The future of alumni relations: “Building bridges and learning from one another”
The bond between a university and its alumni is special and strong. But it is still important to continue to invest in it, as with all relationships. Because you are more than former students. You are ambassadors. You are the connection with the corporate world. And a source of knowledge that we, in turn, can learn from.
The alumni department is one of the university-wide policy choices of Ghent University. So it’s about time we found out what the alumni department at Ghent University should look like. Commission holder em. prof. Kristiaan Versluys talks to alumni coordinator Annelies Van Wittenberghe of the Faculty of Arts and Philosophy and Ghent University alumna and bioengineer Lies Lammerant.
Central and decentralized alumni relations
Kristiaan Versluys: “We have accomplished quite a lot recently when it comes to the central alumni department. We have, for example, launched a brand new online platform: Infinitum. We post content by and for our alumni on it, they can connect online and we announce all alumni activities. The second edition of our alumni magazine was published in February.
We aim to put our alumni more in the spotlight, for example by sharing their stories and accomplishments.
In addition, we continue to focus on alumni activities. We would like to broaden our approach by expanding the offer: both faculty and cross-faculty. A lot is happening behind the scenes in that regard, now we have to go one step further.
Lies Lammerant: “I have to admit that I only take part in the activities of my former faculty. With a busy job and a young family, you have to make choices. As an alumna, I primarily want to keep in touch with my fellow students and network for potential opportunities in my professional life. Once in a while, I’ll follow a lecture to broaden my horizon or deepen certain knowledge.
Annelies Van Wittenberghe: “In that case, I have some good news: our planning includes more family-friendly activities, so you don’t have to make all those decisions. We also want to reach more younger people by organising those activities. In concrete terms, we will soon be organising a cultural trip to the Zwin, corona proof, for alumni of the Faculty of Arts and Philosophy and their families.”
Kristiaan Versluys: “Activities for a broader audience can also be very interesting for your network. You might get to know a jurist, or a doctor. That’s why that central alumni department is important and it can strengthen our faculty alumni departments. We are even going to try and interweave the programming. Associations can propose activities that we organise centrally. Or they can include centrally planned activities in their programming. In other words, a win-win situation.”
Annelies Van Wittenberghe: “Which themes would interest you as a bioengineer, Lies?”
Lies Lammerant: “Make a link with current affairs and you have a range of possibilities. You might not be as specific, but you’re all the more relevant. I’m very interested in culture, so a lecture on the destruction of the cultural heritage in Syria would interest me, for example.”
Calling on alumni
Kristiaan Versluys: “A lot happens at our university. But there are still a few gaps here and there. We are definitely not calling enough on our alumni today. However, we know from research, and we also feel it, that there is a very large amount great deal of goodwill among the alumni towards their alma mater.”
Annelies Van Wittenberghe: “We want to build bridges with our alumni department. Not only between the different study programmes, but also between the academic and corporate world. Which is why the input of alumni is vital.”
As a university, we have to dare to be humble: we can learn from our alumni. We have to give them a voice.
Lies Lammerant: I would love to be able to give a lecture on something in my field. It can, no has to be, a two-way street. Plus: if you call on alumni, you will develop a more personal relationship and more engagement.”
Kristiaan Versluys: It can also be about very concrete resources. Take for example the corona crisis. The university was in a hurry to find new locations to organise exams in a corona proof way. Look at Flanders Expo: a space that big costs a lot of money. In such moments, our alumni might be able to help us. There are hundreds of thousands of alumni in Flanders. Even if we can only mobilise a small percentage of them, that is an added value.
High-quality scientific research
Annelies Van Wittenberghe: “The faculty of Arts and Philosophy bundles all initiatives on lifelong learning in our ‘Humanities Academy’, with the alumni department as an important partner. Every year, we appoint a curator of that Humanities Academy. We choose an alumnus or alumna who has made his or her mark on a certain theme in recent years. This year’s theme, for example, was decolonisation. The curator prepares concrete initiatives for the faculty, such as a series of lectures. Or the decolonisation of the library catalogue, as was proposed this year. In any case, the idea is to create a kind of safe space cosy square with the possibility of entering into dialogue, and to step out of our so-called ivory tower.
Lies Lammerant: “I think of the university as the reference when it comes to high-quality scientific research.”
If I can immerse myself in one thing every year, in the form of a training or lecture, then I think of that as an enormous added value.