Akilah Fields didn’t know what to expect while attending her first meet-and-greet event hosted by her local college alumni chapter.
At the time, she was in the the middle of relocating to Tampa, Florida, after living in Orlando for eight years. Fields, 26, wanted to see if going to the event could help her build her personal and professional networks in a new city. Her nerves started to jitter as she approached the group, but they calmed down once everyone started discussing college football and life around town.
“This is a great chance for me to still be connected to alma mater, grow, foster new connections and make some new memories outside of Orlando,” says Fields, a talent service coordinator with the Home Shopping Network and a University of Central Florida alumna.
College alumni networks host events year-round and provide a social backdrop for their members to expand their professional networks. These groups can also improve overall quality of life by making someone feel less lonely in a new environment. So if you’re looking for a new way to meet people, here’s why you should seek out your local college alumni group.
Find Your Local Group
In general, some schools have a national presence with alumni chapters across the country while others may have a more regional scope.
Derek Brunette, president of the Tampa Bay UCF Alumni Chapter, advises people to go on their university’s alumni association website to see if there is a chapter in your area. Once you locate one, sign up to receive email updates and join the club’s social media pages. At the next event, seek out a board member, introduce yourself and ask if there are ways to get involved. That will put you on the chapter’s radar when the opportunity to take on a volunteer role presents itself.
If you don’t think you want a big role right off the bat, take your time and get comfortable with the chapter. But the more you give, Brunette says, the more rewarding it can be.
“I feel like I have 15 new friends, connections through this commonality… with the board,” he says. “That’s been a great advantage. I think that’s probably been one of the biggest additives to being involved.”
Make a New City Feel Like Home
Over the last several years, Cassidy Harpster has been on the move. As a software developer, he’s bounced around from city to city trying to advance his career. He spent about three years in Washington D.C. and about a year in Tampa before landing in New York City four months ago. As a proud Knight, he seeks out places where the local UCF chapter hosts watch parties for sports.
He says there’s a sense of camaraderie in being a part of an alumni chapter that’s far away from home.
“For a lot of people, it can be pretty intimidating just trying to go out and build a whole new network of people, friends and things like that,” Harpster, 29, says. “So having the alumni group certainly helps.”
And what event brings the most alumni together? Football. Football watch parties can help replicate the excitement of being in the stadium cheering for your team.
For Fields, college football Saturdays are like personal holidays. While attending her first UCF watch party in Tampa in August, she was thrilled to be surrounded by more than 100 UCF fans cheering with every big catch and touchdown as her Knights decimated the University of Connecticut 56-17.
“Being around other people who feel the same way as me, that just means the world to me,” she says.
Be Yourself and Get Involved
While some people get involved with their local chapters to make friends and watch football with a big group of people, others go in with a strictly business approach. Brunette says if you choose to participate in your local alumni chapter, make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons — specifically, that you’re passionate about your school and you want your local chapter to thrive. Your participation shouldn’t be just about promoting your business or career.
“I think people can sniff out immediately if people come in with ulterior motives or intentions for business first, which isn’t necessarily bad, but I think it provides a more genuine true opportunity if you establish yourself by giving back to the chapter and giving back to the alumni base first,” he says.
Once chapter members see your passion for your school, they’ll want to know more about you. That’s when you can say you’re looking for a new job. You never know if the person you’re talking to is hiring.
“I can think of three individuals that are in regional manager hiring positions who are actually actively looking to hire young alumni in the area,” he says. “So be yourself, show your passion and build those genuine connections.”
Meet Professionals Beyond Your Office
Victoria Price is a legislative assistant for the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Science. She also volunteers as the vice president of communications for the Capital Area Gator Club, the alumni group for the University of Florida in Tallahassee, Florida. By attending alumni events, she’s able to meet people from different government offices, which can be beneficial when working in a state capital.
“Being in government affairs, knowing that this person’s a Gator and they work for the Senate on the agriculture committee, that’s really good for me,” she says. “We already have something in common that is easy to kind of break the ice with if there’s something needed for work.”
But what if you’re looking to meet people outside of your industry? “I think what college groups offer that’s a little bit different from [other networking events] is the different types of people within them,” she says.
Much like bumping into people with different majors at the school quad, you’ll meet members from a variety of industries at these events. Price says that some of the people involved with her alumni club work in fields like government, engineering, accounting and real estate.
Who knows, maybe the person you meet at an event can lead to new business for your company. At the very least, they can be a new friend to cheer with when your team scores a go-ahead touchdown.
Matt Reinstetle is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. Matt serves as the communications chair for the Tampa Bay UCF Alumni Chapter. It’s his way to give back and help grow his alma mater.