On B Connect, students and alumni Rise Together
The Justice spoke to the Hiatt Career Center’s Brenda Shively about the new online networking and career development platform and mentorship program for Brandeis alumni and students.
Earlier this semester, B Connect celebrated the one-year anniversary of its launch with a party on campus, providing merch and cupcakes for the students and alumni who joined to celebrate a year of B Connect. This event was both a celebration and a way to increase student and alumni awareness of the new online network in the hopes of encouraging more members of the Brandeis community to get involved.
“Knowing that Brandeis University has such an amazing and supportive alumni network really led to the making of this program,” said Brenda Shively, who is involved in B Connect and is the director of the associated mentor network for the Hiatt Career Center, in a Zoom interview with the Justice on May 13.
So what is B Connect? Short for Brandeis Connection, B Connect is the all-new version of the online networking and mentorship platform exclusively for the Brandeis community, released in February 2021. Alumni and current students who create a free account on the site can search for and post job opportunities, connect with fellow members of the Brandeis community, and access features including the alumni directory and the alumni-owned business directory.
The platform is similar to LinkedIn, and users can sync their LinkedIn accounts to their B Connect accounts. What sets B Connect apart, however, is that it is made up entirely of Brandeis community members. As of right now, the platform’s user base consists of close to 5,000 alumni and over 1,000 current students, both undergraduate and graduate.
With the updated version of the site, which existed in a different format prior to 2021, B Connect has added new ways for users to find old friends and classmates as well as job and internship opportunities to help current students and alumni build connections and community.
One of these new additions is Hiatt’s Rise Together Mentor Network, which connects Brandeis students with over 1,500 alumni mentors. Hosted on the B Connect platform, Rise Together brings together alumni who volunteer to serve as mentors to current students. Alumni can opt-in to the program through their B Connect account, while students can join the program at any point in their college career on B Connect, as over 850 students have done already.
“There are so many alumni out there who have expressed that they want to connect with students, they want to answer questions, and help students walk the paths they have walked, so that was really the inspiration behind this program,” Shively explained.
The Rise Together program brings alumni of all career interests together in order to serve students in the best way possible. Shively was happy to report that many alumni have reached out and expressed interest in helping students through mentorship or just giving advice about their field or career. She explained that the B Connect and Rise Together programs are meant to be student-driven and create organic relationships. “It’s not just another login or program to add to your account,” said Shively. “It really is an experience of learning [from] or connecting with people. It is meant to help stimulate the networking experience but it is easier than cold-emailing someone on LinkedIn, for example, because you already share the experience of attending Brandeis.”
While she acknowledged that LinkedIn is an important and useful tool for students, she said she found that students do not always feel comfortable reaching out to people they do not know or share a connection with on the platform. With B Connect, every user on the website is a part of the Brandeis community in some way, meaning that users already have an initial connection to anyone they might want to reach out to through the site. Students and alumni alike can build upon this connection, Shively said, explaining that it can make it easier to start networking and initiating conversations with other Brandeis community members.
Rise Together gives participants more freedom and possibilities in comparison to other mentoring programs, Shively explained. With Rise Together, students can be involved as little or as much as they want in reaching out to alumni mentors, who also get to choose the degree to which they want to engage in the network. This system aims to put less pressure on participants and give them the opportunity to take their time finding the right mentor or mentee, rather than being grouped together automatically without necessarily sharing common interests or ideas.
The Rise Together program has held over 20 virtual panel events for students over the course of the school year which featured alumni who spoke about their career paths, answered questions, and gave advice to current students. Through these events, Shively said that Rise Together engaged more than 400 students and over 60 alumni.
When asked about changes she wants to be implemented in the Rise Together program in the future, Shively said she would like to see a shift toward “more in-person events in places where meaningful connections are created.” One such event was Deis Dinner, which was hosted by Rise Together this past fall. This event gave students the opportunity to meet alumni in person. Shively also expressed interest in hosting hybrid events in the future to allow alumni all around the world to participate while still giving the students and alumni the chance to connect and ask questions in person.
Along with alumni panels, Rise Together is also planning to begin hosting workshops next semester. Shively explained that these workshops will be a space for students to learn more about how to use Rise Together and how to start the process of connecting with alumni. “We’ll be focusing on networking,” she said, explaining that the goal of these workshops will be to provide students with answers to important questions about the process. Shively said questions such as “How do you make that first outreach? What are some language examples? What do you do after?” are planned to be answered at Rise Together events next year.
Shively hopes to continue to grow the undergraduate and graduate student base of Rise Together, as well as the mentor network. She said she hopes the network will continue to expand to include more alumni within a wider variety of fields and positions. With so many niche careers that students may be interested in, Shively recognizes that there can be challenges in finding the right mentor to connect with.
She concluded the interview with some advice for current students and new graduates getting started with the networking process and Rise Together newcomers looking for a mentor to reach out to: “An important part of reaching out is to think about what you want to learn from this mentorship or connection. So, for a lot of students, this can be specific to a career, but maybe it’s why someone chose their major? There are questions beyond just ‘How did you get your job?’ Think about what you are hoping to learn because that can frame how you reach out to them.”
She also recommended doing research beforehand on the person you are reaching out to, whether it's through B Connect, LinkedIn, the University Archives, or even a simple Google search. This can allow you to ask more specific questions that show you have invested the time to learn more about a person before reaching out to them, which can help you stand out to mentors and other potential professional connections.
Shively said she “could go on forever” with advice, but her last words of wisdom for current students and graduates alike were quite simple: “Just always say thank you and always follow up.”