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MIT Technology Review

Ambassadors for the Institute

Alumni volunteers bridge MIT’s past and future

June 26, 2019
Photo of volunteers holding beaver stuffed animalsPhoto of volunteers holding beaver stuffed animals
Photo of volunteers holding beaver stuffed animals
MELODY KO

Leaving campus doesn’t always mean leaving MIT behind. En route to class one day during her senior year, Hope Barrett ’98 stumbled on a way to keep the Institute in her life.

“I remember walking through the Infinite Corridor and seeing a sign about becoming an educational counselor,” Barrett says. “I knew right away this would help me stay connected to MIT and its students.”

More than 20 years later, she confirms that’s just what happened. Barrett is one of more than 5,000 MIT undergraduate and graduate alumni volunteers who, as ECs, identify and interview prospective students and serve as resources for the students who are accepted to MIT.

“It’s a challenge, but I love it,” says Barrett, who is also a member of the Alumni Association’s board of directors. “I’m often speaking to someone who might never have met someone from MIT, and putting a face to the school. I remember first wanting to go to MIT in seventh grade, and now I’m a representative for the Institute.”

Serving as an EC is one of the 100-plus ways alumni can volunteer for MIT. Over 15,000 currently serve as volunteers, and more than 1,500 volunteered for the first time in 2018.

“I don’t think alumni realize all of the ways that they can volunteer for MIT,” Barrett says. “Some are super active with their local club, some volunteer for Tech Reunions, and others host students at their work. There are so many ways to stay involved.”

“There is no one path to volunteering for MIT,” says Lauren Wojtkun, the MIT Alumni Association’s director of volunteer training and development. “Regardless of your age, class year, or volunteer experience, there’s an array of different ways to stay connected and give back.” While some roles require in-person interaction, others—like serving as a social-media ambassador or as a member of the MIT Alumni Advisors Hub, an online portal through which alumni share and receive career advice—can be done remotely at a time convenient to the alum.

Unlike Barrett, many alumni make the decision to volunteer only after they’ve graduated. “After I left campus, there was a shock of moving to an environment that was so different from MIT,” says Johnny Yang ’04. “I realized how much I missed the conversations, the people, and pretty much everything. Speaking with students helps bring back those connections.”

Yang volunteers with the Alan ’73 and Terri Spoon Com-munity Catalyst Leadership Program (CCLP), which connects alumni and MIT students in a one-to-one coaching relationship designed to help students reach their personal and professional goals.

“I’m able to act as a sounding board and share my experiences as well,” Yang says. “Coaches are letting students know it’s okay to fail and it’s okay to ask questions.”

Register Now: MIT Alumni Leadership Conference

  • New and experienced volunteers are encouraged to attend the MIT Alumni Leadership Conference September 27–28, 2019. The annual weekend event brings together hundreds of volunteers with a shared passion for MIT and a shared commitment to helping the Institute make a better world. Learn more at alc.mit.edu.

Another opportunity for connection is the Student/Alumni Externship Program, through which students have worked with alumni employers during Independent Activities Period at such places as Sesame Workshop in New York, NASA in Maryland, and Los Angeles Superior Court. And popular alumni-to-alumni opportunities include supporting one of the more than 100 regional alumni clubs worldwide, which hold professional, social, and learning events for the MIT community throughout the year.

Volunteer work with students or alums, near campus or from afar, gives alumni an infinite connection to MIT.

“When you have MIT attached to your name as an alum, it does come with responsibility,” Yang says. “We’re ambassadors to current and future students. Being a volunteer helps you stay connected to the community and share what MIT is doing to help tackle some of the world’s most challenging problems.”

Learn more about volunteering: alum.mit.edu/volunteer or contact alumnivolunteers@mit.edu.