In the course of a year, I pass through a lot of airports while traveling on college business, and I sometimes quip that it seems like I can scarcely board a plane without running into a Denison graduate, student, or parent. It’s not literally true–but close. Unfailingly, it reminds me of the strength of the “Denison network.” For a college of 2,100 students, an associated number of parents and family members, and about 30,000 living alumni, Denison seems to have folks, well, just about everywhere. It’s not just that Denisonians are found from coast to coast (and often beyond) but that they sustain a remarkable cohesiveness. They find one another, hold on to old relationships and forge new ones, and reach out to help one another–and their college.
We recently witnessed the Denison network at work during our 2009 Reunion Weekend. A near-record 1,200 Denisonians returned because they wanted to enjoy their college and their college mates, and in many cases because class members reached out and asked one another to come. The millions of dollars in reunion class gifts to Denison materialized this way, too. Denisonians sought out Denisonians and asked them to participate. Friends reminded friends of how important it is to invest in the next generation of Denison students. It was the Denison network in action.
Denison students and recent graduates benefit directly from the strength of the Denison network. This summer, more than 200 Denison men and women are participating in career-exploratory internships arranged through the college’s Career Services office. A large majority of these opportunities are made available by Denison graduates or by Denison parents, many of whom are employers in both the for-profit and not-for-profit sectors. I noticed that in the current difficult economic environment, an unusually high proportion of our May graduates who had landed jobs before graduation had done so because they’d gotten their foot in the door with an employer through a prior internship experience. The Denison network also delivers the graduates who lead discussions and host site visits for our interdisciplinary program in Organizational Studies and for the Burton D. Morgan Program in Entrepreneurship and the Liberal Arts. And many Denisonians have signed up for the DU Career Network, signaling their willingness to share their experiences, expertise, and contacts with Denison job-seekers who may be new graduates or who may be looking for a change mid-career.
The college would not have succeeded in going so far over its goal for the recent Higher Ground comprehensive campaign without the operation of the Denison network. Denisonians gathered in cities around the country for campaign kickoff and update events and stayed in touch with one another as Higher Ground accelerated. The network also helps explain why in the fiscal year that just ended, during which many colleges and universities fell well short of their annual fund goals, Denisonians stepped up to take the college past its ambitious $5 million target. This was essential during a year in which the economy encouraged the college to markedly increase its investment in student financial aid.
As we plan the academic year ahead, Denison departments will be reaching out for speakers and workshop leaders who enhance the in- and out-of-classroom experiences of our students, and often these will come through the contacts of the Denison network. Our LeaderShape program for the development of ethical student leadership will have the opportunity to find mentors in the alumni community, and new opportunities for students in community outreach service will draw upon the experiences that Denison graduates have in providing community leadership throughout the land.
Our most recent class reunions reminded me of one thing more: that graduates’ care for the college and care for one another are deeply intertwined. We remember much of our college experience through the relationships we form. And when we gather, we are reminded of all the ways that we learned and grew together. At Denison, we pride ourselves on grooming lifetime learners. So it pleases me that when graduates return they don’t seem to confine themselves just to the people they knew well in college, but they forge new relationships with their peers, members of other classes, and even other generations. They’re still growing. And the Denison network is enriched.