Supporters on the Inside: The Value of Student-Alumni Interactions

In this post, Alumni Relations Projects Officer Kerry Balkwill, highlights Platform One as a space where students, alumni and staff  support and learn from each other in addition to her own experience of alumni as a crucial element to her development as a student.

I’ve always believed that the shared experience of study at the University of Edinburgh binds people together in a special way. But pre-graduation, how many can say that they know people who are on the ‘other side’ of student life?

When I was a student I was part of MA Japanese, a course with a relatively small class size. Because of our closeness, my classmates and I were all familiar with students across year groups. Staff would often organise events which were open to alumni, and we enjoyed welcoming them back. Thanks to my tutors, we connected with these ‘other-siders’.

I had friends, classmates, family and tutors who I could turn to for support throughout my studies, but getting to know people who shared my future experiences made a big difference. That’s why meeting our alumni was special for me – it was like looking into my own future and getting lots of different perspectives on what my next steps might look like. Connecting with alumni helped not just in terms of getting tips on studying abroad, writing my dissertation or starting a career, but also in learning about the feelings, experiences and issues that I might encounter post-graduation from someone who was living through them.

“When you finish University, it’s hard to know how well you’re doing…” I remember one graduate telling me at an end-of-year social; “Suddenly after 4 years of being graded on everything and feeling a sense of achievement when you do well, you don’t get marks for assignments. Don’t let it knock your self-confidence, find a way to take pride in the work you do without someone giving you a number.” And sure enough, in my first job after graduating I quickly recognised that feeling. But instead of being affected by it, I saw it as a normal and temporary part of the transition to working life. A small piece of someone else’s experience that gave me the perspective I needed to handle a potentially difficult time.

Now I work with the Alumni Relations team on projects designed to bring the University community together to share experiences, insights and ideas in creative and engaging ways. Platform One is one of these initiatives – a single online location where students and alumni – and staff – can support and learn from each other.

We launched Platform One in summer 2018, to small cohorts around the University. Since then, membership has expanded to over 7,000 people, from current students and staff to some of our most supportive alumni volunteers. Platform One is constantly growing, with participants based in over 100 different countries, all with different skills, passions and experiences. All share a connection to the University of Edinburgh. Broad and diverse, but also familiar and relatable.

Whenever I browse through profiles, I see new offers of support that show what Platform One is all about. A few of the offers that I’ve seen recently have really brought home the warmth of our alumni and their eagerness to help:

Offering support and advice for those who are finding it difficult to live and study far away from family and old friends.

As a recent graduate, I know the feeling of finishing your studies and not being too sure what it is you want to do.

I am a very patient, honest, and friendly person – no question is too small and I love receiving a million questions 🙂 So please feel free to reach out!

Platform One is still developing, and we are learning all the time. We recently made changes to allow people to bring more of their personality into their profiles, and we are exploring more ways to help people find each other and start talking. We’re hoping, and expecting, that our former students will be ready and willing to support our 2020 graduates, who face an especially challenging set of circumstances this summer, once they join Platform One.

Working with Platform One has made me reflect on how drawing from the experiences of alumni shaped my own student days. Thanks to exceptional tutors creating opportunities for me to meet alumni, I saw the other side of graduation before it came. Alumni were actually never ‘other-siders’, but a crucial part of my development as a student.

Platform One brings alumni in to make these connections possible for everyone across the University. Have a look for yourself and see who inspires you.

Further information

Twitter: @EdinburghAlumni

Instagram: @edalumni

Facebook: @edalumni

Kerry Balkwill

Kerry Balkwill is Alumni Relations Projects Officer for Development and Alumni. Her work focuses on supporting initiatives to engage alumni in the activities of the University and its community. She graduated from Edinburgh in 2016 with an MA in Japanese.

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