Just days before joining the more than 275,000 Colonials who make up the GW alumni community as a newly minted graduate, Aubrey Shwedick, GWSB BBA ’16, sat down with Associate Vice President for Alumni Relations Matt Manfra to talk about what graduates should know about joining the GW alumni family.
Matt Manfra: Thanks for coming over.
Aubrey Shwedick: Thank you for having me. I thought this would be an interesting opportunity, so I’m pretty excited.
MM: So you’re graduating?
AS: Yes, I am.
MM: Woohoo! You excited?
AS: Yes! It’s just such a big change. All last week I was still writing papers, so it didn’t really set in until a couple days ago.
MM: Are you ready?
AS: I hope so! It’s definitely very exciting.
MM: There’s a lot of excitement around here this week leading up to Commencement. We’re looking forward to welcoming the newest class of alumni to the GW Alumni Association.
AS: So, what exactly is the GW Alumni Association?
MM: The GW Alumni Association (GWAA) is really the network of 270,000—soon to be 275,000, with yourself included—GW graduates out there. All of our alumni are automatically members of the alumni association. It’s really all encompassing—no matter where you live, no matter what you studied, no matter what year you graduated, you are and will always be a member.
AS: What does it cost to be a member?
MM: Not a cent; it’s completely free.
AS: As far as being a member of the GWAA, what does that encompass?
MM: The benefits of being in an association like the GWAA is that you have a built in network. You have all these GW graduates around the world who are connected through social media, who receive GW Magazine, who stay in touch with us, and who have a connection with GW. What that means for graduates like you is that you now have a brand new network—across industries, across geographical locations—that you’re a part of.
When GW alumni find themselves in their new world post-graduation and want to connect with new friends or colleagues or mentors, the GWAA is a great facilitator for that. You may not know these people, but you have something in common that’s really strong, and that’s the relationship you have with your alma mater.
AS: So we can connect to other GW alumni all around the country?
MM: Exactly, and all over the world, too. There are a number of regional networks set up for GW alumni around the country to reconnect with former classmates and make new friends and make new professional connections, but our alumni are very global and we have international alumni networks to reflect that.
AS: How do we access these regional networks? Is that through LinkedIn or social media?
MM: That’s the best way to do it! Our website has a listing of all of our networks there, or you can head to the social media pages and see what the group is all about. We try to make it as easy as possible to find your fellow GW grads out there.
AS: I think that’s great that you can be just about anywhere and find those connections.
AS: And GW alumni really are everywhere. I’ve worked as a part of GW’s Colonial Connection program and you can really call any corner of the country and find GW alumni. In Colonial Connection we’ve called alumni across the country and that’s been a really neat aspect, and it’s a great thing for alumni to know, that Colonials are everywhere.
MM: It’s easier today than ever to find fellow alumni. We used to rely on these big, bulky alumni directory books that alumni had to buy, but now LinkedIn and social media are the alumni directory. It’s not difficult to find people, and these social media platforms provide a great opportunity to find colleagues or mentors or hiring managers that are GW grads and have that connection.
AS: So, I know that you’re the associate vice president for Alumni Relations—what’s the difference between the Office of Alumni Relations and the GWAA?
MM: That’s a good question. The alumni association is you, the alumni who volunteer their time to connect with their fellow alumni, that network of 275,000 we talked about. The Office of Alumni Relations is the paid and trained staff, though we do have a lot of GW alumni on our team, who help to facilitate connections between alumni and with the university.
We put on alumni programs here in D.C., across the U.S., and around the world. We provide training for alumni who volunteer to take on bigger roles with the GWAA. We connect alumni back to the university through programs like course audit where you can take courses at GW for a reduced cost, and we work to make sure alumni know about and can take advantage of the array of benefits available to them. There are benefits like discounts for insurance and cultural trips around the world that non-GW graduates don’t have access to. What we try to do is open the door to a lot of experiences that connect alumni to each other and back to GW.
AS: Okay, wow, I didn’t know that. How can I and other graduating seniors access all this information?
MM: You can access all this info on our website, and you can see all the benefits offered there. You can see all the organizations we have, all the regional and affinity networks—it’s all listed there. Everything that we do is online because it’s really important that we have a virtual Alumni House available online with resources for you to connect with us if you have questions.
AS: It’s great that it’s easy to access as well.
MM: It’s really easy.
AS: I know many recent grads have heard about the concept of “Colonials helping Colonials”—can you tell me a little more about that?
MM: This is kind of a philosophy in action. It’s something that came from the leadership of the GWAA Board—a group of alumni volunteers who helps to advocate on behalf of the alumni association—and Steve Frenkil, the past alumni association president, really championed this cause. Essentially, it means that GW alumni give back to help current alums and future alums. We really see “Colonials helping Colonials” in action in a lot of different ways.
We have such a diverse workforce all over the world that can and should be looking to help our own, whether it’s an alumnus that has been out of GW for a number of years hiring in new employees, or recent graduates who are hiring our students as interns. GW graduates really great people, and there’s already a track record here of alumni hiring or mentoring students and fellow alumni, but we would really like to see that grow even more.
The other piece of this, and I think it’s just as important, is say you’re new to a city and you don’t know anybody, but there’s a GW alumni regional network there. Well, they want to get you acclimated to that city or region. So if you’ve never lived in Los Angeles before and the day after graduation you’re out in LA, we’ve got an alumni network out there and they’re ready to help get you acclimated and learn where the best places to eat or go food shopping might be or maybe provide traffic tips—it’s truly a family in that regard.
AS: So, It’s something that we all can do as alumni, help a fellow Colonial.
MM: Precisely. It’s also manifested itself this year in a Colonials Helping Colonials scholarship that’s being funded by the GWAA Board and helps GW students involved in KACIF.
AS: That the Knowledge in Action Career Internship Fund?
MM: Correct—so you know that one?
AS: Yes, from my time working for GW’s Annual Giving department with Colonial Connection, so I know that’s a really popular one that a lot of alumni have been interested in giving back to. It’s a really great cause.
MM: It is, and our alums who are members of the GWAA Board of Directors really took to it. I think being able to support GW students who are participating in an internship that’s necessarily unpaid or underpaid is something that resonates with GW alumni.
AS: Internships are such a part of the GW culture.
MM: It’s a very GW thing, and the Colonials Helping Colonials Scholarship Fund is a real tangible way that alumni are helping their fellow graduates.
AS: I think Colonials Helping Colonials is a great thing—it kind of further builds that network and GW community wherever you are. What other ways can GW alumni connect back to GW?
MM: Engagement is so personal. What’s connects someone back to GW—and you must have seen this during your work with Colonial Connection—is different for every person. For some it’s D.C. and the city itself and the chance to come back to D.C. and take advantage of GW’s position here offers. Or it’s a student group they were a part of or an academic major that they connect with most. Or it was athletics—we have a lot fans and that’s how they reconnect with us. We have to be mindful of all these personal experiences and provide avenues for that engagement to take place.
AS: From working in Annual Giving I know that a lot of alumni do get so much out of giving back to the parts of GW that were really important to them as students or are really important to them now as alumni. It’s really fulfilling for them. The alumni that I talk to, when they are stable in their careers and don’t have as much time to give back, giving a gift is a really amazing way to stay involved.
MM: Philanthropy can be a really great way to foster those connections and help future Colonials.
AS: What would you say for recent grads like myself who may not have the capacity to give larger gifts but might have more time to give than alumni later in their careers?
MM: Because we have so many networks for you to get involved in, I would first and foremost get involved. Find something that you’re passionate about now and stay involved in that, be it within a region or back at the university. So if there’s a student group that you want to stay involved with, there are ways for you to do that, and our office can help.
I also think that there’s a tremendous value in being an annual donor. It doesn’t have to be a lot of money, just something to give back that shows that the education and life experiences you received at GW means something to you. It may seem insignificant, but every gift matters, and the more alumni who participate, that shows a level of pride. Whether we like it or not, that’s something that we’re measured up against when it comes to other universities. The US News and World Report each years produces a listing of top universities, and one of the factors is alumni giving. So, that $5 or $10 gift that someone makes online, that plays a role in those rankings.
You always can give back any amount and still be supporting something that you feel strongly about. That’s also one of the beautiful things about philanthropy at GW: You can target your dollars very specifically to a certain area to have an impact on something that’s very important to you, whether it’s student scholarships, or the library, or a certain student organization. That’s something I feel great about as a donor, that I can donate specifically to KACIF to benefit students who are participating in internships that are really amazing but unpaid.
AS: I think that really speaks volumes. Especially when you’re on the phone and alumni worry that their gift won’t make an impact, but being able to let them know that every gift does. I remember speaking with an alum who didn’t even live on campus, they participated in a satellite program and they were telling me about all the traveling they had done in their career and I said “well, you can give to study abroad here at GW and help students be able to have the same experiences.” They were really enthusiastic about that. It really changes the conversation when alumni know that they can support whatever they’re passionate about.
MM: And that’s how we want them to feel about connecting back with GW as a whole. If you wrote for The Hatchet or were part of the dance team or the business fraternity, we can help find opportunities for you to reconnect with those organizations and help that next generation of Colonials.
And we want your feedback. As our newest grads join the ranks of our alumni, it’s always good to hear what we’re doing well, the things that we should be focusing on, things that maybe aren’t of interest to our recent group of graduates—it’s what keeps us fresh and at the forefront of what we do.
AS: What would you say is the most important thing that new and recent grads should know about joining the GW alumni community?
MM: To me, it’s the fact that you are joining a community that’s worldwide and lifetime—you are always going to be a member of the GW Alumni Association and it’s not going to cost you a thing. You have access to people from all walks of life, from all age groups, who live all over the place, and to be a part of that is really to be part of an elite, exclusive family. Take advantage of that opportunity and be active in that network. Help someone; be a Colonial who helps another Colonial, and when the time comes, the help will come back to you.
Be active in the community, help those who need it, and if at times you need help, know that there’s a community out there that you can rely on. Stay engaged with us. Give back your time, your talent, and your treasure. There are so many ways for you to engage with GW and students and fellow alumni, you just need to let us know. This is your alumni association, and I encourage all alumni, whether you graduated in 2016 or 60 years ago, to stay active—it can open so many doors and offer tremendous opportunities.
AS: Thank you so much for sitting down and sharing all this with me. I think that’s a lot of information that will help a lot of people.
MM: My pleasure. It’s an exciting time for new graduates and there’s a lot of information for them to process, but it’s all online at alumni.gwu.edu, and we’re always here to help. And congratulations on graduating!
AS: Thank you!
Thanks Aubrey and Matt! To learn more about the 275,000-member strong GWAA and all the ways you can connect with your fellow alumni, visit alumni.gwu.edu. Have questions? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-994-6435.