A Been There Done That Resource

Ryann Haines Cheung ’93, Alumni Council president-elect

As members of the Alumni Council’s 2017–18 Diversity and Inclusion Committee, Saurabh Saraf ’05, Howie Schein ’66, and I agreed to tackle the challenge of connecting traditionally marginalized students with alumni. We were assisted by Sarah Smith-Benanti, assistant director of alumni and donor relations for diverse communities. Our group agreed early on that this program should be shaped by student needs.

During our discussions with staff in the Office of Intercultural Affairs and the Center for Careers, Life, and Service, someone mentioned that student organizations are often looking for help from beyond campus with programming and ideas. Would this work for campus groups serving multicultural students?  

Jordan Brooks, assistant director of intercultural affairs, endorsed this gem of an idea. He oversees the Multicultural Leadership Council, which brings together the leadership of various student groups to develop goals and programming for the year.  

Our work was beginning to have a more cohesive form at this point — but of course, we wanted to ensure that our tentative plans met with approval from students. So, when back on campus for the March 2018 Alumni Council meeting, we met with student leaders from some of the multicultural organizations. 

We pitched the idea of an alumni adviser to connect with each interested student group — someone who could offer advice, round up other alumni resources for various programs (e.g., a panel on interviewing for summer internships), and offer support through leadership transitions. Happily, we were met with smiles, nods, and some sighs of relief. One student said, “I can think of three things I did this past semester where a ‘been there, done that’ resource would have been so welcome!”

Finally, we took our plan back to the Diversity and Inclusion Committee for endorsement. Lester Alemán ’07, co-chair of our committee, sees this as “a great opportunity for alumni from diverse backgrounds to remain connected to the campus experience, as well as a great opportunity for students to learn about how alumni faced similar challenges in the past.” 

We put together a document covering roles and responsibilities for the participants of a pilot phase, and as the three of us were rolling off the Diversity and Inclusion Committee, we passed it along to new members Graciela Guzmán ’11 and David Jarvis ’04. They have now met with the leadership of interested student groups and are working on matching alumni advisers for a spring 2019 pilot of the program.

“Students are particularly excited to have the opportunity to work with alums that have navigated challenges and major leadership roles at Grinnell,” Guzmán says. “They want to tap into the strategy, resilience and problem-solving that has allowed us to be successful in Grinnell and after graduating. As alums, we are excited to see this project move forward and carve out a meaningful way to contribute to the goals students outline for themselves and bring our student and alum family even closer together through this coaching program.”

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