The Challenge: Reconnecting with Alumni
The History department has awarded hundreds of students Ph.D. degrees. These graduates have gone on to pursue a wide variety of diverse careers inside and outside of the academy. But over the years, we have lost track of many of our Ph.D. alumni. Where are they now? What have they learned from their varied careers that could inform the way we think about training the next generation of historians? How might we reconnect with this vast and diverse network?
Our desire to reconnect with our alumni was premised on a simple but important idea: all our doctoral alumni remain historians regardless of the kind of work they do. With a Michigan History Ph.D., graduates have deep expertise and a wide array of skills that make historical thinking an indelible part of their professional identity. Our alumni have developed careers in a variety of sectors. This experience makes them ideal role models/mentors to our current students and informants for our faculty.
Our mission is to bring these alumni back into the UM History community and learn from them as our department seeks to make graduate training more responsive to contemporary conditions.
In cooperation with the American Historical Association (AHA), we located all our Ph.D. alums since 1990 and built a digital community to facilitate communication. The intent was to create a virtual space where our alumni and current graduate students could connect with each other on the basis of shared intellectual interests, career trajectories, or mentoring possibilities.
- First, we compiled all the existing data on our Ph.D. alums from LSA development, Rackham, departmental records, and AHA information.
- Then, we painstakingly searched for every Ph.D. graduate on the web to find current contact information.
- Finally, we partnered with Rackham to use the U-M University Career Alumni Network (UCAN), a digital networking platform powered by PeopleGrove. The History Department became a pilot program on this digital platform, creating a by-invitation-only departmental group within Rackham Connect to host our alumni network.
What We’ve Learned
Since going live in March 2019, the History Group within Rackham Connect has over 100 users, including alumni, current doctoral students, and faculty and staff. We have found that our Ph.D. alumni are eager to reconnect with our department and have welcomed our outreach. A substantial portion of this alumni community has joined our PeopleGrove network, where they have indicated their willingness to serve as mentors, readers, or informational interviewers for our current doctoral students.
Increasing alumni and doctoral student enrollment in our platform remains a challenge. Despite several rounds of email invitations, the majority of our 400 alums have yet to create profiles in our network.
At the same time, we have learned that many alumni and current graduate students from other departments and schools across the U-M campus are interested in joining our invitation-only network, requiring us to balance increasing the size of the network with our mission to create a community that centers on our common professional identity as historians.
- In the future, we hope to expand enrollment in our digital network through additional outreach.
- We also plan to integrate the network into our new graduate student orientation. Asking incoming doctoral students to create a profile as a part of their orientation will make this virtual community a feature of the History graduate student experience from the very beginning.
- Our hope is to promote discussion of topics of common interest—about historical methods and research, but also about careers both within and beyond the professoriate—through this digital community.
Department of History
For more information, contact Melanie Schulze Tanielian, Associate Professor of History