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How'd you get on the Alumni Association? Great question, not sure I know either
Ben Sorkin Page 2
How?When I received a nomination to apply for the Harvard Alumni Association Board of Directors Building Community Committee, I was quite confused as to how I got there. I didn't know what the HAA was, or how current students get involved, or even who nominated me.
Ironically enough, I had sent out publicity emails a few months ago for it without having even known that this was the same opportunity because a friend (and soon to be leader of the committee) had asked me to.
I later learned I was nominated by Dean Waddell, a Freshman Residential Dean, who also didn't really know what the opportunity was, but figured I'd be good for whatever it was. I filled out the application, didn't think much of it, and got on with wrapping up the semester (April is quite the month to be doing recruiting for a committee). I then got an email telling me I had been offered an interview! But, much like I would come to learn from my time on the Board, nothing with the HAA is as simple as it seems, and this was to be no standard interview.
Held in the basement of CGIS in a room I'd never been to before, me and 20 or so other candidates participated in groups in mock scenarios about event planning, engaging alumni, and logistics coordination, while the selection committee floated around the room and watched us. I thought I had done well, but had no way of knowing, since this was such an odd interview structure, I wasn't sure what I was even being evaluated on.
I didn't hear from the HAA again until June 23rd, long after I had put the interview out of my mind, when I learned I had been offered a seat on the Building Community Committee. In August, I was told I would be serving on the Activities and Reunions subcommittee (A&R, the HAA loves acronyms as I'd come to learn), which works on events that build community for undergrads and create connections between the undergrad community and the alumni community. Past events had included a Sophomore Concentration Declaration Event, a Junior reflection event, and Harvard-Yale Tailgates.
Why?As many folks around here will tell you, Harvard students love to do applications, whether they'll admit it or not. When I received my nomination email, I had some background in alumni work. I've been loosely working with my high school's alumni association on engaging graduates, since we're a relatively young school (celebrated 30 years this past year) and getting that strong foundation in early would prove beneficial for future alumni relations. But honestly, I just thought it was cool to be nominated and didn't mind writing a few hundred word responses. I scheduled a meeting with Dean Waddell to ask her about the nomination and committee, but she didn't know much either, so it was mostly a shot in the dark.
I knew I was interested in elite education from an academic perspective, and had been taking two classes that strongly tied into the subject (Sociol 135: Education & Culture, and Anthro 1976: Schools in Culture, Culture in Schools). Alumni influence and engagement is particularly important and relevant to elite institutions, so in a way, this pursuit tied into my academic interests to get some practical hands on experience in how an elite school interacts with its alumni.
Over time, my involvement on the Board has been important to and beneficial for the work I've done in my other activities. On HoCo, I planned a Sophomore Concentration Declaration event in Leverett and created the resources for other Houses to do it as well, largely through my familiarity with the previous iterations of the event through the Board which organized it in years past. Two tutors in Leverett are also involved with the HAA (Chris Cleveland, a 2013 alum on the Building Community Committee with me, and Siri Uotila, a leader of the HAA's OnBoard initiative to acclimate new members to the Board), and getting to know them through the HAA has strengthened my relationship with them and has given me connections to new resources. Chris even connected me with a former classmate in my pursuit of a summer internship!
Now, I stay involved because I've gotten interested in class-strengthening and community building programming, which is exactly what my committee gets to do. The resources and network of the HAA has proven helpful in other pursuits, and allows me to better inform my own post-graduation involvement with Harvard. I stay involved with my high school's alumni association, and I expect to do the same with Harvard. My early exposure to leadership in the Alumni Association, accomplished volunteers and alumni, and deeper understanding of the kind of relationship I want to maintain with this institution in the future will help me be a better informed graduate and lifelong member of the Harvard community.