Students need more real world support

By Ryan Walsh

Collegian columnist Ryan Walsh outlines how the University and its alumni can better support future graduates.

Courtesy umass.edu

In terms of rankings, the University of Massachusetts has been shining as of late. We like to boast about these rankings relative to other public schools, which is fine. However, ultimately, in the job market, we’re not competing simply against other public schools, but rather against people from private schools too. I think public education is fundamentally necessary for our country’s growth and prosperity.

That said, if we want UMass graduates to have a chance in the job market, we have to consider schools like Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston College, Boston University, Babson College and Northeastern University as competitors in addition to the University of Rhode Island’s, the University of Vermont’s and the University of Maine’s of the world.

UMass is a tremendous university that often doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Academically, I’m wholeheartedly convinced UMass can rival any institution. While the quality of our academics is high across the board, certain programs like nursing, engineering and business are particularly strong. These programs are as good, if not better than rival programs at more prestigious (and expensive) private schools. If our academics are on par with even the most elite schools, why then does UMass not get the credit it deserves, and why do many recent graduates struggle to find jobs?

UMass has historically struggled with career placement. Perhaps this is because career placement programs struggle with the volume of students. Top students from any school will always shine and find jobs. However, if we want to raise the collective sum of UMass’ perception and therefore the value of each individual degree, we need our career placement services to be more encompassing. If our career services programs helped every student get a job, rather than just the top students, we’d all be better off.

Some placement programs are more efficient than others, like the Chase Career Center in Isenberg School of Management (ISOM). However, there is life outside of ISOM, and we must find more creative ways for all UMass students to find jobs when they graduate, which in turn helps students of all majors. In this sense, all of UMass’ schools are highly dependent on each other and should be more willing to cooperate and work together. It may be obvious, but if a student lacks support and mentorship while at UMass, they’re very unlikely to support UMass post-graduation.

The problem boils down to a lack of student support and engagement. Surely career placement programs cannot realistically find every student a job. Of course students must do some work on their own to find jobs, too. We need to teach people how to do this. We should do a more explicit job of explaining the value of alumni to current students.

At UMass we have to take a host of general education (Gen. Ed.) classes. While I don’t question the value of this broad liberal arts background, I do question the aim of some of the required disciplines. For example, my four lowest college grades were in three science course Gen. Ed.’s and one history course Gen.Ed. I had to take. Surely if one of these mandatory Gen.Ed.’s taught about the value of networking and mentorship, students would be far better prepared to utilize the opportunities UMass and its alumni offer.

UMass is huge and the alumni network is vast. While there are countless opportunities all around us, finding them is more difficult than you might imagine. Some students figure this out by themselves, but a majority don’t, which collectively brings us all down. Wouldn’t it be more beneficial for students to learn practical relationship and networking skills rather than, say, relatively irrelevant facts about some war that took place 1,000 years ago?

It’s important to note that the problem with engagement is not the students’ fault, yet it is the students that suffer as a result. This becomes something of a vicious cycle; students lack support while at UMass and in turn do not feel compelled to support future students, therefore the future students suffer, and so on. It’s narrow, counterproductive and unfortunate.

The UMass Amherst Alumni Association seems to be catching on. President Ronald Grasso has done a lot to rejuvenate the dynamics of the Association. Bringing in fresh yet proven faces like JC Schnabl as the new executive director will only help things. He’ll certainly bring new and invigorating ideas. We need to change the formula, and this is a great start.

The Alumni Association must not only concentrate on alumni, but also on the students who will inevitably one day become alumni. Often when someone wins the lottery they get inundated with calls from friends and relatives who they haven’t heard from in years, generally to plead their case regarding an overwhelming mortgage or a bad hip that needs surgery. The lottery winner likely would wonder where these people were before they’d hit it big. The Alumni Association needs to be aware of this analogy. It’s unrealistic to expect support when individuals feel they’ve succeeded in spite of the Alumni Association rather than because of it. Fortunately, this has been improving of late.

Some alumni are taking this engagement problem into their own hands. For example, take the grassroots Alumni Finance Group (AFG), founded in 2010 by Mark Massaro, Konstantin Danilov and Ryan Flynn-Kasuba, which is something of a tangent off of the Alumni Association. In less than two years, the AFG has engaged approximately 800 UMass alumni and formed chapters in Boston, New York and Washington, D.C. They believe there are over 60,000 UMass finance alumni working in Boston alone, which speaks for itself. They meet monthly and have had some notable alumni keynote speakers at their meetings. I highly recommend checking them out.

At the end of the day this problem is not the Alumni Association’s fault. It’s extremely difficult to get people to do things when they don’t want to. If people don’t want to support UMass, it’s unfair to scapegoat the Alumni Association for those individual’s lack of support. Alumni need to be more involved in supporting UMass and its students. Whether it takes the form of a separate alumni group, or simply volunteering some time, expertise or money back to the school doesn’t matter. We can and will solve this problem, but inaction and complaining don’t help. Be the change you wish to see at UMass, and others will follow. Alumni, I beg you, please get more involved on campus in any capacity you can. Remember, if you support your future alumni peers, watch how brightly we’ll shine together.

Ryan Walsh is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]