Even before she started at Cornell, Hana Brett ’21 knew that the Cornell network was a positive part of attending and graduating from this university. Now a biology and society major in the College of Arts and Sciences—and a member of the swim team—Brett is connecting with Cornell alumni, using the new online platform CUeLINKS, to help shape her academic path and, she hopes, a career in medicine.
“One of the big reasons I use CUeLINKS is to talk with people in medical school, to hear about their experiences,” she said. So far, she’s contacted eight alumni she found through their profiles on the platform, and has had six in-depth conversations, gaining insight on academics, internships, and student life.
All the alumni she contacted were friendly and enthusiastic, Brett said, and helped direct her toward her career goal in specific ways. CUeLINKS has helped her so much, she’s telling her teammates about it.
Students are using CUeLINKS to develop a personal board of directors—a collection of individuals who can provide advice and information on a variety of topics—rather than be assigned to a single knowledge sharer, said Rebecca Sparrow, executive director of Cornell Career Services.
“As an alum, you have the chance to put into your profile your experience, your background, your degrees, your majors, and how you want to help,” she said. “The richer the information you include along with your picture in your profile, the likelier it will be that students will be intrigued and reach out to you.”
Cornell alumni have a lot to share and many want to be of service to students, said Laura Denbow, senior director of the Office of Volunteer Programs. “Now, through CUeLINKs, students can find the knowledge and connections they need, inside the Cornell network.”
Launched in spring 2018, CUeLINKS now has nearly 2,000 alumni profiles up and just under 1,900 student users.
How it works
Alumni create profiles highlighting their professional experience, education, and general interests. Alumni also choose how much time they can devote to connecting with students and specify the best ways to get in touch.
Students on the platform search CUeLINKS for alumni who can help them answer a particular question or reach a particular goal, including:
- Networking and information interviewing
- Navigating a career path
- First-generation student experience
- Job search strategies
- Resume/CV feedback
- Career and industry trends
“Students can search for alumni according to their own specific interests,” said Sparrow. “It may be career help, it may be help figuring out what clubs would be fun to be a part of. It’s about navigating the Cornell experience.”
Students have many options for finding what they need on CUeLINKS. Some browse profiles to discover, for instance, what careers alumni have built from a particular major. Some students post specific questions on the platform’s discussion forums, where multiple alumni chime in.
Often, digital connection leads to ongoing communication. Matthew McGowen ’19, an environmental science major pursuing a position in journalism or government, started browsing alumni profiles in CUeLINKS to learn about career paths and the transition out of college and into the job market.
“I wanted to hear from someone who had successfully navigated that path in industries I’m interested in,” he said. Through the platform’s message portal, he got in touch with Rachel Erlebacher ’16, a policy analyst at the United States Department of Agriculture, and scheduled a phone call.
“We had a great conversation, and we planned to meet up in person when I’m next in [Washington] D.C.,” said McGowen. “Using CUeLINKS is a good place to start talking with someone, but as the conversation became more of a back-and-forth, we found it easier to transfer to using personal email and phone calls.”
Why join CUeLINKS
For students, it’s a low-commitment, many-option way to find guidance on topics large and small, said Denbow. For alumni, CUeLINKS provides the positives of being a mentor—sharing knowledge, giving back, connecting with students—in a targeted way, and with flexible commitments of time and energy.
“A lot of alumni benefitted from alumni interactions when they were students, so they want to pay it back or pay it forward,” said Denbow. “And students have been told all along that they have access to this family. We want to demonstrate to students that this alumni family is there to be of support. They are part of something much bigger.”
Connections with alumni helped Laura Schwartz ’12 when she was a student, so now that she’s an alumna, she joined CUeLINKS to give back. A nuclear energy and nonproliferation analyst at a consulting company, she wants to make her experience in several industries—including media, strategic communications, and think tanks—available to students and young alumni. So far, she’s used CUeLINKS to speak with one student on the phone and to meet in person with another.
“It’s very easy to do, a pretty low-impact way to give back to the Cornell community,” she said.
Ingu Song ’03, a graduate of the College of Engineering who works at Texas Instruments in Dallas, appreciates the scheduling options and reminders that have helped smooth the connections he’s made with students on CUeLINKS.
“We are all really busy, so options allow fewer things to think about,” he said. “The reminders were very useful and not demanding.”
Innovation in collaboration
Student and Campus Life is the primary manager of CUeLINKS. Alumni Affairs focuses on alumni participating in the system—telling alumni about the program, supporting alumni members, and responding to alumni questions. Alumni Affairs worked closely with Student and Campus Life and Cornell Career Services to build CueLINKS into one comprehensive meeting place across all colleges. In this process, they combined many previous mentoring programs throughout several colleges and departments into one.
“We created CUeLINKS through a multi-year, collaborative process that involved many campus and alumni partners,” said Sparrow. “I can’t overstate the impact of the engagement of our colleagues from alumni affairs with staff across student services on the success of this initiative. Initially, we were looking for a solution to support students in connecting with alumni around career decisions, and we have ended up with so much more!”
The collaboration breaks new ground; while Stanford, Georgetown, the University of Michigan, and other universities are rolling out similar initiatives with PeopleGrove, the platform host, only Cornell unites Alumni Affairs and Student and Campus Life, and Career Services in the effort. Yale has been in touch, asking for advice.
“We are trailblazers,” said Denbow.
She envisions CUeLINKS growing to be more than a career tool. She wants it to be the place students go for answers on a research topic, to find a quote from an expert, or to chat about being a student at Cornell, a sort of all-Cornell Wikipedia based in the worldwide network of Cornellians.
And the network is poised to grow every year, as students graduate and become alumni. Hana Brett is more than two years away from graduation, but she’s had such a positive experience with CUeLINKs, she already plans to post a profile when she’s an alumna, to share her experience with yet another generation of Cornell students.