By: Megan Castelli, PharmD Candidate, 2023 and Mary E. Fredrickson, PharmD, BCPS
At a time when pharmacy education is facing unique challenges and opportunities, one group may have a significant role to play in furthering the success of these programs: alumni. These individuals are experts regarding your pharmacy program, leaders in practice, and an excellent student resource for networking.The 2017-18 American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) Strategic Engagement Standing Committee called out alumni engagement as vital to the continued success of pharmacy schools, with recommendations to involve alumni as preceptors, on committees, and within the admissions process.1 In a recent AACP Survey, 62.6% of alumni respondents indicated their dean encourages alumni to stay involved.2 How this translates to real levels of engagement and—more importantly—the outcomes of such efforts, is unclear. A quick Google search reveals several ways alumni associations attempt to interact with alumni. Reunions, golf outings, invitations to participate in the curriculum, and continuing education programs have been used. Despite an abundance of ideas, the question remains:
Which alumni engagement initiatives are most impactful?
Given the wide diversity within and among pharmacy alumni bodies, there is no “one size fits all” strategy for alumni engagement. However, ideal engagement initiatives will share these commonalities.3
- They build long-lasting relationships with alumni
- They involve alumni in meaningful activities that advance the institution’s mission
- They develop a group of engaged alumni invested in student success
- They celebrate the impact alumni have on the institution, community, and profession of pharmacy
Colleges should keep in mind alumni have numerous options when choosing how to devote their extra time and energy, which makes thoughtful engagement endeavors so essential.
While some colleges have strong alumni relations programs, others may be in initial stages of development or looking to revitalize current offerings. All programs may benefit from completing an analysis to identify focus areas and maximize success.
Helpful questions to guide initiatives include:
- What are our highest priorities and objectives?
- How well do I know our alumni base?
- Who will lead these initiatives?
- How will we fund programming and events?
- What are the best methods of communication?
- How can we involve alumni in decision making and strategic initiatives?
- How can we advocate for our alumni and best represent their interests?
- How will we track and measure engagement?
At our institution, a new Director of Alumni Relations position was created within the college of pharmacy. This individual—an alumnus themself—is responsible for coordinating alumni engagement efforts while collaborating with university administration.. Qualifications for this position include strong project management and communication skills, and experience with program development. Colleges could also create an Alumni Relations committee of interested faculty, alumni, and student members who meet monthly to discuss relevant issues and event planning. These individuals can foster personal connections and outreach which may enhance communication and engagement efforts. A dedicated budget and access to resources like marketing materials and a database system can assist personnel with their efforts.
Having a clear understanding of your alumni base is crucial to determine the most beneficial initiatives. Colleges can survey their alumni or conduct focus groups to determine needs, preferred methods of communication, and interest in participation.For example, while some alumni may prefer social events, others may derive more meaning from service opportunities. Considering alumni in terms of life stages instead of class year can also help with creating targeted efforts, such as hosting family-friendly events vs formal dinners. Developing a system to track and measure engagement can assist with demonstrating progress toward strategic goals and relate engagement to areas like philanthropy. This data can also be used to determine success of alumni events to allocate funding and guide future planning. Metrics can include the number of alumni who participate in events, volunteer, and engage with social media.
Below are a few ways to consider engaging your alumni:
Pharmacy Alumni Engagement Strategies
|Mentoring||Recruit alumni as leaders of mentoring programs, campus affinity groups, and service initiatives.||Provides students with emotional and educational support and valuable networking connections while offering alumni meaningful leadership roles.|
|Recruitment||Pair alumni with prospective students in a shadowing program. Have alumni participate in pipeline programs, admission interviews and networking events.||Alumni serving as college ambassadors may improve recruitment rates and optimize engagement with prospective students.|
|Professional Development||Assist alumni with lifelong professional development: provide career advice and certification courses to assist with job transitions.||Alumni recognize their alma mater is committed to their success; keeps alumni connected to the college.|
More Information Needed
We need a clearer understanding of the benefits, challenges, and opportunities related to alumni engagement within colleges of pharmacy. Areas for further research could include:
- The role of alumni as mentors
- The role of alumni in admissions
- Best practices for engaging different cohorts of alumni
How has your institution been successful at engaging alumni?
- Moore G, Arya V, Chahine E, et al. Report of the 2017-2018 Strategic Engagement Standing Committee. Amer Jour Pharm Edu. Sep 2018; 82 (7) 7148; DOI: 10.5688/ajpe7148.
- American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy. 2020 National Summary Report. September 2020. Accessed July 2020. Available from: https://www.aacp.org/sites/default/files/2020-09/2020-alumni-survey-national%20summary%20report.pdf.
- CASE. Principles of Practice for Alumni Relations Professionals at Educational Institutions. March 2020. Accessed September 2020. Available from: https://www.case.org/resources/principles-practice-alumni-relations-professionals-educational-institutions
- Allred K, Sakowicz K. Engaging Alumni as Mentors for Nursing Students. Nurse Educ. 2019;44(1):5-6. doi:10.1097/NNE.0000000000000507
Megan Castelli is a second-year pharmacy student at the Northeast Ohio Medical University. Her scholarly interests include experiential education and internal medicine. In her free time, Megan enjoys playing the piano, reading, and spending time with family.
Liz Fredrickson is an Assistant Professor of Pharmacy Practice at the Northeast Ohio Medical University College of Pharmacy. Her educational scholarship interests include the scholarship of teaching and learning and research related to compounding education. In her free time, she enjoys going on adventures with her husband and four children.
Pulses is a scholarly blog supported by Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning