Current position: President of AILouvain, CEO of Q7Leader
Education: Master's degree in Civil Engineering, École Polytechnique de Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium; Executive Master's degree in Management, Solvay Business School, Belgium
Alumni: much more than just a network for engineers
An alumni is an association of graduates or, more broadly, of former students from a same faculty. Mainly known for social events, most alumni associations offer a wide range of services like newsletters or magazines, connections with potential employers, learning, among many others.
Surprisingly, many young graduates do not consider joining the alumni of their high school of university as a major asset. Because the importance of influential networks comes later in a career. For Anne Cambier, President of the AILouvain (Alumni of the Faculty of Engineering from the University of Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium), careers can very quickly be boosted from scratch by staying connected to your university after you leave the campus. Because more than a network, an alumni is often a real circle of learning and influence.
How should you define the role and mission of an alumni in 2020?
Through creating deep connections between members, an alumni encourages a community to stay open and curious, to adopt critical mindsets, to grow their competency, and to help the younger generations find their marks. This is usually done through inspiring events, turning Alumni members into real actors of the activities, mixing generations to enjoy the benefits of all. At AILouvain, we also challenge our Alumni about our common responsibility for building a better world. As engineers, we have a clear responsibility, beyond the technology, for the societal, ethical, ecological impact. This is at the core of our values.
And learning never stops. Being graduated is great, but it is just the start of a never-ending learning journey. As engineers, cultivating curiosity is in our DNA: we all have appetite to learn all kinds of new technologies, way of behaving… we learn about our-self, about others. A great alumni association offers this opportunity to continuously learn through events, through trainings, through workshops, and through connecting with others.
Why should graduates join an alumni association, and how to make the best of a membership?
If I may take the AILouvain as an example, I should say there are 3 main reasons why graduates should imperatively join an alumni.
Firstly, we have an emotional bound, a feeling of belonging, sharing something deep in common: we shared, once upon a time, the same studying experience, with both the fun and the pain. This experience strongly impacted our lives, our careers, our relationships, and it is part of what and where we are. Consequently, we trust our peers, have pleasure to see each other, and help them when necessary.
Secondly, with an average of 250 new graduates per year, our network is rich of 9000+ alumni. This means 9000 active people with whom you can connect in one click. 9000 people you can contact just by saying “we have something in common”. And 9.000 people who will always open the door to initiate a new personal and/or professional relationship.
And thirdly, each of us is unique and followed the same path. We find engineers in all careers, in all sectors, with all kinds of interests, everywhere in the world. Whoever or whatever you are looking for, there is always somebody in our Alumni who can help you or somebody you can help. And with this person, you are sure to easily connect because there is a common way of thinking.
Young graduates are typically quite reluctant to join an alumni. What’s the rationale, and what is the typical compelling event that makes then deciding to join it some years later?
If we don’t demonstrate young graduates the value creation of an alumni, why should they join us? At the age of 24, we mostly experienced a well-known and framed environment. So, difficult to understand the added value of a network. Within our members, we see a gap between the age of 25 and 35/40, when people are actively joining. Honestly, I also completely disconnected from the alumni once I graduated and only came back at the age of 40. Why? Because I did not see the added value, the alumni concept looked to me “old fashion”.
This is why we focus on the students as from Master. Not to convince them with big marketing words, but to collaborate concretely with common goals: we bring students and young graduates in contact with enterprises, we help them improve their resume and interview skills, alumni take part in the internship evaluations, a jury made of alumni delivers an Award for the best master thesis, etc. And suddenly, an alumni turns from an ol /outdated guy to an accessible and interesting one. The results? For the first time in our history, we get the class 2019 to be the best represented class within our alumni.
If the benefits of a membership are well known, how could members best contribute and give back to their alumni?
Our Alumni are deeply involved in all our activities, nothing would happen without their active involvement, they are really bringing quality and richness. Whatever the domain, we are proud of our exceptional network, with the biggest names on the Belgian and international scene, at academical, economical, industrial, and scientific level.
The board of our association is a small team of 12 people, all volunteers: our investment is enormous, and our impact is limited. If we want to increase the bandwidth and to de-multiply our impact, we need to develop and engage a real active network.
Moreover, we really believe in turning our alumni into true actors. Participating to events is great, being actively involved and contributing is much more engaging: alumni have pleasure to contribute, to help, and to be under the spotlights to create top value for the network. And their personal return is much more important when deeply involved. Finally, alumni receive top value because of the diversity of the approach, expertise and competencies. They fully experienced the richness of the network.
Could you share 1 or 2 major benefits of your personal alumni membership that significantly helped you in your career?
Beyond the pleasure to contribute to such a rich association, I also get daily personal benefits of being part of it. And it brings me much more than I give. I could give plenty of concrete examples, I will however illustrate the fact with 2 specific ones. I regularly invite close business relationships to our events, to bring them new inspirational insights. This is contributing to bringing a real “customer intimacy” into my own business. An incredible richness for my customers and for me as well, with deep connections. And looking once for a specific expertise in one domain, I have been able, in just a few days, to connect with the right competency. I immediately felt confident that we could bring the right added value to my customer. And it indeed was a big success.
By Alain Vande Kerkhove
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