I recently attended a conference offered through the Council of Independent Colleges entitled, “Vocation and Gen Z: Meaning-Making with Digital Natives” It was an instructive weekend that yielded a number of insights into how this digital-native generation thinks about education, careers, and life in general.

Of the many statistics cited, two stand out in my mind as having implications for alumni relations. The first is that this is a generation that reports feelings of anxiety in record numbers—particularly anxiety over vocation. The second is that there is mounting evidence that this generation is very open to coaching and mentoring, perhaps more so than previous generations.

Alumni mentoring programs have been around for a long time, but most often in context with career development. At my own institution, we have a career services course that matches each student with an alumnus/a who offers feedback on things like cover letters and resumes. Programs like these can be highly effective for students, and very engaging for alumni, as they draw on the vast skills and experiences that alumni have to offer.

In light what we are learning about the digital-native generation, though, one wonders if there are not opportunities to expand alumni mentoring to broader questions of vocation. I am not suggesting that alumni be engaged to deal with mental health issues, but many students are anxious about the big questions of life and career. They are curious to know how others grappled with them. Many would benefit from having someone to talk to about discerning a career path, or finding work-life balance—someone to guide them, to help them ask the right questions.

This is an area where the right alumni could be of great help. Mentoring is a very special and authentic form of alumni engagement. Unlike cocktail parties and ballgames, mentoring programs involve alumni directly in the work of the institution. Mentoring programs say to alumni, “your experience is valuable, and you matter to us in ways that have nothing to do with money.” That is engagement at its best.

Of course, this kind of engagement is not right for everybody, and there is nothing wrong with cocktail parties and ballgames. It’s just that this is an area where alumni are uniquely positioned to forge meaningful connections in ways that are helpful to students. Alumni have far more to offer than many institutions give them credit for, and mentoring programs can go a long way toward closing the gap between what students learn in the classroom, and how they develop their sense of vocation over time.

Question: In what ways does your institution or alma mater make use of alumni as mentors? Leave a reply below.


Posted by Mark Zobel PhD, CFRE

I help nonprofits accomplish their missions and achieve their visions for a better world through donor-centered fundraising and comprehensive development work.

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