When members of Ujamaa wanted to host an event focusing on the takeover of Fisk Hall in the late 1960’s, they used the Alumni and Parents Speakers Network (APSN) to get Evans Jacobs ’73 to speak on his role in the takeover. Likewise, when Psi Chi, the University’s chapter of the National Psychological Honors Society, was looking to find a speaker on career opportunities for Psychology majors, the APSN helped it locate Raphael Ornstein ’82, a child psychologist.
Initiated in the fall of 2006, the APSN serves as a resource for students in search of guest speakers within the broader Wesleyan community. This service allows students to connect with parents and alumni who are willing to share their talent and expertise with students.
“The program provides opportunities for networking between students and Wesleyan parents and alumni—everyone benefits,” said Assistant Vice President for Alumni and Parent Relations Gemma Ebstein.
Although parents and alumni have spoken at the University countless times before, the network’s creators believe that better organization would facilitate the process, as well as augment the number of student groups utilizing the extended Wesleyan community for support.
Rather than publish a list of parents and alumni, which would have to be updated multiple times per year, the APSN handles inquiries on an individual basis, working directly with students and faculty to find the speakers they need. Not only does the network locate alumni and parents in a particular area of interest, it will also work with students to organize a panel of speakers for collaborative events.
“Depending on the type of speaker, these programs can stimulate lively conversations about controversial topics, as well as inform students of world issues,” Ebstein said.
Another benefit of taking advantage of the University’s network is the low cost. According to Gail Briggs, associate director of alumni programs, parents and alumni are more than eager to return to the University, and, as a result, often speak free of charge.
“As a resource, [the network] doesn’t have a budget to pay speakers,” said Briggs. “But we work with faculty and students to help them find ways to cover miscellaneous expenses connected with guest speakers, such as meals or, in some cases, overnight accommodations, steering them to other sources, such as academic departmental funds or support from the Office of Student Activities and Leadership Development [(SALD)].” Last year, the AIDs and Sexual Health Awareness (ASHA) group utilized this network, which enabled them to find Dr. John Coffin ’66, P ’00, a professor of microbiology at Tufts University and the director of HIV Drug Resistance Program at the National Cancer Institute in Frederick, Maryland, who came to campus to give an update on AIDS research.
“We found [the network] easy to work with, and helpful,” said Lily Walkover ’09, a member of ASHA.
Walkover did note, however, that ASHA wasn’t completely satisfied with ASPN.
“They didn’t ask for much detail on what we wanted, or give much background on the prospects,” she said. “Although the speaker was great, a little more background ahead of time would have helped everything go more smoothly.”
Students who are interested in lining up a speaker can begin by visiting Timothy Shiner, director of student activities and leadership development. He works with students to complete a Speaker Request Form, which is then sent to Gail Briggs for a custom speaker search, based on extensive knowledge of the expertise of alumni and parents.
After reviewing possible speakers with the students or groups involved, an invitation is extended. Once the speaker commits and the basics of event coordination are reviewed with students, responsibility for the program is handed over to the students.
According to Briggs, the network differs from the Career Resource Center.
“The speakers we provide are not necessarily speaking about career-related issues,” she said. “In many cases, they offer direct experience in a particular field of interest.”
In only its second year, the program has gone unnoticed by many student groups, but Briggs remains confident that this will soon change.
“Students are still getting acquainted with the network,” she said. “Over time, we hope the Wesleyan community will become better aware of this incredible resource.”
Briggs stressed that the network is a win-win model for both students and alumni and parents.
“It introduces students to the tremendous talent pool found in our alumni and parents, and also gives guest speakers the chance to meet current students and faculty and reconnect with Wesleyan,” she said. “The network provides a great opportunity to enrich on-campus programs, and to introduce alumni and parents to students and the campus community.”