Leverage your Academic Experience to Build a Community

Whether you are a student, staff or faculty member within a university, you are automatically part of the academic community. In this day of social networking, you likely have a LinkedIn profile with numerous personal and professional connections (and if you don’t yet, what are you waiting for?). You’ve begun to build your network.

Networks are important.

Often, we build our networks with others in our discipline, or with people with whom we share a professional role. However, I ask you to consider that networks can reach beyond disciplines to provide a broader, richer platform for building value, asking questions, and solving problems.

Networks are not communities, and communities are not disciplines. Communities are built around shared experiences, and more to the point, shared purpose. Communities are where we as humans come together to make change happen – across disciplines and through networks.

When I think about my own experience – past and present – I’ve noticed the academic environment provides numerous paths to building community. Here are my top five:  

  1. Say “Yes”

When I was an undergraduate, I said “yes” to a study abroad experience. Once overseas, I said “yes” to acting and singing in a play  -- something I never would have done stateside. When the show was over, a peer told me, “Anne, of all the times I’ve heard you sing your solo, tonight you were the most on–key.”

I met people in that play, and on that study aboard trip, who will be part of my personal support system and professional network forever. The experiences we share – funny, happy, sad, are what tie us together.

When I was in graduate school, I said “yes” to an opportunity to serve in a leadership role for the student body. In that role, I had an opportunity to meet someone who was able to help me find my dream job. The point is, I find that the more opportunities I take to say “yes,” the more opportunities make themselves available.

  1. Find your “why”

If you are a fan of Simon Sinek’s viral TED Talk, you already know that “People don’t buy into what you do, they buy into why you do it.” As you make connections, share your passions rather than the specifics of your work. When someone asks “What do you do?” tell them why you do what you do. And ask them what drives them to do what they do,  and see what develops. You could be expanding your network, and also building a community of connected individuals with shared purpose.

  1. Get an elevator pitch

Big breaks in career and life often involve a combination of luck and the ability to recognize opportunities as they present themselves. Professionally, this can take the form of the opportunity to meet someone with the ability to help you.

You’ve heard this before: Know what you’d say if someone with the power to change your life got in at the top floor of an elevator, and you have 40 seconds with them as a captive audience. Consider formulating an elevator pitch that underscores your “why.” Sharing your passion will make your conversation memorable, and increases the likelihood of making a strong, lasting connection.

  1. Don’t ask – offer 

This I learned from a great mentor of mine. He wanted to start a national arts program at a large nonprofit. The natural route would have been to take his idea to an established organization and ask them to fund his work, and his position. Instead, he came to them with an offer. He’d applied for, and received, a grant for a million dollars to partner to build the arts program he envisioned. With offer in hand, he succeeded in finding a home within an organization with a shared mission. His arts program has been going strong for 20 years, fully integrated into and supported by that nonprofit.

  1. Take advantage of your status as an academic – and learn

Your email address, with its .edu suffix, confers power. People who wouldn’t meet with others will meet with you. Use your email address, and your status as a student, educator or staff member, to meet with others and learn and grow in your field. When you meet with one person, ask that person for two additional people who you should meet, and so on. That’s how you build your network.

The more connections you make, the more opportunities you take to say “yes,” the more you’ll find shared experiences and shared purpose. And that’s when you’ll realize – you’ve found your community. 

 

Anne Ruybalid is the Director of the Business School at Marylhurst University. She served on the Wise Women Panel at the 2018 OWHE Annual Conference. She can be contacted via email at aruybalid@marylhurst.edu

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