Maria Gallo, author of The Alumni Way, on getting more from your relationship with Bristol

In 2021, Maria Gallo published The Alumni Way: Building Lifelong Value from Your University Investment with Policy Press, an imprint of Bristol University Press. Here, she shares key insights on how Bristol alumni can continue to benefit from their connection to the University post-graduation.

When you think of the word ‘alumni’ what comes to mind? In casual conversations, and in my research into university-alumni relationships over the last decade, two of the most common responses to this question are: ‘the university only contacts me when they want to ask for money’ and ‘I haven’t really given my university or my alumni status much thought since graduation.’

In my book, I make the case for thinking bigger and bolder about your alumni relationship, from the moment of graduation through the rest of your life.

The value of connection

I often imagine the university journey as a mountain trek. We start with high hopes and intense preparation, which can begin with the choices made for us in early childhood. The climb is steep, involving intensive time commitment and intellectual feats. We endure sacrifices, including financial investment and personal debt, along the journey. Then at graduation we reach the summit, parchment in hand, at the zenith of achievement. But instead of drinking in the view at the top of our university mountain, we look for the fastest way down. The ‘real world’ awaits. What would it be like if we stayed at the summit? What opportunities are waiting for us there?

If we resist the post-graduation instinct to ‘go it alone’, then a world of networks and opportunities become available to us. The stories on this blog are testament to the fact that it is never too late (or indeed too early – students, take note!) to nurture connections to others that can contribute to our life journey. Are you curious about a certain career path? Are you feeling a bit lost after graduation?  Are you thinking of making a career change? Do you want to start your own business or consider ways to give back to make a meaningful contribution to your community? Ask yourself: how can my alumni network or my university fit into this equation?

Taking first steps

Maybe the answer to that question will be to contact an old classmate or professor that you connected with during your studies. Bristol Connects provides a link to thousands of other alumni, as well as an opportunity to volunteer as – or connect with – a ‘Career Expert’, who can share insights into their professional sector.

Reach out with curiosity and kindness to a fellow alum who shares your interests, is from a similar community to you, or has a career story that inspires you. Ask for 20 minutes of their time for an informational interview or a casual, virtual cup of coffee and be prepared with some questions that stem from your curiosity. Consider asking for an introduction to other alumni or others in their orbit, and start the process of building, or rebuilding, your own network.

This might seem daunting at first. But as you reach out and express your gratitude to those who took the time, it becomes easier. Slowly, the stunning vista at the summit comes into view. We can begin to attend university events (including virtual ones from a distance) and consider our life interests and how they may be enhanced by connecting with the university.

Give and take

Throughout The Alumni Way, and in its free accompanying workbook, readers can respond to activities and reflective questions. These can help readers to become savvy, informed members of their alumni communities, through the development of traits including reflection, curiosity, passion and generosity. I explore the give and take that is key to the alumni network ecosystem: could we take time to meet a prospective university student to share our story? Volunteer time as a mentor or guest speaker in the classroom to offer students a relatable role model? Recommend an alumni profile story to a friend that might be inspiring to them? We might not feel ready yet but by taking small steps you can discover a new world of possibilities.

Expecting more

Let’s rethink our alumni status. Let’s expect more from our university after graduation. Let’s consider the ways in which our university and alumni networks can help us to achieve the career and life we want. Take in that panoramic view, the networks, and opportunities it offers. This is the transformative power of alumni potential.

Maria L Gallo is an alumni strategist and scholar, and a Visiting Research Fellow at the Centre for Social Innovation at the Trinity Business School, Trinity College Dublin.

University of Bristol alumni can purchase Maria’s book, The Alumni Way, for just £10 by using code POUOBAW via the Bristol University Press website.

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