Andrew J. Sciascia
UMass Lowell faculty and staff have had their noses to the grindstone recently in an attempt to gin up excitement for the university’s 125th anniversary among more than 18,000 active students and an expansive pool of alumni.
With the anniversary year now well under way, the university took another major step toward cementing the bonds between those two often disconnected communities last month with the launch of networking platform UML Connect.
Modeled after prominent peer-to-peer networking platform LinkedIn, UML Connect was developed by the Office of Alumni Relations as a low-pressure, social career site exclusive to active and former River Hawks.
Much like its spiritual predecessor, the platform allows for individuals to connect, converse, view the career paths of others and even post job listings and applications at their places of work.
Exclusive to UML Connect, however, is the ability for students to receive mentorship in a specific career path from workforce-tested alumni – and for alumni to advertise and provide such mentorship.
“UMass Lowell students have access to this ‘community,’ and we want to show students that this alumni family is there to be of support,” UMass Lowell Alumni and Donor Relations executive director Heather Makrez Allen wrote in a press release received by the Connector.
“They are part of something much bigger,” she said.
According to Jinny Van Deusen, assistant director of professional and affinity alumni programs, that “bigger” community is now full up with more than 100,000 living River Hawk alumni.
Since active student launch just weeks ago, UML Connect has broached 900 registered users.
The bulk of those users – approximately 98 percent, according to Van Deusen – are university alumni, so eager to volunteer their help that they registered in the July pre-launch to get the platform front-loaded with helpful potential opportunities for students.
Van Deusen told the Connector the new platform sets itself apart from pre-existing industry leaders by developing around non-traditional “flash mentoring.”
“Some people refer to it as an online mentoring platform,” Van Deusen said, “but most people think of mentoring in the more traditional sense.
Alumni Relations also developed UML Connect to stand as a low-pressure way for students to network in a more spontaneous manner, after understanding the costs associated with a long-term traditional mentoring program, and the social anxiety students may feel at face-to-face networking events.
Two key features make this possible, Van Deusen said.
First and foremost, the platform removes search-related stress by doing away with LinkedIn’s infamous “view who searched you” tab. Secondly, active students can be rest assured that they will never reach out to someone who does not want to help them as every user has essentially volunteered themselves as a potential mentor by registering.
Not to mention the platform functions much like a social media platform, removing some of the awkwardness associated with first-time meetings by enabling virtual conversation before a meeting is ever set up – if one is even deemed necessary by the student and alumni.
And according to other UMass Lowell faculty this may be just the tool students need to put themselves out there for career help and claim “accountability” for their post-graduate network.
“This platform runs itself,” Co-op coordinator Wendy Hyatt said. “You tell the students to get registered, the alumni are there and the connections they make are on their own now. They’re autonomous and they can go as far as they need to. This opens up a whole world for them.”