IIT + Alumni = Velocity

Have you ever wanted to tell a young person your story?

In the coming years, thousands of IIT alumni will have the opportunity to speak with new IIT graduates and current students about how their experiences at IIT have impacted their lives.

IIT + Alumni = Velocity
Velocity ambassadors [left to right] Ryan Witthans, Daniel Hutchinson, and Kevin Franke hit the road this year with the launch of the Velocity initiative. The information they gather will help IIT better enhance its alumni programming.

This January, IIT President John Anderson launched the Velocity initiative, a three-year alumni reengagement effort conceived by Betsy Hughes, vice president of Institutional Advancement. Three newly graduated IIT alumni, working as Velocity ambassadors, have already begun to hit roads and airways nationwide, full time, in the university’s effort to conduct 45-minute interviews with more than 5,000 alumni. In addition, more than 40 current student ambassadors have begun to hold interviews with Chicago-area alumni. During these sessions, alumni will have the chance to talk about their IIT experiences, professional success, and life’s goals. The stories and views of these alumni will help IIT with everything from developing its strategic plan to customizing alumni programming.

“Good engagement of our alumni community will be an important part of the future success of IIT,” says Anderson.

Ryan Witthans (CHEM ’08), one of the three traveling ambassadors, says that joining Velocity is his own way of thanking—and meeting—the IIT community, which he credits as supporting his education.

“I was able to afford IIT because of the scholarship that I received, and I’ve been able to start my own medical device company at IIT [medLight] with the community’s assistance. I see this job as a way to give back to IIT and a way to increase the size of the IIT community,” he says. “It will also allow me to meet and converse with a number of successful people. Hopefully I can learn a thing or two from them.”

According to Robbie Deveney, senior director of stewardship and special initiatives for IIT’s Office of Institutional Advancement, alumni participation in Velocity will be a great service to the university. At the same time, Velocity will benefit alumni, who will be able to reconnect with their alma mater and learn about the many opportunities IIT offers its alumni.

“Through Velocity, alumni will provide IIT valuable perspectives, impacting the university’s future strategy,” says Deveney. “It will also help IIT to better tailor its communication with alumni based on their personal interests. Velocity will allow us to connect alumni with programs that are meaningful to them, such as mentorship and volunteer opportunities at IIT.”

The popularity of social-networking websites has made computers and PDAs the conduit for interpersonal meeting and interaction. Velocity takes a more personal approach, pairing students with alumni—who will enjoy a natural connection through their affiliation with IIT—in meaningful face-to-face discussions about their lives, inspiration, and successes.

“Anytime we connect alumni with students, it’s magical. When they meet one-on-one, it makes for a much richer connection.” Marian Quirk, Manager of Regional Alumni Programs

Deveney says the groundswell of students interested in participating in Velocity—more than 200 applied for the coveted positions—indicates that IIT students are excited about what they can learn from alumni. Student ambassadors represent the diversity of IIT’s student body, hailing from throughout the United States and countries such as Nigeria, India, and China.

Nashrah Noor, a third-year architecture student from Bangladesh, says the prospect of hearing inspirational alumni stories inspired her to apply to be an ambassador.

“I currently work as a phonathon caller for IIT’s Office of Institutional Advancement. I get the opportunity to talk to many alumni every day. It is great to know some of their stories and share some of my experiences in the process. I look forward to having even more conversations through the Velocity initiative,” Noor says.

Kevin Franke (PSYC ’08) is another new alumnus who will begin his full-time Velocity road trip this winter.

He will begin his journey in Florida and continue his cross-country trek before beginning graduate school this fall.

“I was an oddball at IIT, graduating with two degrees, in psychology and philosophy,” he says. “Although I may not meet a lot of alumni in my field, I definitely look forward to meeting some of the talented architects and engineers that have passed through IIT. Also, I am an alumnus of IIT’s Greek community and a past president of my fraternity, Phi Kappa Sigma, so I hope to meet a few Greeks and share a few stories of our experiences.”

Sandy Marcus (Ph.D. PSYC ’69), practice leader for Career and Educational Assessment Services, within IIT Institute of Psychology’s Center for Research and Service, and colleague Heather McLinden developed and conducted training sessions with the students to help them learn the ropes of interviewing subjects.

“We have been training students in how to develop relationships and how to very quickly establish good rapport,” says Marcus. He says the interviews, which will take place at alumni workplaces, are designed to be semi-structured conversations in order to better facilitate mutual sharing. “We believe that the communication skills that we are sharing with these students will help them throughout their careers,” he says. As an alumnus, Marcus believes alumni will look forward to learning about the many changes to IIT over the years.

“The students are really involved and enthusiastic,” Marcus says, noting that many of the ambassadors are also participants in IIT’s Leadership Academy, a program that builds leadership and teamwork skills of students, as well as IIT Camras scholars. “The training has allowed them to feel empowered with the interpersonal tools to do this job. I think that by talking to alumni, students will gain a much better sense of the history of IIT and how the university really does have a rich and noble history.”

Part of the training process involved pairing Velocity ambassadors with alumni interview subjects who agreed to offer feedback on their performances during practice sessions. Franke says the comments he received were helpful. In telling his own story, the alumnus Franke interviewed provided the type of information that IIT is looking to obtain from its alumni.

“My practice interviewee expressed his hope that IIT continues to strive for a reputation as a global institution that equips talented people with the skills and resources to do great things with their talent,” Franke says. “During our conversation, he mentioned that there were some good indications that IIT is going down that road.”

On his nationwide tour to meet alumni following his inauguration in early 2008, President Anderson said he had the opportunity to hear from many alumni about their relationship with IIT and their opinions about how the university can move forward.

“Velocity is an exciting initiative that will provide alumni more outlets for sharing their insights,” Anderson says. “In turn, IIT will be able to adapt and grow in a way that sustains our relationship with our alumni into the future.”

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IIT’s Velocity initiative: www.iit.edu/giving/velocity