Program links alumni to university

Adelle Whitefoot

With the help of the Wildcat Innovation Fund, the NMU Foundation has started a new program called The Discovery Initiative program.

The Discovery Initiative program is designed to create stronger bonds with NMU alumni and find out how NMU can be relevant in their lives now.  The NMU Foundation wants input from alumni to determine if the university responds to their needs, said Carol Carr, director of annual giving for the NMU Foundation.

“NMU has several examples of alumni who have used their resources and expertise to help current students,” Carr said.  “We know there are many more alumni out there who would love to help, but perhaps do not know where to start.”

Many alumni offer internships or jobs, mentor current students or come back to campus to present on certain topics, Carr said.  Alumni have been actively involved in a number of campus projects over the years, such as assisting Radio X with licensing, acquiring the WiMAX license, creating the brain tumor research center, creating the loss prevention degree program and assisting the Baja racing club, she said.

The Discovery Initiative program to hire students to go out to meet and interview NMU alumni in their hometown or in Marquette during school breaks.  During an hour-long interview, students will ask questions related to student experiences, alumni experiences and overall perceptions of NMU, Carr said.

“The Discovery Initiative is not a fundraising venture, and alumni who are interviewed are not asked for money,” Carr said.  “We are trying to discover feelings and affinity toward NMU.”

The initiative has three primary goals, Carr said, to create stronger ties with NMU alumni and find out how NMU can be relevant to their lives now, to tap into the resources and expertise that our alumni community has to offer students and the university and to create networking and learning opportunities for current NMU students.

“The results of the interviews will be used to look at overall trends in how NMU alumni are thinking, how NMU can strengthen ties with our alumni community and how we can utilize the skills and talents of alumni,” Carr said.

Students hired will go through training on a variety of topics from communication skills and professional appearance to understanding university funding and current programs.  After training, students will call alumni to set up an interview.  The alumni they are contacting will have already received a letter from President Wong introducing the program and asking for their participation.

When students meet with the alumni they will be asking them a series of pre-determined questions and then relay their experience and what they’ve learned back to NMU.  Over spring break, each student attempts at least three interviews and over the summer students will need to complete at least 10 interviews each.  Students hired will get paid for every interview they complete.

“Students involved in (similar) programs at other universities reported the benefits of making connections with a wide net of alumni have opened up many doors and given them a network of professionals to assist them as they move through school and careers,” Carr said.

Andrew Hill, a 2003 NMU graduate, was hired to lead The Discovery Initiative pilot program.

“We are telling student interviewers to look at these conversations as a chance to reconnect with an old friend,” Hill said.  “Imagine this is a person you haven’t seen in years, and you’re trying to catch up and reconnect.”

The Discovery Initiative was approved as a Wildcat Innovation Fund initiative because it aligns well with the Wildcat Innovation fund priorities for supporting innovative ideas that will contribute to recruitment, retention, revenue generation and quality improvement, said Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Susan Koch.

“I am excited about the new communication links that The Discovery (Initiative) program will build between NMU alums and the campus,” Koch said.  “The Discovery (Initiative) program will also provide students with a new opportunity to develop networking and interpersonal communication skills as well as an understanding of philanthropy and the role that it plays in supporting higher education.”

Students interested in applying for the program can send a resume and cover letter to Andrew Hill at [email protected] explaining why they are interested, why they think they would be a great fit for the program, what experiences and skills they have that would set them apart for this position, and where they plan to spend summer break.

“Due to locations of alumni, some students may not be eligible for the program simply based upon where they will be spending the summer break,” Carr said.