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Alumni Affinity Groups

By Susan Morrison ’81 and Lisa Lee ’81, with H.G. Chissell ’96, Nina Paynter ’97 and Robert Steelman ’92

Because members of the Alumni Council consistently rate the time spent engaging with students as among their most enjoyable when they meet on campus for two weekends each year, the Council’s Student Support Working Group aims to create interesting opportunities for engagement with the students. This spring, they organized four activities based on “affinity”—a new buzzword used to suggest a common interest regardless of one’s major or profession.

The Green Garnet mixer celebrated an eventful year for sustainability at Swarthmore. It drew student leaders from Earthlust and Good Foods as well as President Rebecca Chopp, who joined in a lively conversation led by Sarah Scheub ’12 regarding notable accomplishments during the 2009–2010 academic year. “Because of the event,” says Scheub, “students and alumni were able to find common ground in a push for a more sustainable Swarthmore College.”

At the Queer-Straight Alliance mixer, three alums and 15 students discussed past and present experiences with identity at Swarthmore and beyond. “It was great to hear that the Swarthmore Queer Union was
a presence at the activities for admitted students and that these students felt supported so early,” says Nina Paynter ’97. Participants also discussed the use of entities such as the LGBTQ Swarthmore Alumni Group on Facebook and a similar group under development on LinkedIn as a way to maintain a connection between students and alumni.

Rob Steelman ’92 organized the Swarthmore Business Network mixer. More than a dozen students joined with economics professors Robert Hollister and Ellen Magenheim and President Chopp to engage in a lively discussion with a half dozen Alumni Council members. Those present addressed the anxiety many students are feeling about the economy and prospects for employment after graduation with particular emphasis on the importance of utilizing the extended Swarthmore alumni community to build a network of mentors and advisers to support their careers long after graduation.

The fourth activity was a panel discussion called “The Writing Life,” organized by Susan Morrison ’81 with Jill Gladstein, associate professor of English literature and director of the Writing Associates Program, and Chelcie Rowell, a Writing Associates Program intern. Four alumni spoke about their use of writing in their lives and then there was general discussion. First, David Wright ’69 described his career as a writer and annotator of music programs. Emily Aubrey ’89, a former veterinarian turned technical and freelance Web writer, gave students invaluable information on how to write—and earn money from—Web articles. Morrison spoke about scholarly and academic writing in the humanities, explaining, “It’s the questions we ask that make us scholars.” Albert “Sandy” Williams ’62 discussed how to write papers and grants as a science researcher.

Reaction from students was very positive, including: “I especially liked the contrast of alumni who use writing as their jobs with alumni who have to write for jobs that aren’t specifically about writing,” and “[The] overall message of tenacity when it comes to publishing and doing what you love was a really great one.”

In affinity group activities, alumni and students interact in ways not limited to their majors or professions, bypassing the often artificial divisions set up by departmental and school hierarchies. The result is increased dialogue across disciplines and across generations.

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