By Liz Cheek
Americorp Vista, Alumni Relations

Alumni Carlos and a friend chat at the Senior Send Off in 2014.

Carlos, CG alumnus, and a friend look at old yearbooks at the Senior Send Off in 2014.

Common Ground’s Alumni Network Program was launched two years ago with the mission of increasing contact with our alumni so as to fortify a symbiotic relationship of mentorship, support, shared stories, and collaboration.

With this mission in mind, Common Ground has initiated a number of efforts to support our alumni’s success and build their connections to Common Ground. I invite you to analyze the description below of how we are building our alumni community. This is a very new program, so this is where we would love to hear your feedback on how you think it can be improved! Thoughts are welcomed in the comments section of this blog post.

Alumni Event Success

We have designed a calendar that alternates recreational, career development, and joint student-alumni events. Our most popular event to date was the Senior Send Off, held August 14th in tandem with Funk on the Farm. The purpose of this “to-be-annual” event is to honor and support our most recent graduating class as they take their next steps towards college and careers outside of Common Ground community. What better way to do this than by surrounding them with their newly made peers of Common Ground alumni?

Alumnus Keith and Rayvone

Alumnus Keith and Rayvone

We had twenty alumni guests overall; the majority were members of the Class 2014, joined by an incredibly healthy mix of students from years 2009 – 2014. It was a chance for everyone to mingle and to reconnect – not only with each other but with the campus as well.

Alumni had the opportunity to walk around the school, see what’s new, enjoy good food and company, and time to catch up with staff and faculty. We all stayed late into the evening relishing the beautiful summer night.

Alumni Event Struggles

In contrast, attendance at our career development events has been modest, with 3 guests attending our Resume and Cover Letter workshop, 3 alumni in attendance of an Employment Information Session with Appalachian Mountain Club, and no one at our Financial Aid Workshop. To announce these workshops events were created on Facebook and various notification were sent out via social media and email.

Community members, students, alumni: What more should we do, what are your suggestions? Should it be the Alumni Network Program’s responsibility to host both educational and recreational events, or do alumni prefer to get together for purely social events planned by the program? What, beyond workshops, can we do to support alumni career and college success?

The Numbers and The People Behind Them
Alumnus Miranda and Anthony

Alumni Miranda and Anthony share their ideas for a growing alumni network.

Another crucial part to this program is tracking the data on our alumni — particularly, college persistence and career/leadership success. We keep track of this data so that we can know what kind of support systems we need to put in place so that we can continue to give to our students even after they have graduated from Common Ground.

This data also lets staff and students hear about the incredible things Common Ground graduates are accomplishing i communities near and far. So far, via Staff Email Blasts we have celebrated Cotton Stewart ’03, Lanissa Gardner ’13, and Rasheed Stewart ‘09. Cotton has had a tremendous impact on communities in Macedonia and Japan. He has taught English abroad and intends to continue to do so this year. Lanissa informed us that she is now pursuing her passion—she was recently accepted into the Integrated Bachelor’s/Master’s Teacher Education Program in the Neag School of Education. Alumnus Rasheed Stewart, also known as Ibn Orator, is having an incredibly innovative impact on the local and national music industry with his newly debuted EP Brand New Eyes. Read the New Haven Independent’s piece about his work here.

Alumna Marisol with her family.

Alumna Marisol with her family at the Senior Send Off.

Our alumni are powerful individuals, stepping up as leaders in their communities. At the same time, the numbers tell us that we need to do more to support our alumni’s success in college. In Common Ground’s class of 2013, for instance, while 93% of students were accepted to college, 75% of graduates enrolled in the year immediately after graduation. 81% of the students who enrolled returned to college in the 2014-15 school year. These enrollment and persistence numbers reflect an improvement over past years — but we need to do better.

One of the biggest disclaimers that we have to state here, however, is that we know our data is incomplete. This is why we ask our alumni to continue to share your stories with us! We want to celebrate our alums — you, your accomplishments, your friends’ accomplishments, and those of your family members. So if we are missing something, please let us know.  Email me, Alumni Coordinator Liz Cheek, directly at Dorothea.cheek@commongroundct.org.

Improving the Numbers

Whatever the holes in the data, we know that we need to continue to find more and more effective ways to support our students’ success in college and careers. To do so, we will continue to organize opportunities that bring alumni together and help them learn —  including the Senior Send-Off, the Senior Send-Off, Resume and Cover Letter Critique, Employment Information Session, and Financial Literacy Workshop.

Given the small and diverse nature of our alumni community, we also know that individual support may make the greatest difference in supporting our graduates’ success. For instance, we’ve experimented this year with offering continued employment to a small number of recent graduates through our Green Jobs Corps — allowing us to keep in face-to-face, consistent touch with them during the transition to college. As a result, several alumni who were not previously enrolled in college are now taking college coursework.

At the same time, we know that strong relationships with the colleges to which we entrust our graduates is essential. Common Ground’s college counselor has been doing careful research into which colleges can best support our alumni, helping students visit and explore a much more diverse range of schools, and building connections to those colleges that have the best systems in place for welcoming first generation college students.

Alumni and current students: We know we can do more. What are you suggestions for support systems that are crucial to put in place to help support you, your friends, and your family members persist in their next stages of life?

Community at large: What ways are you supported by your alma mater? What do other programs do to keep you connected that we could do here? Is the focus of the alumni program misplaced in holding a high value for post-secondary school data? Leave your ideas in the comments or email Dorothea.cheek@commongroundct.org.

What’s Next for the Alumni Program

We would also like to announce what is to come for the alumni program: an Alumni Panel to be hosted during senior guidance sessions so that our seniors can hear first-hand from alumni about their experiences transitioning from high school to college and careers and what they should be prepared for.

We are also developing page on Common Ground’s website for alumni that will:

  • allow alumni stories to be shared
  • have a calendar of past and future events
  • photo galleries of events
  • connect alumni interested in mentoring our students about their college and career experience through an alumni-student mentorship database.

Last but not least, we are planning a 5 YEAR ALUMNI REUNION this summer with phenomenal things in the works such as food trucks on campus, tours of the school and trails, walk-through of the new building, staff-alumni kickball games, and an obligatory after party in downtown New Haven. Details, and recap, to come!