A Visit to YaleMy trip to Yale serendipitously overlapped with a weekend of AYA programming targeted at careers in law, so I got to see a lot of the work they do in action beyond just getting to interview the individuals I had intended to. I learned a lot of interesting things about how students are involved with the AYA, particularly through STAY, Students and Alumni of Yale. Everyone I met with was extremely helpful and was really excited to not only share how students and alumni are able to connect at Yale, but also to learn about what I do in my role on the HAA. The following highlights of practices of the AYA/STAY and subsequent policy recommendations for the HAA have been developed after my site visit and conversations with individuals involved with AYA and STAY.
Things the AYA and STAY do well and what that means for us
- Shared Governance and Equitable Communication: STAY has a clearly defined leadership structure, with 3 co-presidents representing the 3 major constituencies of the Yale community; undergraduates, graduate students, and alumni. By bringing in individuals from all of these groups, STAY has fair representation and can accurately gauge interest and needs equitably, especially through its formal connection to the Yale College Council and the Graduate/Professional Student Senate.
- What this means for the HAA: While the Building Community Committee has a leadership hierarchy, it lacks representation from Harvard's graduate schools and lacks a formal connection to structures of the College. The committee makes decisions, but lacks the authority and autonomy to actually execute the decisions, relying on the HAA for support. This leads me to my next point.
- Action Recommendation: The Building Community Committee would be benefited from a level of authoritative independence from the rest of the HAA. Other representatives on the HAA get to act with a level of decisiveness and authority that we don't, largely because they are leaders in their own independent constituencies (ie: Club Presidents, Shared Interest Group Presidents). As student leaders, we often feel frustrated working within the system of the HAA because we have the drive, initiative, and experience to conduct our own programming, but have to jump through HAA hoops before we can do it. The Building Community Committee should be formally plugged into student organization infrastructure and be given a more clarified charge that either allows us to pursue this kind of work independently, or change the work we do to be more in line with the HAA umbrella.
- Funding: STAY, which which was started with $50,000 of Foundation money, allowed the organization to create a proof of concept which the AYA later picked up. Since the group acts autonomously from the AYA, as highlighted above, they are able to use their funding with more discretion, allowing for innovative new events without having to seek funding for it every time. And, they haven't run through their pool of seed money, which provides even greater flexibility.
- What this means for the HAA: The STAY model can serve as a proof of concept in terms of how to restructure student involvement in the HAA, or cut it out and create a separate organization to incorporate students in the broader realm of engaging alumni. This also shows that it's possible to utilize funding sources outside of the College to get a pilot off of the ground, something that the HAA and Building Community Committee have been reluctant to do in the past.
- Action Recommendation: The Building Community Committee should seek funding from beyond the HAA. Whether that means individual alumni patrons, UC funding, or a distinctly and separately allocated budget from the HAA, the problem in student-alumni work at Harvard is that there's no money, or set amount of money to do it. Every time the Committee wants to take on a project, it has to seek funding from other College offices when the HAA won't kick in its own funds, and when it does, it's usually a meager amount. This funding change would require a restructuring of the organization, as highlighted above, but this change in governance and relationships would create greater flexibility in event planning and innovation.
- Staffing: STAY has a dedicated staff member, Steve Blum, who's responsibility it is to oversee the work of STAY and broader alumni engagement. Steve is an alum of Yale and a Yale parent, and lives on campus as a fellow in one of Yale's residential colleges.
- What this means for the HAA: The work that STAY is capable of is a direct result of the passion that Steve has for his work, but more importantly, it comes from the fact that he is able to devote his entire job to this in a salaried position. Multiple students in their interviews highlighted that STAY would not be where it is today without Steve, and Harvard's lack of a person in this position directly contributes to the poor state of alumni-student relations at Harvard College.
- Action Recommendation: If the HAA is serious about engaging alumni with students, it should bring on an individual, or co-opt the College into hiring a full time staff member to oversee alumni relations. Our current contact in the HAA, John Prince, works on Undergraduate Engagement, but is also primarily involved with the HAA and not student connections and is also tasked with Senior Class Committee work and serves as a Freshman Advisor. The HAA, or a restructured STAY-like group needs another staffer to help with this work.
- Mentorship Program: STAY has created a pilot mentorship program that has created 250 pairs between students and 550 alums from all over the country. Alumni are limited to one student mentee per six month mentoring cycle, and students get to choose (in an anonymous pool) who they'd like as a mentor based on race, gender, academic interest, and career path. Interestingly enough, the factor they found as most important in being selected as a mentor was how much an alum wrote about themselves in the "additional information" field; this mattered more than any kind of similarity.
- What this means for the HAA: A lot of the logistical barriers that we operate under (alumni proximity, lack of support for in person mentorship, selection infrastructure) has been neatly taken care of in this mentoring structure that STAY has created. We are always worried about how we can time things around when alumni are in town for annual meetings, or how we'll get the funding for "coffee chats" from the HAA or other offices, yet this model shows us how a simplified version can really work and be successful. Steve noted that plenty of relationships go even longer than the 6 month cycle after which new pairs are made.
- Action Recommendation: The HAA, or another College office, should seriously consider implementing a version of a mentorship program similar to this. Alumni are worried about being used simply for job connections or for free meals/coffee, and the ability to do this remotely alleviates some of those concerns, on top of removing financial buy in from the HAA. Students have expressed a clear interest in mentoring relationships with alumni, and the success of this program should serve as an impetus and charge for the College to create something similar or start to seriously investigate how we can do something similar.