3 questions to a higher ed blogger: Andrew Shaindlin, Executive Director of the Caltech Alumni Association from “Alumni Futures”

September 10th, 2007 Karine Joly No Comments

Executive Director at the Caltech Alumni Association, Andrew Shaindlin has been blogging at Alumni Futures since last February, but managed to make my list of 5 bloggers that make me think last May by posting regularly well-researched, well-written posts targeted to alumni professionals.

1) Why did you decide to start your blog Alumni Futures in the first place? Can you tell us a bit more about your experience with blogging?

I started a listserv called ALUMNI-L back in the early ’90s. It eventually grew into an international forum for almost 1,500 people before I asked CASE to take it over. ALUMNI-L is a place where people ask others for their past experiences and hindsight. I started my blog, Alumni Futures, and named it quite deliberately, to ask the opposite kind of question. Instead of “What have you done in the past?” I want to ask “What are we going to do next? What would be interesting for us to pursue next in our profession?”

I also believe that there’s a potentially important role for blogging within alumni organizations (and we could have an entire separate conversation just about that). By blogging, I hope I’m getting alumni professionals to think about how blogs work and what they might be used for on campus. And since we’re devising a couple of alumni-related blogs at Caltech, I’m looking for potholes to avoid down the road in my own work.

When I started Alumni Futures I not only had no experience at all with blogging, I wasn’t even reading any blogs. I researched higher education blogs and found that the number dedicated to institutional advancement was very small – and there were none about alumni relations. Mostly I found blogs about communications, marketing, and public relations. So I decided to dive in, on the principle that if you’re the first person to do something it’s unlikely that there’s a right or a wrong way to do it. You take your best shot, and make changes downstream, as it becomes clearer what people want or need.
I’m still very much learning as I go.

2) How is your blogging received by your institution and your professional peers?

My situation is similar to what Karlyn Morissette described on your site recently. Not many people on my own campus are probably aware of the blog. We’re a completely centralized alumni shop – there are no “school and college” units, or separate alumni societies. Unlike Karlyn, however, I didn’t bring up the idea before I started blogging.
I waited until I had a few weeks of postings online, with no problems or negative repercussions, and then mentioned it to my own staff members, my boss and others. I’m not giving away trade secrets, or airing “dirty laundry” so I don’t think Alumni Futures is going to raise any hackles internally.

I’ve received some strong positive feedback from peers in the profession and their supportive comments affirm that starting Alumni Futures was absolutely the right thing for me to do, and that it has a potentially valuable role to play.

3) You are also very active on Linkedin and Facebook. In your opinion, which one is the most useful for higher ed professionals?

I think that a site’s utility depends largely on what problem you are using it to solve. If you want to connect with individuals one-on-one for specific purposes (such as finding job applicants or locating alumni from your institution within a specific industry) then LinkedIn is a good choice. If, on the other hand, you want to find people who share a cause, or you want to communicate using online calendars and bulletin boards across a broader audience, Facebook is pretty good for that.

LinkedIn is a business-networking site that has never pretended to serve a social function. It is slowly moving toward becoming more of an “online community” – for example it offers members the ability to ask questions that can be answered by others in their network. But it doesn’t yet allow you to upload a photo to your profile, invite people to an event, or list your favorite bands.

Facebook was born as a way for undergraduates to connect with one another socially. But now Facebook sees the enormous potential of the age 35+ market segment and is trying to appeal to people with more formalized networking needs. These two particular sites may never converge completely, but we’re still in the “Wild West” period of social network sites so nothing is final yet.

Now that I think about it, this makes things even more interesting – because someone in our professional network, maybe somebody reading our blogs, will figure out a creative use for a social networking site and push a piece of our business in an entirely new direction. The profession of alumni relations in particular is small enough to be influenced measurably by a single person doing something new.

That’s my goal for Alumni Futures – to encourage people to think up new things to do, and new ways to do old things. Until then, I’m learning a lot myself and meeting a lot of impressive and helpful people along the way.

Got a question or comment?