March 14, 2012; Source: Inside Higher Ed

With a sense of altruism and a strong belief in the value of the education they received at their alma mater, 21 recent graduates of Reed College have created an online “switchboard” that enables students to network with alums and then makes a gift of $40 to the institution each time someone uses the service. With a financial commitment of $17,000 over a five-year period, the site aims to “incentivize contact between alumni and current students and recent graduates” and to “give students a better start pursuing their passions as a career.”

According to a recent story in Inside Higher Ed, the idea for the switchboard is the direct result of an economy that has been particularly tough on recent graduates. To illustrate the point, the story cites Reed’s alumni magazine, which revealed that 22 percent of last year’s graduates were still looking for work at commencement time. Familiar with this type of frustration and confident in the networking capabilities of his fellow Reed alums, Greg Borenstein, a graduate of the class of 2002 and a current computer programmer, came up with the switchboard concept. For college students with extensive interests but a limited number of marketable skills, the chance to make connections with other graduates is particularly useful. “If a student wanted to be introduced to a Montessori teacher in Canada, a public defender in Africa or a vinegar maker, a switchboard member could make that happen,” Borenstein told Inside Higher Ed.

Along with explicit guidelines on how to use the switchboard, the site also includes commencement-worthy advice such as, “be realistic about your time,” “have integrity,” and “think long term.” Reflecting on the satisfaction that he expects to get out of the new system, Borenstein explained, “It’s such a powerfully satisfying thing for an alumnus to be in touch with students that way and to be able to help.” He added, “That moment when they’re talking to us about their hopes and dreams is the moment we’re most interested in donating to the college.” –Anne Eigeman