It's college commencement season which means the minds of many 2019 graduates are on one thing: jobs. This is not surprising given that careers are among the top reasons college students cite for pursuing higher education.
One important way colleges talk about helping students achieve success is through the strength of their alumni networks. Yet, a recent Gallup Poll of US college graduates indicates that many feel alumni networks have been less helpful than advertised in the employment process.
Numerous colleges and universities tout their alumni networks as differentiators of their institutions, but Gallup suggests that schools need to be more intentional in their efforts to mobilize their alumni networks and create strong connections that will benefit students on the career path.
Villanova University is doing exactly that. Villanova has been strategic in its efforts to implement programs that create strong connections between alumni and students and allow for robust support for students in the career search. This continues to deliver important return on investment for students and their families.
“Our alumni are passionate advocates for Villanova, and students repeatedly report to us the positive influence that alumni have on their career success,” said Kevin Grubb, Executive Director of Villanova’s Career Center and Assistant Vice Provost for Professional Development. “Alumni serve as mentors, provide insights into interview processes, and rally support across their organizations to make hiring Villanova students a priority. We are deeply grateful for their generosity and for the example they set in terms of what it means to be a Villanovan.”
Creating a social and professional network for connecting and mentoring:
Villanova utilized technology offered by PeopleGrove to create a social and professional network specific to the University—which it branded as “Nova Network.” This platform offers a place for students and alumni to connect with each other for advice based on location, mutual interests and common affiliations. In its first year, 14,000 students and alumni joined—providing countless opportunities for mentoring, networking and career support. The Nova Network is a collaborative partnership between alumni relations and career services. In fact, Villanova hired a staff member to straddle both departments, creating even greater synergy.
“We have long referred to our alumni community as ‘The Nova Network’ because of their dedication to creating opportunities for fellow Villanovans,” said George R. Kolb ’84, Associate Vice President for Alumni Relations. “The addition of this technology has only amplified that reach, empowering alumni and students to interact in new and compelling ways.”
The success of the Nova Network speaks for itself. Thousands of messages and meeting requests were exchanged between students and alumni during the first year of Nova Network. Surveyed immediately after each exchange, alumni and students have ranked their interactions at an average of 4.6 on a 5.0 scale. Upon signup, alumni can select different ways in which they would like to help current students and alumni—from mentorship to job shadowing and interviewing tips. A winter break job shadow program was executed completely through the Nova Network, facilitating dozens of job shadow opportunities for students at a diverse range of organizations from Google to government.
Students not only use the Nova Network for support on the job and internship front, but also for guidance across a number of areas, including their academics. Nicole Finnegan, ’20 College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS), was in the process of selecting a specialization for her major this semester but was on the fence about whether she should pursue a path focused in public relations or marketing through her business minor in the Villanova School of Business (VSB). Nicole decided to reach out to the Nova Network for advice.
“I used the Nova Network to connect with a recent alumnus who is currently an account supervisor at one of the largest national public relations firms,” said Finnegan. “Speaking with someone with the same unique major and minor combination, as well as shared Villanova background and experiences, I felt much more confident with my selected path and received advice on how to best achieve that moving forward.”
Within the Nova Network, industry, regional and affinity groups provide smaller discussion boards for students and alumni to connect and share events and opportunities.
Mentoring and Networking in Professional Development:
The Career Center has worked closely with Villanova’s schools and colleges to enhance professional development programming and integrate professional development requirements into the academic experience. These school and college programs include alumni mentorship for students, as well as events bringing alumni back to campus to discuss different career sectors. The Business School’s “Backpack to Briefcase” program and the College of Engineering’s “Career Compass” program, to name just two, match up students with an alumni mentor.
In the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the BRIDGE Society works to build relationships among students and alumni across a wide variety of career areas. The organization inspires both student professional development and alumni engagement—and provides a forum for students to gain the experiences necessary to forge their future career and professional direction.
Alumni were central to the development of the LEAD professional development program at the M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing and are actively involved as mentors, speakers and recruiters. At the Charles Widger School of Law, the professional development program is one of the most robust of its kind among law schools. Alumni are involved in the program through mentoring, participation in roundtables, teaching in externship programs, etc.
In the University’s newest college—the College of Professional Studies (CPS)—alumni have quickly shown a willingness to want to give back and support current students on their educational and career journeys.
Expanding alumni groups to include not just regional clubs, but industry affinity groups:
Like most universities, Villanova has long had regional clubs—giving alumni an active presence in cities and regions across the country. However, industry-specific affinity groups have provided even greater support to students with interest in job areas such as healthcare, communication and public policy.
“The Villanova University Alumni Association is committed to supporting the life-long personal and professional growth of alumni,” noted Kolb. “We have been increasingly focused on creating programming to meet alumni and families where they are, including events with our Regional Clubs and Affinity Networks, as well as new digital opportunities like the Nova Network.”
Students may easily access alumni by regional, industry and affinity groups through the Nova Network as well.