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How to engage young alumni and undergrads: 3 success stories

July 19th, 2019
Featuring: McGill University, Carleton University & Algonquin College

Written by: Janet Sailian

True YA engagement starts early

CCAE presents case studies of 3 institutions that have developed Prix d’Excellence-worthy YA strategies.

All 3 offer a targeted program to young alumni (less than 10 years post-grad, under age 35) and / or upper-year undergraduates. Students and YA who see alumni as a valued resource are more likely to feel affiliated with alma mater long after they receive their degree, diploma or certificate.

McGill University
Life After Your Degree (LifeAYD) program: Future - and success - oriented

2018 Prix d’Excellence Gold Award in Category 13: Best Student and/or Young Alumni Initiative
Resource: Shana Szikman, Associate Director, Student & Young Alumni Programs, McGill University

2018-19 LifeAYD events chart

LifeAYD eLearning session


What is LifeAYD?

An inter-departmental, multi-channel alumni / student engagement program that delivers in-person and online events to offer McGill’s upper-year students career and life transition skills.

Who organizes the program?

McGill Alumni Association, (MAA), Campus Life and Engagement (CL&E), Career Planning Services (CaPS), and the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU)

Why this program?

“We want entering students to know McGill has a program to support them in their upper years as they transition to either graduate school or a career. We also showcase the reach and scope of the McGill alumni network, and its role in enhancing the student experience.”

How is it promoted?

Listservs, newsletters, promotional vehicles in various Faculties and through social media. Presentations, workshops and panel discussions feature alumni with a large social media following who help promote the events.

How have upper-year students’ and YA needs changed?

As careers evolve, McGill alumni leverage their degrees into new opportunities. A Science grad, for example, may become a food blogger. “We find alumni who can speak to career-focused tips, soft skills, ethics in the workplace and more. LifeAYD delves into different themes each year, such as mental health and wellness.”

What percentages of YA / students participate online or at in-person events?

About 80% of the 1,800 participants are upper-year students, with 10% from other years and 10% who are YA.

A student’s view:

"One of the biggest fears of many university students is leaving the academic environment and being dropped into the world, tasked with finding gainful employment. That’s where LifeAYD comes in: It provides valuable and practical resources, networking events, and workshops for students, smoothing the difficult transition from academia to the workforce." - Matthew McLaughlin, BCom’21

Carleton University
Alumni Mentors Program: Tailored to new grads’ needs

2018 Prix d’Excellence Silver Award in Category 13: Best Student and/or Young Alumni Initiative

Resource: Christina Chénard, Manager, Alumni Relations, Alumni and Donor Relations, University Advancement, Carleton U

What is the Alumni Mentors Program?

A boutique, one-to-one mentorship program - now in its 4th year - that supports the academic-to-career transition of upper-year students and recent (3 years or less) graduates.

How was the program developed?

After alumni relations staff studied mentorship programs across Canada and the U.S., they selected exemplar programs on which to model a pilot initiative: McGill, U of Toronto, Stanford, Columbia and Princeton. The pilot’s success led to implementation of an ongoing program.

How is it structured?

Mentee application is open to any upper-year student or young alum. Mentors are selected by peer-to-peer referrals from existing volunteers to match mentee backgrounds, interests and needs. One-to-one meetings are facilitated by the mentee. Optional group events include networking receptions, varsity and professional games, and professional development opportunities.

Where and to whom is this in-person mentorship available?

The program operates in Carleton’s home city of Ottawa and now, by demand, in Toronto. A few matches in other Canadian cities and the U.S. resulted from known alignments. Several Ravens Football alumni mentor current student-athletes.


The 125 paired mentors / mentees are still laboriously hand-matched. Carleton is seeking an algorithm to facilitate computer-assisted matching.


Mentors have included the Mayor of Ottawa, a Juno Award winner, and the Past President of the university. 88% of mentees said their mentor fast-tracked their professional  growth. Donations have increased among program participants.

Algonquin College
DSW Cooperative: A niche alumni success story

2018 Prix d’Excellence Bronze Award in Category 13: Best Student and/or Young Alumni Initiative

Resource: Liz van Kooy, Founding Member, DSW Cooperative

What is the DSW Cooperative?

Founded by Algonquin College alumni from the Developmental Services Worker program, DSW Cooperative is a worker-owned cooperative that provides high-quality services and support to persons with developmental disabilities. This first cooperative of its kind in Ontario offers continuity of care for clients from vetted, credentialed DSW graduates. It gives DSW workers a stake and a say in their employment and better job security, improving their satisfaction and engagement.

Who created the DSW Cooperative and how did they form it?

Encouraged by a DSW professor at Algonquin College, four alumni worked with a co-op developer to craft a new model of both employment and community service. The Cooperative offers employees - all Ontario DSW grads - a regular payroll, police and background checks, insurance, PD opportunities and other administrative services. Employees work with clients in their homes and in the community.

How is the DSW Cooperative related to Algonquin College’s advancement strategies?

This is a “niche alumni” success story. Members of the DSW Cooperative credit Algonquin with support to promote the Cooperative among alumni: through a job fair, in publications and on the college’s social media platforms. In 2017, the Cooperative won a $15,000 William G. Davis Innovation Fund award. With help from Algonquin College Communications, the group used the funds to develop a professional website.

The DSW Cooperative hopes to become a placement option for upper-year DSW students and to contribute new material to the curriculum. "This has been a true collaborative effort between the college, the cooperative and the community," said Liz van Kooy. "Algonquin College is our go-to resource."

Related Resources:

YA trend scan
For a scan of current young alumni engagement and fundraising trends, check out the slide deck from the 2019 CCAE National Conference presentation: The Future of Young Alumni Engagement in Canada, by Brian Gawor, CFRE, Vice President, Fundraising Research, Ruffalo Noel Levitz. Brian shared results from a recent survey of over 100 CCAE members about their efforts to engage student / young alumni donors and boost participation.

Young alumni engagement: Harnessing Generation #ShowMe

LifeAYD eLearning session