When I was 18 a dear mentor told me that the two most important decisions I would ever make are 1) Where I decided to go to college and 2) Who I selected as a life partner. As a teenager I couldn’t fully understand the importance of her words but as an adult I have been reflecting on her first piece of advice, (the latter part could be its own blog post (or two!) for another time.)
Why did you choose your alma mater? For me, it was about finding a place with big opportunities within a smaller community. I didn’t want to be just a number but I still wanted to meet new people every day.
In 1997 Grand Valley State University (GVSU) had only 11,000 students. A young university (established 1960) it was not steeped in tradition but it was developing its own persona with every passing decade.
I, like many other GVSU students, knew the Director of Housing, Director of Student Life and Dean of Students. In fact, these three men came to GVSU in the early 1980’s and remain there to this day. They (like many other Student Affairs professionals at GVSU) visibly demonstrated care and concern for students. Their first commitment is to make sound decisions that support the development and on-campus experience for current and future GVSU students.
Several years later I find myself professionally working in Student Affairs and thinking about what we mean when we talk about “institutional affinity.” To me, that has always meant giving back money, time and resources in support of your alma matter—but what propels a young alumni to want to do that after graduation?
When we talk about creating institutional affinity we must be mindful that the greatest “brand” that a school can demonstrate is care and concern for its students. This feeling can endure throughout the college experience and well past graduation. If a school excels at this, it creates life-long alumni who take great pride in their institution and will find ways to give back to the school that gave them so many fantastic experiences.
I am reminded of that phrase “People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.” I believe that is the ultimate goal when creating institutional affinity—that students (long past their graduation day)–felt cared for during their collegiate experience and continue to feel like they are an active part of the university as alumni.
Whenever a person donates to GVSU (no matter how much) they receive a video via email with current GVSU students thanking them for their gift. I have also received phone calls from current students which definitely adds a personal touch because I enjoy hearing their stories about life as a current GVSU student. I have been taken to lunch by members of the alumni office when they are working on alumni events close to where I live. I am not a major donor or even a significant donor but my alma mater recognizes the value of everyone’s contribution and that is what keeps me active and engaged and an ambassador to my university.
What is your institutional brand? How is your school “living its brand” daily through interactions with current and future students as well as alumni ?