Here are reflections on the YaleGALE exchanges in South Africa from several people who participated and co-organized the events. We have consolidated their responses to a YaleGALE questionnaire. Many thanks to the respondents:
Peter Maher, Director of Alumni Relations: Head of Alumni Relations and Annual Fund Office at the University of Witwatersrand.
Paul Geswindt, Director Alumni Relations at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU).
Samantha Castle, Alumni Relations Manager at the University of the Western Cape.
Q: How did you first learn about YaleGALE?
Peter: When Ben and Kathy visited South Africa in June 2015 to discuss possibilities of holding an exchange, forum, or conference on alumni relations in Johannesburg and my subsequent attendance at YaleGALE @Yale in November 2015 generously sponsored by YaleGALE.
Paul: I was informed by our VC’s office of the YaleGALE representatives visit to NMMU [in 2015] and subsequently met Ben and Kathy when they visited to discuss the planned group tour [for 2016]. Other NMMU representatives at that meeting were Prof Andrew Leitch – DVC Research and Engagement; Dr. Nico Jooste – Senior Director: Office of International Education; Ms. Laura Best – Special Assistant to the VC; Ms. Renita Affat – Acting CEO of the NMMU Trust and myself, Paul Geswindt – Director: Alumni Relations
Samantha: YaleGALE contacted UWC and that’s how I got in touch with the programme.
Q: Why were you interested in having a YaleGALE exchange – what did you think it would accomplish?
Samantha: I was interested in the exchange because I thought that it would be a nice opportunity for our alumni volunteers to hear first-hand what volunteers at Yale are doing to support their alma mater. Yes, I think alumni appreciated the opportunity to connect with Yale alumni and to learn and share their alumni activities.
Peter: Our University is very interested in global partnerships and collaborations and to learn from the best practice experience of other universities. Engaging with initiatives such as YaleGALE helps us learn and improve our alumni programme.
Paul: Yale is a leading higher education institution and any best practice experiences and models shared can only be of benefit. Although Yale was established in the 1700’s and NMMU’s predecessor the University of Port Elizabeth in the late 1960’s, we can still learn from each other. As a ten year old merged university we want to speed up our own progress and impact on society through learning from the experiences of others.
Q: Prior to the event, how did colleagues, other university contacts, and their alumni react to the idea of the forum?
Samantha: They were happy to participate.
Peter: They were intrigued and interested. One delegate commented that he was initially skeptical as our universities are so different from Yale.
Paul: We are a learning organisation as well as an organisation of higher learning and the idea of sharing and interacting have always been welcomed. So the forum was one of mutual learning because of our different experiences.
Q: How did the forum event compare to expectations? Should it have been longer? Shorter? Or structured differently?
Paul: The forum went well as it was planned according to the available time. It was felt by participants that the individual and even plenary sessions should have been longer. In the case of NMMU a full day workshop would have been ideal.
Peter: One day is very limited time to do justice to the broad scope of alumni and volunteer practice. There were too many session topics for one day. With more time the programme should also ideally start off with much more contextualizing, especially Yale University, and then also the host university. More time for Q & A would allow for greater participation by all YaleGALE and host delegates.
Samantha: I do think it should have run over two days in order to do justice to the conversations. It did feel a bit rushed.
Q: What other topics – additional or different – should have been discussed (perhaps if there was more time)?
Peter: Additional best practice examples of the Yale Alumni Programme. Perhaps a senior Yale alumni professional with fundraising experience could participate.
Paul: The sessions were carefully chosen and simply needed more time for in depth discussion and exchanges.
Samantha: Perhaps the same topics but allowing more time for discussions.
Q: How did colleagues, other university contacts, and their alumni react to the forum event? What were their comments and “take-aways”? Did any one of them come away with a different perspective on alumni relations?
Paul: The forum experience and The [YaleGALE] Guide given to all participants were both sources of valuable information that benefitted participants.
Samantha: Based on the people I talked to, they were excited and energized about the possibilities of what alumni can do. The Yale exchange allowed them to appreciate the important role they as volunteers play in support of the University.
Peter: Host delegates loved the experience and were very excited at what they learnt at the forum. Many were inspired and very keen to start implementing. The forum definitely changed some perspectives of delegates. Some takeaways were, be active rather than hold lengthy boring meetings, connect students and alumni to each other, residences are an ideal setting for building lasting relationships, encourage volunteers and give them recognition, build a sense of community, goals must be achievable (bit sized chunks).
Q: What did you, the other university contacts, and their alumni learn from the forum?
Peter: The value and role of volunteers in an alumni programme and in advancing a university. The value of exposing alumni to students and involving students in volunteer activity. The value of volunteers sharing their experience. The importance of being realistic in what can be achieved and starting with small achievable goals was an important message that was well received.
Paul: The most valuable lesson was the real value of volunteerism and to encourage of students and graduates to give back to society perhaps not even through the university organs but simply making a difference wherever they are in the world. As university volunteers, alumni can also get to know and understand some of the other issues better and help open doors to funding, employment, etc.
Q: What kind of follow-up with Yale alumni would be most worthwhile?
Peter: Exposure to the work of Yale alumni professionals. Participation in future YaleGALE @Yale conferences.
Samantha: Ongoing email exchange and invitations to future events would be great.
Paul: We want to be part of the Global Alumni community of practice and maintain our relationship with Yale, as well as grow the relationship with Yale but also with other parties. We hope Yale will bring their international exchange partners into a community of practice and sharing and grow the network. This will allow exchange as well as monitor growth and improvement amongst network members.
Q: Did the exchange spark ideas for any new initiatives at your institution or the universities that attended the conference?
Paul: When Yale delegates mentioned that volunteerism is more than what alumni do for their alma mater, it sparked something for us. If our students and alumni can really understand the importance of their higher education privilege, and how we all can make a difference in society and even in small ways, we can help make our world more care and less self-centred. Ultimately our graduates are our global ambassadors and represent our global footprint and we want our sphere of influence and impact to be felt and experienced through them wherever they find themselves.
Samantha: Yes. I love the idea about the reunions and getting volunteers to help with their class year events.
Peter: Yes. A specific initiative for alumni volunteers to get more involved with mentoring has been pursued by one of our Executive Committee of Convocation delegates, Professor Conrad Mueller. This has resulted in talks with the Commerce, Law and Engineering faculty, especially to contribute to and strengthen any existing initiatives. The idea is to focus on getting recent graduates to stay connected through volunteering to participate in a mentoring programme for students. The initial focus would also be on students studying towards a profession such as law and mining engineering.
Q: Any final comments?
Paul: We are grateful for the YaleGALE experience and the relationship and hope there will be future interaction not only e-communication but personal interaction.