Tired from days of intense hiking and camping in the mountains, one recent group of incoming Dartmouth first-years was met with a pleasant surprise at the end of their preorientation Outing Club trip: a home-cooked, three-course meal at Hinman Cabin, prepared by John Goyette '60. “One girl on the trip was from New York City, and had never been on a mountain before,” Goyette reminisced.
Anecdotes like Goyette's, illustrating the devotion of many Dartmouth alumni to enhancing the experiences of current students, were an important part of “Dartmouth Today: Understanding the Student Experience,” a forum held on Saturday, October 13, as part of the 2007 Class Officers Weekend in Hanover.
The forum, a Q&A with six student panelists, was designed to give alumni class officers a firsthand look at the Dartmouth experience today and to present practical strategies for organizing more alumni-student interactions. Gersh Abraham '58, ‘59Th, president of the Head Agents Association, and Rex Morey '99, associate director of class activities in the Office of Alumni Relations, co-moderated the discussion.
“The campus is changing both physically and in the priorities seen there today,” observed Abraham. “It's important for alumni to see how these changes have taken place, so they can better serve the College.” Cognizant that the College is a constantly evolving place, the class officers in attendance sought a fresh perspective on campus life to inform their work with students.
The students began by briefly discussing how each of their Dartmouth experiences has been affected by alumni. Frances Vernon '10 recalled her experience last summer touring the country on the Big Green Bus, Dartmouth's famous bus that runs on waste vegetable oil. She explained how alumni around the country “helped keep us alive,” welcoming the bus-dwelling students into their homes and offering beds, showers, and meals.
Tom Healy '08 described an experience he had at his New York City internship this summer. Six Dartmouth alumni who worked at his firm surprised him one day by introducing themselves and taking him out to lunch. It's that spirit of community, be it on the Hanover Plain or around the world, that makes the Dartmouth network so strong, he said.
The forum participants brainstormed actionable strategies for furthering such student-alumni interactions. Vernon emphasized the importance of a bilateral planning process for student-alumni events, since collaborative planning not only results in more successful events, but encourages positive interactions between student and alumni in the planning process as well. As president of the Class of 2010 Class Council, Vernon had firsthand experience planning student-alumni events as part of the 50-Year Class Connections program, which links up each class of current students with the class that matriculated 50 years earlier.
To illustrate the importance of a two-sided planning process, Morey told a story about a reception organized by the Class of 1957 for students in the class of 2007. The '57's planned to hold it at 10 am on a Saturday, figuring that most people are awake by then. The sleep habits of the average Dartmouth student, however, diverged somewhat from that of the average ‘57. The '07s ultimately approached the '57s and negotiated a later time for the reception, resolving the planning difficulties caused by the intergenerational gap.
The Class Connections program is one of many offered by Alumni Relations and the Hill Winds Society student organization. Rembert Brown '09 sang the praises of TASTE (Take a Student to Eat), a program that pairs interested students and alumni for dinners in Hanover. (Alumni pick up the tab.) Brown cited it as an example of a well-structured student-alumni program, suggesting the best student-alumni events are those organized around a well-defined activity, like dinner. Healy agreed, saying the Hill Winds Society's student-alumni trivia bowl last spring was another example of a well-structured program.
The forum also gave the student panelists an opportunity to talk freely about their personal experiences at Dartmouth. John Engelman '68, newsletter editor for the Class of 1968, asked what the students would change if they could change anything about Dartmouth, and they cited a more consistent academic advising program, a more transparent process for declaring an interdisciplinary major, and a broader Asian/Middle Eastern Studies program. The message, though, was clear: Dartmouth students have it pretty good. “There is little I would change about my Dartmouth experience,” Brown explained. “When I talk with my friends from other schools and tell them about the access students have to resources on this campus, their jaws just drop.”
The panelists closed by each offering a short piece of advice to the Class Officers on programming events with students. They recommended that event planners publicize well, maintain a high energy level, collaborate with established student groups, stay open-minded about event ideas, offer free food, and use Alumni Relations as a resource. Those strategies should prove fruitful, allowing the class officers to promote strong ties between Dartmouth's students and her loyal alumni, and maintaining the unique spirit of the Dartmouth community.