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Building Affinity Through Student Engagement: Clash of the Halls

The independent school sector has a multitude of opportunities to engage students and build affinity, not only while they are enrolled, but beyond their campus experience.

Picture this: an institution creates a week-long, multi-event competition that challenges and scores the members of each of its residence halls on performing talent, cooking skills, creative thinking, geocaching, obstacle course agility, and more. Participants are evaluated, points are accumulated, and there can only be one winning hall. The event is hosted by the student council, involves all members of the student body, and is supported and promoted by an active faculty and alumni base. For our colleagues in alumni relations, such an event is an ideal opportunity to build affinity and promote student engagement.

IMSA - Clash of the Halls

Image courtesy of Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy

This past March, the students, faculty, alumni, and community-at-large of Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA), an internationally recognized teaching and learning laboratory that enrolls academically gifted students (grades 10–12) in its residential college preparatory program, came together for “Clash of the Halls.” Created in the last decade, this annual event engages the student body and fosters campus-wide collaboration. As you can imagine, it is an incredibly popular event – even out-ranking Homecoming in reputation, attendance, and level of preparation and excitement.

In GG+A’s Alumni Relations practice area, we find that the majority of the work we do is shaped and educated by our on-site client experiences. We would not be where we are today without having learned about the unique situations each of our clients face, as well as their successes. One of these successful examples is “Clash,” with lessons that can be applied to any membership organization and which embodies some of the best practices in alumni relations:

  • • ENGAGEMENT: The creation of this kind of event increases visibility, and creates a tangible memory for students – one that spans more than just their time on campus. It connects groups and class years, builds tradition, and creates a shared experience.
  • • OUTREACH: It engages and reaches multiple audiences across an institution’s community: students, faculty, alumni, and community members, by providing several important participatory or volunteer opportunities to connect or reconnect and be present on campus. This further shared experience provides a model for current students to use as they then become alumni.
  • • METRICS: Participation in this event can be recorded and reported, fostering a commitment to continued engagement, including philanthropic support. The return on this investment, while not always quickly evident (for 10, 20, even 50 years in some cases), builds alumni loyalty, and the enthusiasm generated can also be leveraged into other measurable alumni relations activities, specifically engaging alumni through the “GO – GIVE – HELP” model.

Reaching out to current students and focusing on their experience while they’re closest to the institution develops a base for their affinity and level of engagement moving into their alumni years. By doing so, “Clash” serves as a great example of how this type of outreach can bring out the best in an organization’s community.

Through an increase in engagement, targeted outreach, and a commitment to metrics, an organization can build class identity, affinity, and unity through innovative programming and student participation.

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About the author

Megan Williamson

Consulting Associate

Megan C. Williamson currently serves GG+A as a Consulting Associate. Prior to joining the firm, Megan worked as the Director of Individual Giving at Housing Opportunities for Women, where she developed and implemented strategies in direct mail, e-solicitation, special events, communications, website management, and social media. In her role, she…