Strengthening Bonds and Tapping a Worldwide Network

Alumni are critically important partners in WPI's global presence

December 19, 2016
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With nearly 40,000 WPI graduates hailing from more than 100 countries and with project centers from Paraguay to Japan, WPI's global presence is undeniably strong. But a new initiative under the Elevate Impact strategic plan aims to raise that international reputation even more by strengthening the bonds of the very people who know WPI so well—alumni.

As part of the Global Partnerships initiative, WPI is now turning to the extensive and dedicated alumni network to bring them together while also working with them to increase opportunities.

Bill McAvoy

“Our alumni are all over the world and can help us open doors to possibilities that exist in those parts of the world,” says Bill McAvoy, vice president for university advancement and co-lead with provost Bruce Bursten of the Global Partnerships initiative. “There are potential synergies we weren't taking advantage of in the past.”

WPI's successful international alumni are always thrilled to reminisce about their time on campus and keep the connections strong—to put them to a purpose that has direct impact on their own communities and on the WPI community. "Alumni also have an intense interest in boosting what's here on campus," says McAvoy.

But keeping those relationships takes work. “We have a huge number of alumni overseas and we lose touch with a lot of them for all sorts of reasons,” says Bursten. Once that connection is lost, it's very hard to get it back.

Alumni are critically important partners in WPI's global presence and in helping WPI achieve the goal of becoming the global polytechnic that President Leshin aims for.

With a focus on supporting activities and impact in three key regions—China, Europe, and Latin America—the global partnerships team is hoping to strengthen relationships and opportunities for the university as a whole. Alumni are key partners in the effort. They help make introductions, identify new business opportunities, work with potential students, act as WPI ambassadors, and raise funds that help the university, both on its Worcester campus and in locations throughout the world. They also know the specific customs and approaches in their own countries. Eventually, alumni chapters will take the lead in supporting WPI's continuing presence in those locations.

Alumni connections have been the seed of such powerful projects as formal agreements with other universities, student opportunities to work on the Panama Canal, and a project center in Bangkok. October saw the formalizing of the agreement for the WPI-Tsinghua University Center for Global Public Safety in Beijing established in honor of Yi Chi Mei, WPI Class of 1914, who became president of Tsinghua. Generous alumni donations also support fellowships, scholarships, and new possibilities.

“We are converting our presence into impact,” says Bursten. By combining the academic and alumni forces of the Office of the Provost and the division of University Advancement, he and McAvoy say they are channeling resources and efforts to attain the best results.

Bruce Bursten

That means they continue to meet with alumni around the world. As WPI's reputation continues to gain international stature, the two are finding more opportunities that are not always obvious. In doing so, they are taking a close look at how to best fit WPI into the international landscape. 

“We have project centers around the world,” says McAvoy. “This provides a foundation to maximize our impact and now we are determining how we can do more and build upon our global presence.”

As more alumni become involved and have purposeful intent to help WPI, they are showing both McAvoy and Bursten how WPI's influence is lasting. Not only are alumni eager to make introductions and make inroads to new opportunities, they are reflective on how their education helped them get to where they are.

But without a personal touch, alumni in the far corners of the globe don't always feel connected. To remedy that, Bursten and McAvoy—along with President Leshin, faculty members, and others—have attended international alumni events and In Your Neighborhood gatherings in places like Panama, Greece, and Indonesia. Prospective students and their parents are also invited to these events so they can meet with people who can tell them personal stories about WPI and can also help them with admissions questions.

With the help of alumni chapters in those areas, the gatherings bring together nearby alumni and WPI representatives, including faculty and admissions representatives. Making those connections by showing up, by talking with alumni about their years at WPI and their current careers, and by casually and honestly getting to know them as the people they have become is good for both WPI and alumni and reinvigorates the drive for both.

"We have project centers around the world. This provides a foundation to maximize our impact and now we are determining how we can do more and build upon our global presence." -Bill McAvoy

“It's fascinating to travel around the world and meet with alumni,” says McAvoy. “WPI is held in such high esteem. The real aspect of what we are doing is very tangible and has positive results.” Bursten agrees, noting the dinners spent with alumni offer not just inspiring conversation, but a genuine warmth between alumni and for WPI.

And WPI's recent launch of “email for life,” where alumni can continue to use their email address from WPI even after graduation and long into their careers, gives them a lasting connection and is an excellent opportunity for the university to keep in touch.

The global project centers also help the university do more by creating good work around the world and establishing both human and business footprints. McAvoy says WPI would like to see 90 percent of the students participate in an off-campus project, increasing upon the nearly 70 percent who currently do. WPI is raising funds to initiate more global scholarships so students can have that opportunity without financial hardship standing in the way.

Bursten and McAvoy say working as a dedicated team for all the strategic initiatives not only makes their jobs easier, but also helps this developing network become even tighter. As the team considers all aspects of WPI's global impact, the university itself, the students, and the alumni are reaping the benefits of so many opportunities and so many personal connections.

“It's really cool to see what each week brings,” says Bursten. “I've learned a lot from Bill about our partnerships overseas. It's a model of theory and practice.”

- By Julia Quinn-Szcesuil

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