Alumni Engagement | Overcoming Obstacles Concluded

By: Brian Rosenbaum
Earlier this month I blogged about the communication barriers that I face (and solutions I’ve found helpful) in recruiting and mobilizing Alumni of College Summit Southern California for events, trainings, and being part of Alumni Teams that will support each of our partner high schools this year as we work to send more students to college. This is the continuation of that post. Two other obstacles relate to the geography of this City of Angels and the greater challenges faced by the population we serve.


In the non-digital world, transportation may be the greatest hurdle keeping our Alumni from being fully engaged. Only a fraction of them own cars, in line with the trend of teens nationwide delaying car ownership or getting their license. This is also understandable (nay, anticipated), given that College Summit works exclusively with high schools in low-income communities. The majority of our students will tell you as much, so expecting them to have cars is unrealistic at best.
They’re also stretched by the geography of Los Angeles. This year’s 10 partner high schools (blue icons, right image) spread nearly the height of Los Angeles County, from the 210 to the 105. For you non-Californians out there, that’s 45 miles as the crow flies, at least four freeways (Google suggests giving yourself 1 hour 36 minutes in traffic), or $40.68 roundtrip, according to the GSA’s Mileage Reimbursement Rates. One reliable space for events, our regional office, is even further south (yellow icon, left). Most of our Alumni live in the North Valley or South LA.
While we can’t shrink LA or build a better mass transit system, I’m addressing this issue in ways that attempt to meet our Alumni where they’re at (literally). I’m encouraging them to join the A-Team of a school nearby where they live or go to college, even if it’s not their alma mater. For meetings and events where it’s appropriate, we use public spaces. Our recent New Alumni Meet & Greet at Westwood Park saw 25 attendees. Our Peer Leader Potluck at Griffith Park in April enjoyed a similar turnout. And given the climate and green spaces in Southern California, it’s not hard to find relatively convenient locations with ample and free parking.
Securing appropriate spaces for evening events or ones that require a meeting setting is more difficult. In May 2013 the Alumni voted to have all 2013-14 meetings on Saturday afternoons, in an effort to avoid traffic and work around weeknight commitments like homework and family commitments. They also agreed that anywhere off the 405 is amenable; while it’s LA’s worst freeway, at least it’s only one. That allows us to use the College Summit office in El Segundo or Cal State Northridge, where we have a strong Alumni presence. Either one represents a big burden for Alumni living at the other end of the county, so I’m currently reaching out to organizations and businesses in West LA, Culver City, Westwood, and Brentwood to build community partnerships.

Uphill Battles

Finally, our Alumni are busy, while simultaneously climbing more uphill battles than most of their peers.
For starters, they’re earning their Bachelors or Associates degrees and fulfilling their dreams, often taking rigorous course loads. Yet all of them come from high schools in LA’s poorest communities, which are burdened by high rates of student absenteeism, lack of resources, high dropout rates, and low graduation rates. A majority of them are first-generation college students. Without a rigorous academic background and strong family support, many struggle to adjust to college.
Nearly all of our Alumni are also financing their own educations. That means they’re working one or more jobs. Yet we know that Latinos nationwide (more than 80% of our students identify as such) earn less than Whites, and women (who have outnumbered men in universities for some time) earn 77 cents for every dollar paid to men on average. Combine these factors, and women of color are earning 64 cents for every dollar paid to White men on average. With college costs at UC and CSU schools climbing now for more than a decade (35% of our Alumni attend them), the financial stresses our students face are very real.
It’s precisely these hurdles that impel me and College Summit to do this work. To help our Alumni gain the skills and tools to succeed in college, career, and beyond, this year we are implementing our first professional development workshop series for our Alumni. It’s called B.A.L.A.N.C.E. – Building Alumni Leadership and Assets through New Career Experiences. Six sessions yearly will focus on career assistance, financial literacy, and professional skills-building. Each session will be co-facilitated by Alumni themselves, alongside a professional from the community who will provide logistical and curriculum support. Monthly Alumni Newsletters and posts on social media will offer tips for success, resources, and opportunities to get involved. At California State University Northridge, our most popular college destination, Alumni have the opportunity to join the College Summit Club, which will serve as a nexus of support for enrolled students. Lastly, mixers and celebrations throughout the year will give Alumni the chance to network with each other, community volunteers and professionals, and the organization.
Many hurdles remain to building a strong Alumni network, but through these strategies and more, we’re working to give Alumni a reason to stay involved, give back, and grow. Join me again in October, once we’ve held our first Alumni Meeting, BALANCE session, and CSUN College Club Meeting of the year.
As College Summit’s Community Engagement Coordinator, Brian works to recruit and mobilize the organization’s growing volunteer and Alumni Leader base while supporting sales initiatives, program implementation, and event coordination. Follow the adventure on Facebook by liking College Summit Southern California or via Twitter @CollegeSummitLA.

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