Cleveland Liberal Arts Leadership Summit Event Recap

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liberal arts leadership summit

Cleveland Liberal Arts Leadership Summit Event Recap

Wisr was excited to host the inaugural Liberal Arts Leadership Summit. Led by three industry thought leaders, the summit provided insight and advice on how to connect alumni and students in the context of a strong culture of advising, career planning, and alumni relations. In case you couldn’t make it, here’s an overview of what you missed:

Liberal Arts Leadership Summit

Shared Understanding

The morning kicked off with an exercise to identify, ‘What jobs do we need to get done’ for the ‘customers’ of Career Services and Alumni Relations. The ‘customers’ for each department in this exercise are defined as students and alumni, respectively. Using this framework, we then dug into, “Why a job needs to be done” rather than, “What the job is.” Some common ‘Why’ themes emerged among attendees.

For Career Services:

  • To help students understand the value of a liberal arts degree, and to improve the articulation of their unique story
  • To give students clear next steps on their career path
  • To empower students with the means of self-discovery and confidence to ask for help when needed

For Alumni Relations:

  • To increase young alumni volunteering through partnerships between the Career Center and Alumni Relations
  • To provide flexibility and options to alumni who want to help, without increasing staff time
  • To make alumni feel like they are still part of the university or college community after graduating

Alumni Networking in the Classroom

Joan Hawxhurst
Director, Center for Career and Professional Development
Kalamazoo College

Liberal Arts Leadership Summit

Kalamazoo College created a Shared Passages Program to better prepare students for life beyond college. Required in the freshman, sophomore, and senior years, this program integrates career development and alumni involvement for students.

The senior seminar Crafting a Life is very popular among students. It includes three alumni panels and required informational interviews with alumni professionals. This past year Wisr was integrated directly into the curricula, and helped create frictionless connections for all participating students.

“The most impactful learning came from the alumni interviews. Reaching out cold to a stranger was pretty intimidating, and I was skeptical that it would come to anything meaningful. However, I was gladly proven wrong.”

– Kalamazoo College Student

Joan has worked hard to overcome challenges such as curriculum alignment, travel resources, diversity of the local alumni population, and timing. She has created a cross campus partnership that includes the Provost and Alumni Relations, which has enabled the Shared Passages to become a signature program on campus.

Creating a Culture of Advising

Lori Young
Director of the Career Development Center
Oberlin College

Liberal Arts Leadership Summit

Oberlin identified a new strategic plan in 2016 with college-wide efforts to create a culture of advising from leadership to students to alumni. This approach allows for easily accessible professional development for students and recent alumni alike. In an ongoing effort to increase alumni support, Oberlin has extended its mission to life-long career outreach and education for its graduates.

During her tenure at The Cleveland Clinic, Lori was a part of a massive effort to move their organization towards a “Patient First” culture. Using Wisr and taking a ‘train the trainer’ approach, Lori’s team, in partnership with Danielle Young, Director of Alumni Relations, are empowering staff, faculty, alumni, and parents to have a shared understanding of ‘What Advising Is’ and how to make it part of the college’s strategic core. During Lori’s talk, we dissected the difference between Coaching, Training, Advising, and Mentorship, which helps provide a framework for roles that each university stakeholder can play.

New Perspectives and Opportunities for Career Programming

Hank Malin
AVP & Executive Director of the Knowlton Center for Career Exploration
Denison University

Liberal Arts Leadership Summit

With a background in the corporate world and a strong understanding of the recruitment needs of companies, Hank is helping Denison move from transactional to transformational with its students and alumni. By asking the question to students “What Kind of Life Do I Want to Lead?”, the alumni association and the Knowlton Center for Career Exploration can better meet the needs of students and alumni.

A signature program has been, Denison Connecting, an opportunity to bring alumni & students together around the world in physical locations. Denison has heavily leveraged their alumni-base to power invitations and communications for these events, which requires a level of flexibility that would ordinarily stretch internal communications. By leveraging the Denison Connecting program in partnership with Wisr, The Knowlton Center is tackling the following opportunities:

  • Increase opportunities to expose students early in their college experience to a broad range of industries, functions, and types of workplaces
  • Leverage alumni more effectively to mentor students and to provide externships, internships, and jobs
  • Mobilize parents in the same way as they have been mobilized to help Admissions, particularly in cities of importance to the Admissions Office and/or of particular interest to students


For Alumni Relations: Alumni are happy to help, but they want to be treated like experts (not like an open wallet). Their experience should be personalized with minimal friction to get them connected with a student.

For Career Centers: Students don’t feel the ‘struggle moment’ of career until senior year. Positioning opportunities for advice through smaller milestones (degree selection, externships, internships), and trying to incorporate this into the curriculum creates a better roadmap for student success.

Institution Wide: Advising and mentorship are not just programs, they are critical to the culture of an institution. Creating a culture of advising can help alleviate student pain points faster and earlier, ultimately resulting in more satisfied alumni.

Co-founder & President

John Knific is co-founder and President of Wisr. An entrepreneur who is passionate about what education technology can do for students, John's on a mission to tackle the big challenge of getting students connected with jobs after college by engaging alumni.

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