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Reimagining the student experience at Drew University

How Drew University leveraged a cross-functional team to create a student experience designed to increase social capital and career access

2,600

Alumni on Drew Connect

3,900+

Users on Drew Connect

INSTITUTION TYPE

Private University

LOCATION

Madison, NJ

TOTAL ENROLLMENT

2,200

ACADEMIC PROGRAMS

60+

With the media spotlight on the value of higher education, more and more schools are thinking about how to connect college to career. While higher education is still proven to generate better career outcomes, colleges and universities are challenged to consider ways to increase career access for all students.

Drew University is one of the schools leading the charge in inventing initiatives that drive career access. At our recent Innovators Conference, we sat down with Carol Bassie, Director of The Center for Mentoring and Professional Networks at Drew University, to learn more about the programs and practices Drew is putting in place to support learners throughout their journey.

Alumni want to help students launch their careers

Carol started her higher education career in alumni and parent relations, joining the team at Drew in 2016. Early on, she discovered that one of the most meaningful ways alumni wanted to be involved was in supporting students to reach post-college success.

“They wanted to help students in ways that perhaps they didn't feel supported when they were in college,” Carol shared. “They wanted to help students who are heading on the same path. They wanted to help students who are undecided in what they want to do.” 

Around the same time, Drew commissioned an outside research firm to conduct a study of recent alumni and prospective students. The study’s findings echoed what Carol and her team had discovered: Prospective students wanted to be set up for post-college success—and young alumni wanted to help. 

It became clear that establishing a way for alumni to support students in this capacity was a priority. 

A bigger problem

The same study found that a majority of recent alumni didn’t feel prepared for college success. As a result, the school formed a cross-functional committee to reimagine the undergraduate experience. The committee consisted of faculty and staff who worked together for two semesters to figure out what this new student experience would look like. Their conclusion, called “Launch,” entailed: equipping all students with support for two immersive experiences, guaranteed acquisition of transferable skills, a community to support, and a network of mentors. 

The creation of The Center for Mentoring and Professional Networks

During assessment roughly a year later, Drew University met the targets on immersive experiences, transferable skills and integrated career development, and community building. Next, they looked to zero in on the mentorship aspect.

To meet their fourth pillar goals around mentorship, the university decided to lift up the idea of developing a network of mentors. “We need to make it present and visible to students that this is important,” Carol shared. 

Drew had a Center for Civic Engagement, a Center for Global Education, and a Center for Career Development. The school decided it needed a Center for Mentoring and Professional Network. They also determined it needed to fall under Academic Affairs so it would be visible to all students.

Students pay attention to what comes from faculty or staff who work in Academic Affairs. They consider it important to their success. That’s why the university chose to place the Center for Mentoring and Professional Networks under the heading of Academic Affairs. This placement also meant mentorship was present with students for the entire journey—from when they start looking at Drew, to when they’re admitted, and through their undergraduate experience.

“It provides us with an opportunity to train them through the process,” Carol said. “We don't want students waiting until their junior or senior years to get a mentor. We don't really want a second-semester senior coming to us saying, ‘Oh, I haven't connected with anyone in this area, and I haven't found a job in finance yet.’ We want them to start thinking about that and start getting comfortable with speaking with alums in their first year.”

We don't want students waiting until their junior or senior years to get a mentor. We want them to start thinking about that and start getting comfortable speaking with alums in their first year.
Carol Bassie
Director of the Center for Mentoring and Professional Networks
Drew University

Helping students build their network with PeopleGrove

Drew University partners with PeopleGrove to facilitate networking, mentorship, and career access.

“Social capital building is critical for students, but networking can be scary,” Carol stated. “It conjures up images of going to a bar and talking with strangers.”PeopleGrove helps take the pressure—and the awkwardness—out of starting those conversations. “What I really love about PeopleGrove is it’s a really easy entry for students,” Carol shared. “Maybe they’re afraid to go up to someone at a networking event, but they can go on the platform, look at profiles, and click connect. And there are always prompts for connecting them—so they don’t have to worry about what to say.”

Maybe they’re afraid to go up to someone at a networking event, but they can go on the platform, look at profiles, and click connect.
Carol Bassie
Drew University

What’s next for Drew University and the Center for Mentoring and Professional Networks

The team at Drew plans to continue building on what they do with PeopleGrove. For now, they’re focusing on user connections and making sure connections are happening. 

In January of 2022, Carol ran an informational interview project that students had to apply for. The initiative got students and alumni to join Drew Connect (their PeopleGrove platform). They’re also building out a number of mentorship programs, including one for underrepresented STEM students and another for their Black Alumni Association. The team plans to continue offering these types of opportunities.