Each semester the Department of Communication Studies organizes a series of alumni panels for all Senior Capstone sections. Prior to the pandemic, panels occurred in-person at the Lory Student Center and featured alumni living in the Northern Colorado area. The opportunity to bring alumni back to campus to share stories and meet our soon-to-be-graduated-seniors has always been a highlight of the semester.
Once the Spring 2020 semester went fully remote in late March – just a week before five alumni were scheduled to meet with students on campus – we had to quickly re-imagine the future of the alumni panel experience.
“We know that learning from alumni is an important part of our graduating senior experience,” says Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies Elizabeth Williams. “We had to preserve that for them in some form.”
Since most of us were new to meeting in virtual spaces and students and faculty were only beginning to adjust to fully-remote learning, we thought it might be best to connect students and alumni asynchronously through their online learning space – no live chat, no recorded Zoom – just an exchange of questions and answers on a digital page.
We proposed the idea to alumni and without hesitation they were willing to participate. “We are so thankful our amazing alumni agreed to adapt to the circumstances,” Williams says. “We knew it wouldn’t be as satisfying as face-to-face conversations, but we had to try.”
By summer we knew that scheduling virtual panels was the only viable way to meaningfully connect capstone students to alumni. The Department was also set to pilot a new-to-the-major seminar for incoming students.
“We felt strongly that connecting our students with our alumni early in their studies would help them imagine the multiple possibilities afforded by a major in communication studies,” Williams says.
With geography no longer a constraint, we could invite alumni from any part of the country to join a panel. Additionally, we could record each panel discussion and post online for future playback, significantly broadening student access to all alumni.
Since March 2020, 27 alumni have participated across 10 unique virtual panels, serving eight capstone classes and four new-to-the-major seminars. Alumni joined from California, New York, Pennsylvanian, North Carolina, Arizona, Georgia, and Colorado, and across Colorado. One of our faculty, Associate Professor Julia Khrebtan-Hörhager, facilitated her capstone panels from Vienna, Austria.
The 2020-21 virtual alumni panel format closely followed the pre-COVID in-person format. Course instructors briefly introduced alumni who took turns sharing the story of their journey from undergraduate comm studies (or speech communication) major to their current career/position – regardless of whether they graduated in 2020 or 1993. The remainder of the class session followed a Q&A format, with students and instructor posing questions to alumni.
Considering the uncertainties the pandemic has thrown on the job market, capstone students in particular were more eager than ever before to ask for advice on navigating the future. Fortunately, several alumni who participated had graduated within the last year. They knew first hand the anxieties and fears facing our 2021 graduates.
While this shared alumni-student “graduating during COVID times” experience – communicated by alumni with compassionate encouragement and defined by perseverance and resilience – didn’t erase anxieties among seniors, it offered them hope.
They were reminded that their major has prepared them to handle adversity. They have agency. They know how to build relationships. And, they can critically assess their options for navigating a meaningful way forward. It won’t be easy, but they have the skills to do it and a community of peers ready and willing to support them.
Are you interested in participating on a future panel? If yes, please let us know by submitting this form.
Please join us recognizing our 2020-21 virtual alumni panelists:
|Miguel Bañuelos-García, ’20|
|Shayla Berrian, ’20|
|Laura Buser, ’17|
|Bethany Cloud, ’09|
|Keyshon Cooks, ’19|
|Henry Cooper, ’20|
|James Crowe, ’97|
|Michael Facchinello, ’15|
|Travis Fry, ’16|
|Baylee Gregor, ’14|
|Anthony Grimes, ’07|
|Abby Hanouw, ’17|
|Mahalia Henschel , ’20|
|Hannah Hildreth, ’17|
|Allison Maestas, ’18|
|Kalie McMonagle, ’11 & ’17|
|Sam Melcher, ’17|
|Alexa Shipman, ’20|
|Savannah Svoboda,’02 & ’04|
|Dani Strobel, ’17|
|Nate Shugrue, ’14|
|Martha Weidmann, ’05|
|Michael Vasseur, ’14|
|Josett Valdez, ’01|
|Juliana Velez, ’11|
|Aerin Yates, ’11|