Young alumni candidly share feelings toward Grinnell during listening sessions

April 22, 2021 — Four listening session with Grinnell alumni from the classes of 2006 to 2020 produced several ideas and suggestions for how the College can enhance young alumni engagement now and in the future.

Recommendations included identifying how best to recognize individual engagement preferences, focusing on the strong relationships that make Grinnell meaningful, and recognizing how alumni contributions can be organized within the structure of alumni activities.

“Many young alumni can’t financially give back but would love to give back in other ways, especially in ways that contribute to groups they engaged with as a student. However, many of them don’t know of opportunities to do so,” said one listening session participant.

In the past five years, young alumni have expressed mixed feelings about young alumni engagement and public issues concerning the College. The 90-minute listening sessions – conducted via Zoom during January and February – were held in part to further investigate frustration about recent administrative decisions. It also was a chance to gather feedback to help inform future improvements in engagement strategies, as well as introduce President Anne F. Harris to young alumni.

Grinnell College President Anne Harris
   President Anne F. Harris

“I am interested in all the ways that you nourish this institution; I’m also very interested in how this institution can continue to nourish you,” Harris said in her introductory remarks. “We’ve learned from survey data, outreach, and communications that we need to do more as an institution to engage you. And so really, the questions that are before us today are about how we can meaningfully engage young alumni with the endeavors of the College.”

After Harris’ introduction, each participant had up to two minutes for an opening statement. Then the floor was opened up for continued discussion. The four sessions, which were each moderated by College Ombudsperson Chineyere Ukabiala, were divided into classes of 2006-2010, 2011-2016, 2017-2020, and alumni volunteers in those same class years. In total, 53 alums participated.

Young alumni expressed gratitude for the opportunity to share their thoughts and be heard, noting they saw it as an exciting change in institutional direction. Several noted that soliciting alumni feedback and opinions, as well as transparent communication about pertinent issues, could help enhance engagement.

“I feel like I would be more likely to engage with the College if it seems like what I have to say does have some sort of impact or effect, or is at least considered in a genuine and reasonable manner,” said one participant.

As detailed in an executive summary about the sessions’ findings, young alumni described six dominant motivations for engagement: reciprocity or gratitude, care, pride, service, connection, and habit. Reasons for disengagement also were identified – some of them were by choice and others had to do with logistical factors. One of the strongest predictors of engagement or disengagement was the student experience.

Alums who had a mixed student experience wanted to support the elements that had been positive for them, to provide current students similar opportunities and experiences, but they described different reactions for the elements of the College that had not served them well. In those instances, some alums chose to engage to do what they could to change the circumstances that had led to their negative experience.

“I just think there’s so much work and so much love amongst the alumni community, we just need to harness that and figure out how to better connect one another and get to goals through our passion, not in conflict,” said one participant.

The sessions demonstrated that many young alums clearly want to contribute in a meaningful way to current students or student groups. However, some distinguished these interactions from engaging with the College as an entity.

“Grinnellians like supporting other Grinnellians, but not necessarily Grinnell,” said one listening session contributor.

The Grinnell College Office of Development and Alumni Relations will share the findings of the listening sessions with campus leaders, including the Board of Trustees and the Alumni Council, and discuss how to address shared concerns.

“The listening sessions reinforced that the College has work to do and opportunities for improvement and growth in the student and young alumni experience,” says Jaci A. Thiede, vice president of Development and Alumni Relations. “I am encouraged by both the level of forthright participation in the sessions and how alumni are motivated to further the mission of the College.

“One finding that hit home is alumni want to be engaged in a manner that recognizes the way they have been taught to think: to question, to debate, and to understand,” Thiede adds. “We’ll be contemplating how to grow opportunities for young alumni engagement in activities that have purpose to them, particularly those tied to Grinnell’s mission and values.”

—by Jeremy Shapiro

For your information:

To learn more about the findings of young alumni listening sessions, read the executive summary.

To read more alumni news, check out our news archive.