Students join alumni network

By Devon Sharma

The University of Illinois Alumni Association is not just about asking graduates for donations; the organization helps current students find a job and succeed in life after college.

The Alumni Association has extended its membership to all University of Illinois undergraduate seniors and graduate students. Upon completion of 90 credit hours, undergraduate students automatically receive a no-cost, 18-month membership in the UIAA, known as collegiate membership.

The collegiate membership program, which started in 2001, offers all the same programs and services that are available to regular alumni members, said Dena Bagger, associate director of student programs with the UIAA.

“The biggest opportunity collegiate members have is access to one of the largest alumni networks in the nation through our online directory,” Bagger said.

The UIAA online directory allows members to perform specific searches in order to find alumni contacts in certain areas. Searches can be done by college, degree, class year, location or keyword, Bagger said.

Once students become collegiate members, they are given an access code that allows them to begin using the online directory right away.

Joe Rank, vice president of membership for the UIAA, said that the online directory acts as a mechanism through which students and alumni can connect.

“The beauty of the online directory is that it’s 24/7, and it’s all done via the Web. It can be used wherever and whenever the need arises,” Rank said. “Students who are collegiate members can find a mentor; they can find internships or alumni who are willing to share career information.”

The online directory serves the interests of collegiate members as well as alumni members, Rank said.

“The greatest resource the UIAA has is the goodwill of a half-million University of Illinois graduates. This world-wide network of alumni were once students themselves. They’re looking to help current students,” Rank said.

The UIAA offers several other services to collegiate members in addition to access to the online directory. These services include a 10 percent discount on Kaplan test preparation courses and access to the Alumni Career Center in Chicago. Workshops on a variety of topics – from resume building to student loan consolidation – are also provided.

“Monthly e-mails are sent out with updates on events and programs that are upcoming,” said Ellen Amberg, co-coordinator of collegiate member outreach with the UIAA. “These e-mails also describe member benefits that students can tap into, which will help them in transition from graduation to career world.”

However, not all undergraduate seniors and graduate students are aware of the services available to them as collegiate members of the Alumni Association.

Brian Holt, senior in engineering, said he learned through an e-mail that he had been awarded a collegiate membership with the UIAA but wasn’t sure what this membership provided.

“I’ve received e-mails from the Alumni Association, but I haven’t had a chance to read them all the way through or to find out what it’s all about,” Holt said. “I would probably use my membership more if I knew more about the benefits or how to use them.”

The UIAA is exploring other ways of informing students about the services available to them as collegiate members.

“We feel that the collegiate membership program is a great service, and we want to make sure people know about it,” Bagger said. “So, student alumni ambassadors are going to hit the road and give presentations to various student groups and organizations.”

The best way for students to find out about the opportunities provided is to look at the UIAA collegiate membership Web site, http://www.uiaa.org/collegiate, Amberg said.

Besides encouraging students to make alumni contacts and easing members into the transition from student to graduate, one of the main goals of the collegiate membership program is to familiarize students with what the Alumni Association is, Amberg said.

“One of the primary thrusts is to let students know what the Alumni Association offers, what the benefits are and what the value is of staying connected with the university and alumni, both on a personal and on a career-building level,” Amberg said. “Students should know that when they hear from the Alumni Association, we’re there because our mission is to build relationships. We’re not the fund-raising arm of the University; we’re the friend-raising arm.”

The mission of the UIAA is connecting students and alumni to each other and to the University, not to ask for donations, Rank said.

“Bottom line is what we’re trying to do is leverage the knowledge and interest of University of Illinois alumni to help current students with the transition from college to career,” Rank said. “The inscription on the front of the alma matter reads, ‘to thy happy children of the future, those of the past send their greetings.’ That about sums the whole concept up.”