In an effort to strengthen connections between alumni and students, Loyola is rolling out a university-wide, digital networking platform similar to LinkedIn. The program, LUConnect, is exclusively for Loyola students and alumni. With the website currently live and student sign-ups available, the spring semester’s soft opening serves as a polishing period leading up to the program’s official launch, which is set for May.
“As a university, Loyola hasn’t done a good job leveraging our alumni up to this point,” said Steven Todd, associate dean for Faculty and Research at the Quinlan School of Business. “Many other universities have this program and Loyola is late to the game.”
Todd’s claim checks out — schools in Chicago and others within the Jesuit community, such as DePaul University and Georgetown University, already have such networking programs in place. DePaul’s alumni mentoring and networking program, Alumni Sharing Knowledge, has been in place since the mid-90s when Kathryn Jackson, the current director of Loyola’s Career Development Center, helped launch it.
“It’d be helpful to have that connection with someone who’s been in our shoes before,” said Joe Difino, a 20-year-old sophomore. “I’m a marketing major, but I don’t know what I’m going to do with [my major] or if it’s even what I want to do.
For the past year, LUConnect has been in the construction and recruiting stages of development. The software was donated to the school in 2014 by Brian Kurth, a Loyola alum and founder of Rever Software. Loyola has been working to create an easy-to-use, visually appealing website that houses a diverse range of alumni, according to Jackson.
One challenge is having alumni who represent all the industries and backgrounds students are looking for. It can be tough to meet all the demands of students’ majors and career preferences, especially since they are always changing, acknowledged Jackson.
“Student feedback will be very important in LUConnect’s continuous improvement,” said Jackson. “Teachers and surveys will be reliable avenues to receive that feedback.”
To get a head start on gathering students’ comments and criticisms of the website, Loyola plans to proceed with a soft rollout this semester in career preparation courses such as BSAD 220 and UNIV 224, before officially unveiling the program to students in May. Through these classes, the hope is to discover the niche career paths that are not represented with the current list of alumni signed up with LUConnect, noted Jackson.
“We must try to help students see that there is still an alum that can help with advice even if their major was different,” said Mary Houston, associate director of Alumni Relations.
The potential impact of LUConnect Houston addresses and the feedback Jackson desires will both remain low unless the students are well informed about it.
“This is a challenging student body to get the attention of, so we must use a multi-tiered strategy to get the word out,” Jackson said.
The plan for this strategy includes hanging up posters, tabling at Damen Student Center and pitching the website at seminar classes, according to Houston, but there are still discussions taking place about other ways to effectively reach students.
Senior Kiana Kaempf suggested a different marketing strategy.
“It would work well, I think, if it was pitched as Loyola’s own personal LinkedIn that connects students to the Chicago business world,” said Kaempf.
Bringing alumni into classes to tell their own personal stories while promoting LUConnect’s resource-providing capabilities is another idea, proposed by Omar Roldan, a 21-year-old junior biochemistry major.
“It would be so much more interesting and impactful than having the teacher announce it at the end of a class when nobody is listening,” said Roldan.