investigate the best practices we should adopt, and determine how to assess emerging trends.