This past Tuesday, I had the pleasure of meeting a group of young alumni from across the different departments of the Colin Powell School. I wanted to pull them together to discuss recent developments at the school - programs we have been building, our successes and our challenges. It was a gathering that in part advanced one of my early goals as dean of the school: to hold regular consultations with concerned alumni, share information, and ask them to think with me about the development of our school, and how they can help.
I wanted, first off, to remind the assembled friends of the great mission our school’s founding ushered in. Budget shortfalls have made for some stiff headwinds since that May day in 2013, but it remains true that founding and developing the Colin Powell School provided the chance to imagine the very best kind of education for our students—an education that deeply engages them in issues that will shape their lives and prepares them for service in leadership positions. I wanted to remind them that the dreams and aspirations of current students are no different than those that drew generations to CCNY over the decades. I wanted to excite them with the possibility that each year we will build something new to burnish the legacy of their alma mater. And I wanted emphatically to say how important they would be in that process.
I set out to tell them about our activities and programs, because you can’t ask people to lend a hand with your work without making a place for them in that work. And I was absolutely asking them to help.
Alumni should be key partners in building out the vision of a school. They carry the school’s name into the workforce, and help shepherd its reputation in the broader society. Beyond the campus, alumni networks are professional as well as social, and each aspect lies rooted in both memory and aspiration: the memory of college as a transformational experience, and the aspiration to build on what they found on campus, and make it more vibrant for a new generation. Alumni networks, like colleges and families, thrive in the act of renewing themselves.
We have a vision for our alumni. We anticipate that many will need our help over the first several years. They will need letters of recommendation, help accessing transcripts, and a way into a professional network of other Colin Powell School graduates. In those years, we may ask them to help our students in practice interviews, or perhaps speak on a panel describing their transition into the workforce. As time passes, our alumni will be in position to offer internships to our students, and eventually to hire graduates or direct them to other professional opportunities. Eventually, we hope Colin Powell School graduates will repay our investment in them with donations to support future generations.
We also, however, need to nurture the outwardly-looking aspect of our alumni networks. I asked the group to help us build a vibrant professional network of Colin Powell School alumni, willing to help recent graduates get into the workplace, able to provide internship placements and mentoring, proud to associate themselves with our school and its mission. I asked them to tell former classmates about our work and invite them to get in touch. I enjoined them, In their workplace, to seek out other Colin Powell School graduates, and lookout for those that will join them in the future. I wanted to draw them into a vision of an alumni network that was deeply informed about and involved in the life of the school, dedicated to serving the needs of our campus and, in the process, elevating what it means to be a Colin Powell School alumnus.
Finally, I wanted to remind our alumni, from across the generations, that if they graduated with a degree in any social science programs or departments (political science, psychology, economics and business, anthropology, International studies, sociology or Latin American and Latino Studies) they are Colin Powell School alumni. Growing a school means both leaning forward to anticipate its future and reaching back to gather up its past. As we’ve been saying to social science alumni for three years now: you are the Colin Powell School.
I left the evening feeling that we made a good start, and that if nostalgia and good society perhaps provide the bedrock of alumni affections, it’s my duty to nurture our networks with periodic meetings designed to make sure everyone has a clear understanding of what we are doing, why we are doing it, and how they can help. We’ll be holding more of these alumni meetings in the months and years to come. I hope when your invitation comes, you’ll answer my call.