Case Western Reserve University Case Study

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Bridging the Gap Between Alumni & Students

With a large group of alumni to keep track of and reach out to, the alumni relations teams at Case Western Reserve University struggled to find accurate, updated information to help keep alumni connected to the university. The career services team faced a similar struggle with helping students find an easy way to reach out to and connect with alumni. By joining Wisr’s pilot program, Case was able to develop a system for helping students and alumni form strong connections with each other and their alma mater.

The Problem

Finding a Way to Connect Alumni and Keep Them Connected

Case Western Reserve University has an extensive alumni network with members who date back to before Case Institute of Technology and Western Reserve University joined together in 1967. The alumni relations team faced the challenge of keeping alumni of all ages engaged and connected with their alma mater. According to Chamois Williams, Assistant Director of Alumni Outreach & Affinity Programs,

“We have to address a very large, diverse audience of alumni: everyone who’s an engineer to someone who studied history and the demographic difference that comes with those programs.”

The number of alumni to keep track of and try to engage was a lot to handle without a sophisticated system to store where people are located and what their current roles are. There are also a number of alumni who aren’t located within a major network, making them even more difficult to reach. Williams adds,

“We have 24 domestic chapters and six international, and part of my role is engaging alumni in areas that aren’t part of those big networks.”

With a database that wasn’t necessarily up-to-date, being able to reach out and bring people together proved to be difficult. Kellie Mayle, Director of Alumni relations noted,

“We’ve been doing things where we would be looking up information through LinkedIn, but LinkedIn is pretty unreliable; it has limitations.”

Reaching out to so many alumni — particularly those who are somewhat “off the grid” — and getting them to engage with or volunteer for the university was almost as difficult as actually reaching and connecting with younger alumni who were interested in giving back. The lack of a solid catalog of alumni information was prohibiting the Alumni Relations and Career Services teams from being able to meet their goals of engaging alumni and helping them reconnect with their alma mater, and it was especially difficult with so many alumni in their system.

Helping Students Make Meaningful Connections With Alumni

The way that students are engaging with alumni is changing, as is the role of the Career Services department. Doctor Tom Matthews, Executive Director of the Career Center points out,

“It’s not only about job leads, as it once was — there was more of an exclusive focus years ago on job leads, where now that’s still certainly of interest, but that’s been augmented to include an equally sort of intense and exciting focus on network. Whether that’s alums in the field, employers who are hiring in a particular area, but I think increasingly networking is really a part of how we’re working with students.”

Students are more interested in reaching out to alumni for advice, but they’re not looking for any type of longterm connection. The search for an instant connection that doesn’t take away from an already full schedule is a challenge when you don’t have the ability to pull an alumni’s contact information from a curated network with the click of a button. The time consuming process of making a connection with an alumnus wasn’t a good fit for students, who were looking for connections to come together quickly. Alumni, on the other hand, found it difficult to schedule a time to meet up or have a conversation with their busy schedules. Many students were looking for answers to questions, or just wanted to speak to someone who had experience in a field they were interested in. The way that Career Services was connecting students to alumni was a tedious process that took time away from both the students and staff. Laura Papcum, Assistant Director for Alumni Career Services was largely responsible for making these connections and explained,

“I had to go to an 800-person Excel spreadsheet to see if I could find an alum that maybe worked in that field. That was if that Excel spreadsheet was up to date. If it was not, usually it was, ‘I haven’t worked at Key Bank in five years.’ Okay. Well, then let me look at my 800 other alums and try to find somebody.”

Rather than waiting weeks for a “go ahead” from Papcum and her team, students are looking for the process of networking with alumni to be quick and easy. In order to achieve this, the Career Services team at Case needed a stronger, more current network to pull contacts from to help their students find the people they’re looking for.

The Solution

Keeping Alumni Engaged With an Opportunity to Give Back

The Career Services and Alumni Relations teams at Case decided to join Wisr’s pilot program because the goals that Wisr had for the program aligned with what they had set for the campus. The pilot program offered a way to create a succinct, simple catalog of existing alumni with up-to-date information that would help foster engagement and make it easier for students to reach out. The database would also be faster to use than a spreadsheet or LinkedIn because of the ability to find alumni through an automated system that the alumni have filled in themselves.

The program essentially checked all the boxes for Case. It provided a way for alumni to engage with the university and volunteer without a serious time commitment, and it allowed for alumni who were unable to travel an easy solution to give back to the university.

Showing Students New Opportunities for Success With Positive Connections

From the student perspective, the pilot program completely eliminated the need for the back and forth to set up a meeting that could take weeks to schedule. Instead, Wisr presented Case with the opportunity to step out of the role as a middle man in scheduling networking meetings, and put time back into their larger roles as career services experts. According to Papcum,

“This was something we had been trying to get off the ground ourselves, through a platform that we already had, that just was not working. Again, we were open, ready, willing, and able — we just needed the platform that was going to work for us.”

The program provided a way for students and alumni to connect and network all in one place, without any additional hassle of scheduling or finding the right match. With Wisr, students are able to find someone to talk to about their future career expectations and possibly even discover new paths they hadn’t known existed. The goal that Wisr and Case set was to roll the program out to alumni first, so when students signed up, they would see a full network of existing alumni across the nation to connect with. The platform met all of Case’s initial criteria:

  • A current database of alumni
  • Engages alumni with the university
  • Quick and easy to use
  • Doesn’t require travel to the university
  • A strong network for students to access

The Result

Building on Alumni Engagement With an Efficient Catalog of Members

Once Case was part of the program and they began rolling Wisr out to alumni, they found that many were ready and willing to join and were eager to reach out, offer advice, and share experience with students. Young alumni, especially, showed that they were looking for ways to volunteer, and Wisr gave them the perfect opportunity by sharing their insight. Williams confirmed,

“Wisr is definitely increasing our number of volunteers because it’s something that you can do from anywhere. You can do it on your own time, it’s very personal. We’re able to reach alumni that previously we hadn’t thought were engaged but it’s really just they didn’t have that connection, that ability to actually do it.”

2,500 advisors800 students

Having a full up-to-date database also helps Case market to alumni across the nation and internationally, allowing them to continue to feel connected with the campus after they graduate. Since rolling out Wisr to alumni, Case has seen a significant number of signups to help build a solid database for students to access. In the first four months of using Wisr, Case had 1,768 active advisors in their system for students to access and learn from. Today it has nearly twice that many.

Opening the Door for Students to Make Meaningful Connections to Propel Their Future

Now that Case has the ball rolling with alumni, they’ve started moving toward bringing students into the program in waves. Within four months of implementation, Case saw 294 students actively use Wisr to make connections. In this same time, there were 74 completed sessions between alumni and students, and 104 users submitted feedback about using the program.

Early use metrics (after 4 months):

294 students connecting74 completed advisory calls104 feedback reports

These big numbers right from the start are in part because an engineering course at Case made reaching out to an alumni with Wisr a requirement for students. According to Mayle,

“Wisr came in at the exact same time, so it was perfect. It helped us bridge that gap where I’d have to contact the alum, and then I’d have to be able to contact the student and bring them in. Instead, Wisr does it for me.”

The success with the course makes the Career Services and Alumni Relations teams hopeful for the future as the program is rolled out to more students on campus. Williams understands that many students will want to use Wisr for holding quick conversations as well as finding long-term mentorship:

“It’s something that when a student goes, ‘oh, I have no idea about biomedical engineering or what it entails,’ they can just log in and find someone and chat about it for half an hour, 15 minutes, and have more knowledge.”

The Wisr team helped Case plan a gradual launch in order to slowly roll out to alumni and then students to build a solid network on both ends. As a part of the pilot program, the Case team was also able to provide feedback to help make Wisr better down the road. Case’s partnership with Wisr is the beginning of a big change in the way the university markets to their alumni and a driving force in helping their students find guidance and advice from alumni. With a strong database packed with current information, Case is finding that having everything all in one place is making an impact on their day-to-day operations. As students are pulled into the program, alumni are fulfilling their desires to give back and students are connecting with mentors that can guide them into their future careers.


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