How Oakland University Runs an Award-Winning Student-Alumni Engagement Program

Hallie Bills (left) and Amanda Fylan (right) of Oakland University.

Hallie Bills (left) and Amanda Fylan (right) of Oakland University.

"Early and often" is an apt motto when it comes to engaging students with alumni affairs, but putting that sentiment into practice is easier said than done.

Oakland University pulled it off.

Oakland's "Leadership OU" program fosters professional growth among students while highlighting the accomplishments of alumni through a mentoring program and a speaker series. The program won a Pride of CASE District V award for best student-alumni programming in 2015.

Hallie Bills is Student Engagement and Outreach Coordinator and Amanda Fylan is Assistant Director of Alumni Engagement at Oakland University. We asked them to recap their CASE V/VI Session, "Best Practices in Student-Alumni Programming" and explain their approach to student-alumni engagement.

Can you describe your three-tiered approach to student engagement in alumni affairs?

Tier One: Student Visibility Initiatives or “Pop-Ups”

  • The goal of our Pop-Ups is to have visibility among students on campus while they are still students, as we don’t want the first time they hear about the Alumni Association to be when they walk across the stage at graduation. These usually take the form of a free giveaway for students (hot chocolate, ice cream, cider and donuts, etc.). We don’t want anything in return; we just want students to have a fun and memorable experience with us. 

Tier Two: Campus Partnerships

  • We partner up with other units on campus to see what they are doing well and where it makes sense for alumni relations to have a presence. We do things like provide event support, coordinate alumni volunteers, recruit and host alumni speakers, and sit on interdepartmental committees for other units’ events and programming. 

Tier Three: Leadership OU Student-Alumni Mentoring Program

  • Leadership OU is the most substantive tier of the three and is where we are seeing the most returns. In a nutshell, Leadership OU is a structured eight-month cohort experience which provides a unique opportunity for meaningful connections between alumni and students through a mentoring program and speaker series.
Particpants in the Leadership OU program.

Particpants in the Leadership OU program.

Why have your efforts been successful, Leadership OU in particular? What have you done to make them work?

Our approach to student engagement is successful because, over the years, we have learned to align our efforts with existing culture, trends, traditions, qualities, and strengths of our campus our community.

A couple examples: We host our Pop-Ups in areas we know are heavily trafficked by students and select dates which fall during exam week when they need a cup of coffee most. For campus partnerships, we are strategically teaming up with departments whose student engagement programming is well-established and have been proven successful with students. Then we work to create a partnership that is mutually beneficial. For Leadership OU, we saw an opportunity to tap into the large volume of alumni we have living and working in the surrounding metropolitan community. It works for us because our people are nearby and want to contribute to the lives of students.

How can other institutions learn from and replicate your success in student engagement?

Our biggest piece of advice would be not let what has been done before restrict you from exploring what might work better. From our experience, a “Student Alumni Association” or a “Future Alumni Network” doesn’t always resonate well with students because they can’t identify with it and/or they don’t see what is in it for them. At least that was the case with our institution!


Find out how Switchboard can help you run your own student-alumni mentoring program.