Integrating Giving into Commencement Activities
Researchers at the University of Helsinki in Finland found that babies can learn a lot before they’re even born. Their study examined two groups of mothers-to-be, half of whom were exposed to loud recordings of made-up words in their final months of pregnancy. After birth, the babies who had heard the recordings in utero recognized the made-up words; the other group of babies did not. The researchers could tell because brain activity in the exposed babies increased when those words were played, whereas babies who didn’t hear the recordings in the womb did not react as much.
A student’s final semester is like the final weeks of a baby’s time in utero. During this period of great growth and change, students prepare to enter the real world. It’s a time filled with excitement and uncertainty. Many students face the tasks of searching for a job and considering what it’s going to be like to pay rent on their own for the first time. The experiences that students have and the information they take in during their senior year will have a lasting impression on their lives as alumni.
Many institutions see the commencement ceremony itself as an opportunity to tell students what life will be like as alumni and what they can expect once they graduate. Letting students know that they are about to become part of a meaningful and active alumni community, that belonging to this community has value, and that resources are available through the institution that can help them grow personally and professionally can have a significant impact on them.
At the same time, many graduating students will look to their school to help them navigate through what can be an overwhelming time. The weeks leading up to graduation can be particularly hectic. Aside from all the questions (and anxieties) that arise about life after graduation, many students are cramming for final exams, saying farewell to good friends, and preparing for the commencement celebration.
Lehigh University found a way to make life easier for seniors while making sure important messages get delivered and tasks get completed. Through a cross-campus partnership with the alumni association, career services, and the bookstore, the annual giving team developed a program to help students get ready for graduation and to prepare them for their lives as alumni. They call it Grad Fair Days.
When seniors come to the university bookstore, they are greeted by a representative who helps them get fitted for their caps and gowns, look at class rings and shop for diploma frames. But the representative can also talk knowledgeably about what to expect when they become alumni.
Students learn about the opportunities and benefits available through the alumni association, resources they can access through career services, and the significance of supporting the annual fund. Then, after a brief consultation, students are escorted to a bank of laptop computers and guided through a five-step process of verifying their contact information, completing a career services survey, creating their alumni network account, submitting their cap and gown order, and visiting the web page for the senior class gift.
The process not only aids students in checking off a lot of important tasks on their list, but it does so in an efficient way that helps to alleviate some of their anxiety. Making it a seamless process requires a lot of interdepartmental collaboration on the institution’s part because there are so many tasks to coordinate (e.g., floor layout, staffing, regalia, computer setup and support). But the teamwork pays off. In the first year alone, the university saw an increase in the number of completed career services surveys, new alumni network accounts, and senior class gifts.
When students hear and see that their school is there not just to prepare them for life as adults but also to provide continued help and support throughout the remainder of their personal and professional lives, it makes the bond with their alma mater stronger. The role of the nurturing mother doesn’t end when students are handed a diploma. The truth is, from the standpoint of an annual giving or advancement professional, that’s really where the work begins.
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