The past year has largely been defined by separation, leaving many people around the world feeling disconnected and lonely. And the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many Case Western Reserve University students to spend the 2020-21 academic year online at home or from their rooms on campus, away from their friends and faculty members.

To help build a sense of community and connectedness, many offices across the university are collaborating to bring alumni and undergraduate students together through an online social platform called CWRU Connect: Alumni CAREer Network. Organizers of the initiative hope that this will help bridge the gap students often see between themselves and alumni. 

The initiative gathers students and alumni in regionally based online communities to establish a common ground to help drive social interactions. Students and alumni also are encouraged to explore affinity groups, and are free to join groups based in other regions.

This effort expands the CWRU Connect Alumni Career Network, an initiative by the Office of Postgraduate Planning and Experiential Education and The Alumni Association designed to help students establish mentorship relationships with alumni and explore professional opportunities. The resource initially launched in 2017, focusing on students seeking informational interviews and networking opportunities. The renewed effort introduces additional social experiences for students looking for a sense of connection amid the pandemic—and beyond. The Alumni Association encourages its regional- and affinity-based chapters to consider how they can involve students in their programming to enhance the dialogue.

“I hope that students realize that alumni are a lot closer to them than they might perceive,” said Chamois Williams, director of alumni engagement. “They’re not so far removed—they’ve likely been through similar experiences and everyone’s willing to help each other and reach out.”

To kick it off, students are invited to attend virtual mixers Feb. 16–18, to get to know alumni. Register for the mixers.

Drew Poppleton, director of Post-Graduate Planning & Experiential Education, said that alumni often express interest in connecting with students and the new platform makes those experiences more accessible.

“Even in our office, when we talk to students about searching for internships or career exploration, we talk to them about how they’re part of this enormous network of Case Western Reserve University students, alumni,” Poppleton said. “You can show them the numbers on LinkedIn or in the Alumni Career Network, but through a program like this, it makes it more palpable.”

Laura Papcum, assistant director of alumni career services in Post-Graduate Planning & Experiential Education, was instrumental in helping to launch the program.

Though undergraduate students are already verified in the system, they must opt-in by responding to their emailed invitation and creating a profile. Students and alumni are encouraged to participate in the mixers this week to get started.

Ultimately, the CWRU Connect: Alumni CAREer Network will be driven by students and alumni, giving them the chance to use it however they choose and to offer a place to connect outside of planned events.