The social distancing safety orders which erupted across the country in early March and bled into the summer months left many with more than a little spare time. For college students, the pressure to find summer commitments (ideally ones to further their academic and/or professional lives) remained relentlessly strong. Boston College alumni could sense the anxiety of BC’s current classes, and they wanted to help. In early June, roughly three months after the university-wide move-out, Back to BC (B2BC) was born.
The name “Back to BC” plays on the bond between those students and alumni involved; tied together by their time spent in Chestnut Hill, no matter how long ago it might have been. The mission statement of the program states their purpose clearly: “The Back to BC initiative is an alumni-driven effort to bring alumni Back to BC (virtually) in support of the personal and professional development of students that have been impacted by COVID-19. Through mentorship, workshops, panels, and other forms of direct alumni engagement, Back to BC aims to supplement students’ summer experiences and leave them feeling supported and better prepared to go Back to BC (and beyond).”
Hannah Say, CSOM ‘18, along with a close friend from her undergraduate years, Andy Kearney, CSOM ‘18, oversees a team of about 40 young alumni who have worked together to see the program come into fruition. They also rallied a sizable group of current students to assist with the logistical side of the program, many of whom are members of CSOM’s Fulton Leadership Society (FLS).
“Genuine outreach from a smattering of people was really how it started,” Say reflects.
In response to the start of the coronavirus pandemic, and the subsequent cancellation of summer plans which followed, students looking for ways to stay productive began emailing alumni in the early summer months. These graduates (among whom were Say and Kearney) empathized with the students’ stress. Say explains that the brainstorming process for Back to BC took the limitations of young recent alumni into account (they didn’t have the power to create corporate internships, for example).
“We didn’t know what we could contribute other than our time, but we did feel really bad for students and we wanted to help,” She says.
After establishing the widespread need for student support, Kearney organized focus groups with current students to learn more about how alumni could best serve them. In order to take into account the unique positions of all grade levels, students from every class were surveyed.
The voices and perspectives of students were highly valued––B2BC was developed directly as a result of what was gleaned from these discussions. Students explained the career support systems which BC already has in place, as well as what they both want and need in terms of professional development. Say and Kearney then spoke with friends to gauge how many alumni would be willing and available to join in. The three-pronged structure of B2BC was the cumulative result.
For all 500-plus participating students (who span each of BC’s four undergraduate schools) three levels of involvement are possible. Students can choose to partake in one, two, or all three. The first, the Young Alumni Mentorship Program, pairs students with a recent BC graduate. The matching process is based on a survey aiming to align alumni and students with shared career paths and interests. Eight weekly meetings, held over the course of July and August, then provide the opportunity for connection and discussion. A newsletter is administered each week with a designated theme, including topics and questions to shape conversation.
The next option, Skill Building Projects, offers the chance to work with an alumnus in completing a summer project which allows students to exercise and develop both technical and soft career skills. B2BC stresses the fact that these projects are intended to be a simulation of a true professional experience, conducted with the support of an individual who has experience in the field. It’s worth noting that the body of alumni who volunteered to help span just about every industry imaginable; from consulting, to healthcare, to non-profit work.
The third branch of B2BC, Industry Virtual Events, establishes online panels and speaking events which will be held throughout the span of the program. Guests will include alumni and other professionals, whose backgrounds account for the wide array of career paths which students might be considering. These events are also open to people from outside of the campus community.
Say explains that there is a collaborative relationship between B2BC and the university itself, adding that the BC Career Center has been supportive and worked with the alumni to ensure that neither side is creating duplicates of resources. Additionally, B2BC redirects students to the Career Center when appropriate.
“We aim to amplify the existing efforts to support students, as well as produce new, alumni-driven content and programming that BC has not yet established,” Say describes their goals. “Through standalone branding and as a grassroots type alumni-driven initiative, we intend to reach students that would otherwise not engage with self-driven content and growth opportunities that BC provides.”
Given the national climate surrounding B2BC’s kickoff, at a time when the Black Lives Matter movement has gained unprecedented momentum, Say and her colleagues knew they wanted to stress the importance of Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) in the summer project.
“We wanted to be intentional from the very beginning that D&I is integral to our program and how we measure the success of the program,” Say states.
With this in mind, B2BC has pledged to include Diversity and Inclusion as events throughout the program. They have also reserved a mentorship week specifically dedicated to discussing D&I in work, academic, and home environments alike.
“We recognize that there are bigger issues than BC students not getting full internship experiences and there‘s always more to be done,” Say continues, “but [we] hope that this initiative can do its part in the personal/professional development of the next generation of inclusive and anti-racist leaders.”
The future of B2BC is undetermined, seeing as it was created to address the very unique situation of college students during the summer of COVID-19. With any luck, next summer will have seen the discovery and administration of a vaccine, which would likely remove the uncertainty and restlessness that so many are feeling right now. Say says that any potential for a reboot depends on feedback received during and after the conclusion of the program from the school, students, and alumni (all of which has been very positive thus far).
Regardless of whether it is repeated, B2BC is an example of the powerful way that this global pandemic has brought people together, uniting individuals who may never have met otherwise. Say jokes that the alumni who volunteered are doing so as an “extracurricular”; that is to say, no compensation is given and the commitment falls outside of their everyday work obligations. The driving factor, the inspiration that has made the program possible, is the selfless desire of alumni and students to see their fellow Eagles succeed.