New platform to allow students, alumni to engage

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The office of Alumni Relations spent its summer hard at work on SVSU Connect, a new online platform that could influence student-alumni relations at the university for decades to come.

“(SVSU Connect) is a tool that students and alumni can use for career navigation, mentoring and networking,” Associate Director of Alumni Relations Pam Wegener said. “It provides a platform where students at SVSU can connect with an alum right from the beginning of their experience here.”

The new program can also be used to post and search for jobs and internships, along with connecting with both current and past students through Group Pages.

The work for implementing the program began with the Alumni Relations office attempting to demonstrate the value of a platform like SVSU Connect to the Deans, the SVSU Foundation and the President.

“Once they saw the value, they immediately provided the support and the dollars necessary for it to become a reality,” Executive Director of Alumni Relations Jim Dwyer said.

The next step was creating a relationship with the software developers Graduway, which power SVSU Connect. Alumni Relations has worked closely with the developers and has been able to relay feedback from the users to the developers to further improve the product.

“The development company is looking at us as an example of best practice for their clients,” Wegener said.

An example of this relationship is emulated through a recent marketing piece the office has generated, in which a kiosk will travel around campus allowing students to sign up for SVSU Connect on the spot.

Graduway has then taken the idea and shown it to other clients to give them other ideas of best practices.

Signing up for SVSU Connect is simple. Students will simply need to visit svsuconnect.com, where they will immediately be taken to a sign-in/sign-up page. Here, they can use either their Facebook, LinkedIn, or e-mail to register. After a few simple registration steps, their profile will be created, and they will be taken to the home screen. Here, they will be able to browse alumni to find potential mentors look for internship openings as well as view photos and news from around SVSU.

“The response has been fantastic,” Dwyer said. “Right now, of the alumni that have logged in, approximately 80 percent of them have indicated that they wanted to be a mentor. People just can’t believe that this tool is available to them. They’re really happy that they have an exclusive way to communicate back to SVSU and with our students.”

SVSU is now one of only three institutions in the state to have student-alumni platforms similar to SVSU Connect.

“I think it has tremendous potential,” said Jason Wolverton, a 2007 and 2014 graduate of SVSU. “The thing that stood out to me was its ability to connect alumni with current students. I was hesitant at first when I hear about it because I thought ‘Yet another social media site that I have to keep up on,’ but the fact that it can pull from your Facebook or LinkedIn accounts so you don’t really have to do additional work is huge.”

Wolverton has also been active on SVSU Connect through creating a group page where members and graduates of specific groups and programs can connect with one another.

“It was really easy to set up a page,” Wolverton said. “I just went to the site and selected ‘create new page,’ and it only takes a couple of minutes.”

Equally as important as the student-to-alumni connections is the ability for SVSU alums to share successful outcomes and stories with present students.

“The more we show our brand, and the more we heighten our brand, the more it impacts the success of the university,” Dwyer said.

While the launch this summer was only a soft launch, the response to SVSU Connect has already been strong. As of Aug. 26, SVSU Connect had 1,365 active users. Already, 250 jobs had been posted along with 104 photos and 11 events. Of the over 1,300 active users, 93 percent of those users are alumni, due to the fact that SVSU Connect has not yet been advertised heavily towards students.

“I think SVSU Connect will be a great tool for students of all grades and majors,” fourth-year biology major Kenzie Lukas said. “It is a more efficient way of getting in touch with alumni in their field of study and with other students as well.”

Wegener also stressed that not only does SVSU Connect assist students and alums, but also faculty and staff.

“Students right from freshman on can benefit all the way through graduation and into being alumni,” she said. “Our faculty and staff can benefit from it because they can connect with their alums, they can bring in speakers and they can provide internships for their student programs.”

Another benefit to SVSU Connect is that is uses many features similar to LinkedIn and Facebook, but does so in a private platform.

“It’s a safe community, it’s exclusive to SVSU,” Wegener said. “Your information is within just the SVSU community.”

After a strong soft launch, it is now the job of the Alumni Relations office to further the network that SVSU Connect reaches.

“My vision is having 20 to 25,000 alumni on one site around the world not just domestically, but globally,” Dwyer said. “People will realize all the opportunities that it presents for students, faculty and alumni to engage in activities and strategies that in the end impact the success of this university.”

A goal of the Alumni Relations office is to distribute the excitement surrounding SVSU Connect to the entire SVSU community. After a long summer of planning, implementing and launching, they seem to be off to a strong start.

“In my 37 years of working here, I’ve never been more excited about the potential of a product just really impacting the overall success of the university,” Dwyer said.

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