Switchboard Helps Antioch College Students and Alumni Connect Across Generations


Antioch College is a small liberal arts school in Yellow Springs, Ohio. They're a member of the Colleges that Change Lives, and the lives of their students aren't the only ones that they change. Just look at their motto: "Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity." That determination to serve sets the Antioch community apart.

You can imagine why we're so thrilled to work with them.

For the past six months, the Antioch Switchboard has been helping students and alumni connect with one another and their alma mater. Antiochians have used Switchboard to connect about everything from Co-op opportunities to having breakfast together.

We talked to Matt Desjardins, former Director of Communications; Jonina Kelley, Assistant Director of Alumni Relations; and Tanya Couch, Career Communications Coordinator - Cooperative Education about how the Antioch community is using Switchboard. They love the Antioch Switchboard because it creates connections and opportunities that weren't possible before, and because it strengthens the relationship of students and alumni with Antioch itself.

Tell us a little about Antioch. What do you love most about it?

Matt Desjardins: How do you pick just one thing to love about Antioch!? I’ll cheat and pick a couple.

First, like any college, it’s all about the people, specifically the students. Our students are genuinely brilliant, but often in unconventional ways. The one thing I routinely see is the willingness to be a part of something. They’re building the school alongside great faculty and staff. They are a big part of our shared governance model. They see gaps; things that the College needs to do to succeed and they create clubs and task forces to address them. It’s great.

Another thing that I’m big on that makes Antioch special is our cooperative education program, one of the oldest and most thoughtful in the country. Students work for a quarter of the year taking what they learn in the classroom and testing it in the “real world.” It’s one key reason that Antioch students are so well prepared to succeed right out of the gate when they graduate.

Finally, Antioch’s emphasis on sustainability is no joke. We have the second oldest LEED Gold certified building in the country replete with solar panels covering its roof. We have a five-acre solar array, geothermal pits for heating and cooling, and a working farm that services our dining halls. There’s no green-washing here. The College is really becoming a place that puts the environment first and that makes it a great place to work or go to school.

Why is Switchboard a good fit for Antioch?

Matt Desjardins: Switchboard is a terrific fit for Antioch for two compelling reasons.

The first is our Co-op program, which takes students out of the classroom each year and has them work across the United States and internationally. Whether working in Yellow Springs, Boston or Bangalore, they must secure these jobs and find housing. The College supports them fully, but ultimately it comes down to students having the personal agency and drive to find a position that is right for them.

The second reason is our alumni; they’re incredible. Despite being a small school in southwestern Ohio, we have amazing alumni residing all over the country. Antioch’s always been a national school. Alumni want direct and genuine access to our current students, and they often have insights into co-op. They remember the program fondly and they’re often in a position where they can help students.

So, this is where Switchboard comes in. It creates a powerful link between students and alumni. This breaks down barriers that can lead to great opportunities for our students whether it’s co-op or a job after college. And while it’s doing that for our students, it’s connecting our alumni to the college at a personal level in a way that hasn’t been possible until now. 

What was your team using and doing before Switchboard? How does Switchboard help now?

Jonina Kelley:  Before Switchboard, conversations were very organic and occurring through a variety of channels, from word-of mouth to Facebook. Being able to capture success stories or share information with larger audiences was limited to the members of the Facebook page. Individual groups developed their own group pages or methods of communication and little interaction was occurring between alumni and current students.

Antioch has an active Alumni network who are always looking for ways to engage with current students, but the right tool to leverage the available resources was difficult to determine. Now, Switchboard has provided one central place for all Antiochians to have with real, meaningful connections by easily identifying common interests. 

How has the Antioch community responded to Switchboard so far? Do you have some favorite posts or success stories?

Tanya Couch: So well! Alumni were very eager to interact with current students and share the knowledge that they had gathered in their time away from college.

On the other hand, as Matt mentioned, the co-op aspect of continuously having students seeking co-op jobs within the market, quarter after quarter, provided a perfect opportunity for students to interact with alumni and other community members. Once students were notified that there were members on Switchboard anticipating hearing from them, they jumped on board and were not afraid to share their interests, hopes, and dreams. I remember when the tool was first introduced at Antioch's weekly community meeting, a student said: "I'm texting my friends about this right now! This is awesome, people not at this meeting seriously need to know about this!"

There was a desire from both alumni and students to create more meaningful connections, and Switchboard was able to help cultivate conversations that lead to more meaningful interactions. As a small community, it's truly been exciting to see Antiochians of all generations connecting!

One of my favorite posts came from an alumna who offered and shortly after delivered on hosting a student for a meal on her way through town. Even the simple act of providing a nice home-cooked meal for a student traveling through helped build a connection, and that was made possible through Switchboard.