Growing Alumni Ideas
by Jesse Domer, technology and engineering teacher at Watertown High School
Alumni involvement is not optional. Alumni are the best resources for industry outreach, event support, fundraisers, chapter involvement and future employment for students. Former members understand the purpose of SkillsUSA, and they offer valuable knowledge to strengthen chapter activities. Nothing compares to the synergy that exists between current and former SkillsUSA members. It’s contagious!
Growing Alumni Membership
Alumni recruitment is a challenge. Finding former members is nearly impossible if you don’t have an alumni roster. You may be able to identify former SkillsUSA members through professional contact, but convincing them to establish an alumni organization isn’t easy. And, if you already have an alumni organization, but it seems stagnant, finding new energetic members to refresh your group is also a challenge. Existing students are your ticket to active alumni membership, especially graduating seniors. Be sure to generate interest while they are active members.
How to Reach Them
Communicate, communicate, communicate!
- From Day One, tell your students in every class about the alumni and their purpose
- Set up an email group, Facebook page and other means of communication
- Involve alumni in chapter activities, even those who may have gone away to college
- Establish a formal network or nonprofit organization
Why It Works
SkillsUSA is a dynamic organization, and many students want to remain connected after graduation. Keep the lines of communication open with members who have graduated, SkillsUSA alumni or not. Communicate with students about becoming alumni from the moment they become SkillsUSA members. Communicating early and frequently about the importance of alumni, and exposing students to alumni, equates to students thinking about their own long-term relationships with SkillsUSA.
Steps to Success
Step 1: Communicate from the beginning. From Day One, start communicating with members about the importance of alumni:
- Have casual conversations with members, planting the seed that they will want to be alumni and that you want them to come back (for example, “I can’t wait for you to be an engineer and come back to help our chapter.”)
- Discuss the importance of alumni membership during classroom time
- Have current alumni attend chapter meetings, or give a short presentation about the importance of maintaining SkillsUSA involvement
Step 2: Establish digital communication. Electronic communication is available. Use it:
- Obtain email, phone and address information
- Set up an email listserv
- Create an alumni section on the chapter website
- Create a Facebook page
- Use text messaging
Step 3: Use your communication resources to involve alumni:
- Send out regular communication regarding chapter requests and needed support
- If you have a new chapter and most of your alumni are away at college, keep them in loop, especially for events around the holidays or summer months
- Establish a board of directors within the alumni to coordinate activities
- Have chapter officers call alumni for specific events; keep the personal connection
- Invite them to everything, big or small
- Have them help with fundraisers, contests and local and state events
Step 4: Establish a formal network
As your alumni membership grows, set up a formal network with the intent of becoming a stand-alone nonprofit organization. This gives the alumni an entity all their own. Come up with a name (such as Watertown SkillsUSA Alumni and Friends Inc.).
Alumni Idea No. 1: Guest Speakers and Mentors
Invite SkillsUSA alumni who graduated from your program to return to the school as guest speakers and mentors. Who better to help prepare students for competition and a specific career and technical education (CTE) field than students you’ve trained? These alumni can share their success stories and offer cautions and advice, while relating to current students differently than the instructor.
Alumni may speak on various topics such as:
- Specific techniques, tools or theories related to your career and technical education area
- Preparing for the workforce or continuing education
- Preparing for competition
- Recruiting SkillsUSA and alumni membership
These mentor activities may also qualify your chapter for the Student2Student Program.
Guest speakers and mentors offer perspectives and experiences. These presentations and interactions are also great practice environments for students as they prepare for the workplace.
Have students invite the guest speaker, develop questions for the speaker, greet and introduce the speaker, and thank and follow up with the speaker after the presentation. See the Advisors Success Kit CD (ASK) for more information on this class activity.
Why It Works
Alumni have a different relationship with students than instructors and advisors, which can be effective in education, mentoring and career preparation.
Having been through your program, they can speak firsthand about the positive effects it had on them and how additional support will have a greater impact on today’s students. In addition, previous members, as well as students, can be effective promoters of your CTE program and SkillsUSA chapter. Their support and involvement can help take your chapter and program to the next level through their connections within the community.
By incorporating students in selecting the guest speakers, students can also learn additional leadership skills and be more engaged in the speakers’ presentations.
Steps to Success
Step 1: After students graduate, keep in touch with them through the SkillsUSA Alumni and Friends Association. Maintain records and contact information with students after graduation, and continue to invite them to be a part of the chapter and program. The Alumni and Friends Association database can serve as a resource of volunteers.
Step 2: While preparing for a specific section or topic, review the alumni database for previous students who could help reinforce your teaching as a guest speaker.
Invite previous competitors to speak on their competition experience as well as how best to prepare for the event, dealing with stress or how to complete the project in the allotted time.
Step 3: When inviting alumni to speak, be specific on the topics you would like them to cover, the amount of time you would like them to speak, and possible questions your students may have. It is helpful for alumni to know the reason why you invited them back as guest speakers and what you are hoping your students gain from the presentation.
Alumni Idea No. 2: Alumni Induction and End-of-Year Recognition
Have alumni organize the end-of-the-year recognition for your chapter activities. This event can review the chapter’s program of work for the year and competitive results, recognize the chapter officers, honor graduating students and induct graduates into the SkillsUSA Alumni and Friends Association. This special event will honor students for their achievements and provide them a way to stay connected after graduation while continuing their journey. This is also a great way to showcase your chapter to the school and community. This event could also recognize business and industry partners, show appreciation for administration or school district support, and thank parents for their involvement.
What is It?
An end-of-the-year celebration and alumni induction can be simple and included in a chapter meeting, or more extravagant and held in the evening with dessert or a meal. The purpose is to recognize and celebrate all that the chapter has accomplished, as well as supporting students as they transition out of high school.
Why It Works
This event provides an opportunity to celebrate, reminisce and recognize. Alumni can support this event and help your chapter move to the next level by including students, school officials, business and industry partners, and parents along with the student members. These alumni volunteers know what it is like to be a student member and have had their lives touched by this organization. This provides them the opportunity to give back in a fun and real way. This recognition can also offer great public relations, which can be used as a recruitment tool.
Steps to Success
Step 1: With the alumni volunteers, establish the budget, location, date and time of the event. Also identify any special guest that you would like to invite.
Step 2: Alumni work on the details; establish the agenda, décor, refreshments and recognition pieces; and complete and disburse invitations.
Step 3: Volunteers complete “day-of” coordination tasks:
- Set up the event
- Greet guests as they arrive
- Act as the master of ceremonies, recognizing chapter officers, competitors, completed projects and chapter accomplishments
- Install graduating seniors into the Alumni and Friends Association
- Enjoy refreshments
- After networking with guests, assist with cleanup
Step 4: Alumni should follow up with graduates and special guests who attended the celebration.
Additional planning information is in Advisors Success Kit CD (ASK) and the SkillsUSA Leadership Handbook.
Alumni pins can be purchased at: www.skillsusa.org/store/clothing.html
Alumni Idea No. 3: Local Advisory Committee and Competition Judges
Add an alumni member to your existing committee, or establish a local advisory committee if you do not already have one for your program. Advisory committee members, as well as alumni members, can be great advocates for your CTE program. This committee can provide resources, standards and industry insights to you, your program and your students.
What is It?
The advisory committee helps keep your program on point with changing industry standards. This committee provides resources and volunteers to assist with your program activities and enhance the educational experience for students.
Once your advisory committee is set, hold regular meetings, review the curriculum and share industry updates and changes. These meetings can also include chapter activities and competitive events.
Why It Works
Advisory committees can be an integral part of a career and technical education program, offering support of resources and experience.
In preparing for the regional, state and national competitions, it is important for students to learn their skill areas as well as sportsmanship. Local competitions are a great way for students to learn and prepare for those higher-level events. Also, competitive events are a great way for members to complete the transition from student to alumni, as they now mentor and facilitate as judges and competition coordinators instead of competing themselves.
Offering challenges or competitive events to students can be a great way to prepare them for competition and the world of work as well as to test their skill level at the end of a section. Work with alumni volunteers and advisory committee members to create another level of assessment in your classroom.
Steps to Success
Step 1: Networking and building partnerships within the community, especially with business partners in your field of study, is the first step to building an advisory committee. As partners come on board to support your program, formalize advisory committee meetings with agendas, as well as more specific requests for support. Support can be guest speaking, offering field trip destinations, placing students in internships, advising on curricula, judging local contests, donating materials, and more.
Step 2: As these partnerships are developing, be sure they are mutually beneficial for both the partner and the school. Recognize and thank partners for their involvement.
Step 3: Using the SkillsUSA Championships Technical Standards, have committee members test students on a single contest competency or multiple competencies. These contests may be leadership or skill competitions. By using volunteers to assist with these competitions, students experience another perspective, which can be helpful to their growth as young leaders. In addition to judging, these volunteers can also reinforce student learning and assist with the student application.
Review the Advisor Success Kit CD for more information on incorporating an advisory committee into your program and chapter as well as how to set up local competitions.