One of the things that I love about Buena Vista University (BVU), the small, liberal-arts school that I teach at, is the ability to form deep, long-lasting connections with students. As our most recent NSSE data suggests, BVU forms meaningful student-faculty and student-academic advisor connections. For example, the ‘Quality of Interactions Engagement’ indicator revealed that 63 % of our first years and 78 % of our seniors had ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’ interactions with academic advisors and 73 % of our first years and 63 % of our seniors had ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’ interactions with faculty. These connections are maintained as students move on to graduate and professional schools and into the working world. BVU’s School of Science has done an amazing job at maintaining these connections and continually engaging alumni.
The most common type of alumni engagement we have are internships and shadowing opportunities. As students explore the various careers available to them, we leverage our alumni as our first point of contact. For example, if a student is deciding whether they want to go into physical therapy or occupational therapy, we can have them shadow a BVU alum that works at the local sports rehabilitation and physical therapy clinic.
BVU alumni have also created their own internship experiences for current students. Several local alumni physicians partnered with BVU to create a three-week internship experience known as the Undergraduate Rural Medial Education and Development (URMED) program. The goal of this partnership is to provide students with hands-on learning and encourage them to pursue careers in rural medicine upon completion of their professional training. Over the course of three weeks, students shadow various rural physicians, most of which are BVU alumni, in disciplines including family medicine, obstetrics, general surgery, orthopedic surgery and more. This internship has benefitted both the students and the hospitals who participate in the program. Students get an in-depth, firsthand experience in rural medicine, while the hospitals form connections with young, talented future physicians. In the 15 years that URMED has been in existence, 100% of the students who participated in the program (2 – 3 students per year) have been accepted to medical school or the professional program of their choice, such as physician assistant school. I know that statistic seems hard to believe but I promise you it is accurate. Many of those participants are actively practicing in rural medicine, with several of them practicing here in Storm Lake. URMED works, and it’s all thanks to the dedication from BVU alumni wanting to give back to BVU and their community.
These internship and shadowing experiences, either part of URMED or outside of it, creates relationships between the alumni and the students that allows the students to be able to get letters of recommendation from these individuals. Outside of these letters of recommendation, our alumni also help our students with the application process to graduate and professional schools via engaging students in various types of mock interviews. Several alumni came back to simulate one-on-one, back-to-back interviews with our students. We’ve had other alumni participate in a group panel to simulate group interviews that are common for graduate school. We’ve even had alumni host virtual mock interviews to simulate the online format that many graduate and professional schools have been utilizing. More recently we have had an alum host a case study-based interview. The alum was a trained by her medical school to carry out the case-study portion of the medical school interview and used this knowledge to walk our students through a case study. This alum provided the students with information on what medical schools are looking for as well as dos and don’ts of the case-study portion of the interview.
In addition to facilitating internships and assistance with the application process, our alumni provide endless advice to our students. About once a month, we bring an alum to campus to have dinner with the students. These casual gatherings over tacos allow students to ask intimate questions about the alum’s profession, what steps they took to get where they are, how well BVU prepared them for the next level, and so much more. Other times, our alumni will also serve on panels. These panels are aimed at a variety of audiences, including prospective students, freshman and sophomores trying to figure out their life path, as well as upperclassman looking to graduate. Whatever the audience, the alumni offer up advice and words of wisdom to help guide students on their journeys.
Last, but not least, my personal favorite ways to engage alumni in the classroom is in my upper-level human anatomy class. In this class, we have Clinical Evenings in the cadaver lab. After learning about a certain unit, an alum walks the students through a mock clinical procedure based on the lecture content. For example, we have a BVU alum who is an orthopedic surgeon. At the end of the lower limb unit, this alum came to lab and walked students through how to repair a femur fracture. With the alum’s instructions and guidance, the students placed a plate on the femur fracture, running all the drills, guides, and screws through the whole procedure. The alum will quiz the students on the anatomy and physiology of the area as they are working through the procedure to give application to what the students are learning about in lecture. Another example occurs during the pelvic unit, in which one of our alums reviews female pelvic anatomy before teaching students how to implant intrauterine devices into papayas. Both the students and alumni have a blast working together in the hands-on learning environment.
As a full-time teaching faculty, students are my passion. I love helping students expand their views and knowledge. I love pushing students to continually improve and to reach their goals, all while supporting them during the process. I wouldn’t be able to serve my students quite as well if it weren’t for our generous alumni. I want to thank everyone reading this who has given back to their alma mater in some way, shape, or form to help students. Your time and knowledge are indispensable to the students, and while it may not always seem like it, you’ve impacted student lives more than you know.