Engaging alumni (curriculum case study)
The Alumni Film Archive project at Central Saint Martins (CSM) aimed to develop students’ confidence and networking skills as well as a more in depth understanding of different textile career routes, boosting both student employability and alumni engagement.
Anne Marr, Course Director for BA (Hons) Textile Design, says that the aim of the Curriculum Development funded project was to engage students in alumni networking directly through researching textile career developments and initiating and recording an interview with a graduate of their choice.
This represented a new approach, where the course team invited alumni as guest speakers for the whole student group. The course team had found that prior to this approach attendance and student engagement with alumni was poor.
The aim of this project was to engage students in a more proactive way through choosing their own alumni, based on their interest areas, as well as introducing a new skill, that of interviewing.
The course team gathered students’ initial feedback on their aims for the project, which included:
- building interview skills and building rapport
- gaining insights into the industry and experiencing working environments
- the possibility of placements
- getting tips on what to focus on while on the course.
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Design and approach
The funded project enabled the course team to design and test new teaching approaches, and to build new resources such as databases and film recordings for future students.
The approach was based around students self-initiating interviews and mapping out questions before the meeting with the alumni. Through an interview workshop the course team expanded the interview skills of the students and enabled them to build up more informed and confident networking skills. The idea behind this design was to encourage improved rapport with the alumni, who were now chosen by students rather than by tutors on their behalf.
Challenges and implications
The challenges of the project included timeframes, data protection, competing priorities, popular alumni and issues around producing films.
- timeframes – the project timeframe was tight, which limited the time available to set up a larger alumni database.
- data protection – one issue was getting an agreement from the alumni to share their personal email address with a current student. This resulted in a large number of contacts on the database that were publicly available, for example, website addresses, but fewer private addresses from employed students (for example, graduates working at organisations such as Burberry) as there was not enough time for staff to contact everybody before the project start. Unfortunately, the alumni association was not able to share their database either, due to data protection.
- competing priorities – the final student hand in coincided with two other hand ins in the last week of the spring term. In retrospect, the course team felt it would be better to have the hand in on the first day of the summer term.
- popular alumni – some alumni were highly ‘in demand’ and received many email requests for an interview. They then self-initiated a group interview in their studios, which was very well received by the students. The course team felt this could be a new direction for the project in the following year, as the students learned more from each other in a supportive group set up.
- issues around producing films – the filmed interviews became less important during the project and it became evident that it takes a lot of time to edit a professional interview that can be shared on the web. The course team felt ‘a show and tell’ feedback session, in which students could share their questionnaires and photos, might be more effective and less time consuming.
75 students from Year 2 participated in the project. Student feedback suggested the project had a very positive effect and all students recommended that the project continue in the following year.
The outcomes included:
- records of 75 written student questionnaires
- up to ten students gained internships out of the project, two of them in Hong Kong
- one live client project came out of the project with Wool and The Gang, from which seven students were selected to have their designs produced by the company and these are now for sale online
- the course has reconnected to a much larger group of alumni and has expanded its database considerably.
Students took away important insights through their interviews, including:
- an appreciation of the length of time it takes to contact an alumni and set up the interview in the given timeframe of six weeks, and the skills involved in contacting someone professionally
- they developed friendships with alumni and some found internships
- they had the chance to get an honest opinion on what happens after university.
For further information on the alumni engagement project, please contact Anne Marr firstname.lastname@example.org.
The project team is planning to redesign the project to continue with similar outcomes, but fewer resources.
The main changes planned include:
- group interviews of self-selected alumni instead of individual interviews
- one filmed interview per year (as the editing was the most expensive part of the project)
- setting up a Moodle File with written interviews to share information
- having a longer timeframe for the project - 8 instead of 6 weeks - and different hand-in dates in the first week of summer term
- the addition of more contact details from alumni who are employed rather then self-employed, and expanding to include alumni from more diverse and international backgrounds
- the addition of a social networking talk.