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Graduate Alumni Make the Volunteer Connection

With graduate alumni now nearly half of the MIT alumni population, it is not surprising that rising numbers of graduate alumni are participating as alumni volunteers. From alumni club officers to student externship sponsors, the Alumni Association is beginning to tap an enthusiasm for giving back to the MIT community.

Graduate alumni have become increasingly involved in the past two years with the Institute Career Assistance Network and the Student-Alumni Externship program. Network mentors list their names in an online database and are available to other alumni for career advice and direction. Externships are student placements in the workplace of a sponsoring alumnus or alumna during the Institute’s Independent Activities Period.

“Grad alumni now represent 32 percent of our mentors, and the number is growing,” says Christine Tempesta, director of alumni clubs, alumni careers, and special constituencies. “There has been a tremendous increase in graduate alumni participation, from 13 sponsors in 2001, to 55 this past January.”

The Association’s Young Alumni Seminars have featured graduate alumni, who have appeared both as panelists and alumni hosts. Speakers have included Anthony Hoberman, SL ‘74, senior vice president
with Alliance Capital; Paula Olsiewski, PhD ‘76, program director for the Alfred E. Sloan Foundation; Jeffrey Shames, GM ‘83, chairman and CEO of Massachusetts Financial Services; David Epstein, GM ‘88, senior vice president of pricing and operations with Court TV;  Michael Nelson, PhD ‘88, director of Internet technology and strategy at IBM; and Craig Kanarick, AR ‘93, cofounder of Razorfish Studios. “We are now making a concerted effort to focus on the pool of graduate alumni in developing programs, both as an audience and as volunteer partners,” says Rosemarie Resnik, director of alumni relations and geographic programs.

A graduate alumni advisory committee was formed last summer to cultivate the opinions and expertise of graduate alumni and to be a resource for the Association staff and alumni volunteers. Eighteen alumni members, including cochairs Emmanuel Ikpo, ME ‘83, and Ellen Rizika, GM ‘98, were named to the committee. “I was looking for a way to become more involved in more than just the social side of alumni activities,” says Rizika, who was active as a student in Sloan School student government and alumni fundraising. She has also been an active participant in the graduate phonathons. “MIT offered me a great educational opportunity, and I wanted to give back.”

Ikpo, pictured at left, was honored with a Bronzed Beaver by the Alumni Association in 2002, and serves with the Club of Washington, DC.

MIT Alumni Clubs around the world depend heavily on the involvement of graduate alumni. According to Tempesta, 43 percent of club officers are graduate alumni exclusively, and many others hold both undergraduate and graduate degrees from MIT. Joanna London, ME ‘99, jumped in as a volunteer at her first club meeting after she moved back to the Boston area. “I really loved my time at MIT, and I wanted to give something back,” says the current vice president of programs for the club and member of the Association’s young-alumni advisory committee. “We’ve worked to target graduate alumni for involvement, but it won’t happen overnight. There is still work to do.”

Graduate alumni volunteers often look to continue the professional and career connections they began developing with colleagues in graduate school. “I had a great experience at MIT, and so many of my colleagues and friends are from MIT, I want to remain integrated with this vibrant and stimulating community,” says Karen Donoghue, SM ‘93, who became active with the 50K Entrepreneurship Program and has expanded her involvement to the MIT Enterprise Forum and the Association. “It’s also important for me to connect with other working mothers who have created successful, balanced, and integrated lives.”

Interest in the core Association activities of social connections, career networking, and supporting the Institute remain a constant theme of all alumni involvement. “My husband and father-in-law are alumni. It’s a family thing,” says Rizika. “I feel very good about supporting MIT.”

Volunteer Opportunities for Graduate Alumni

MIT Alumni Clubs

MIT Affinty Groups

Alumni-Student Externship Program

Institute Career Assistance Network

MIT 50K Entrepreneurship Program

Volunteer Opportunities Bulletin Board

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