March 18, 2020

Connect, mentor, share: Affinity communities provide ongoing bond after graduation

UCalgary Alumni invests in communities who share identities and interests

Back in the late ‘70s, a group of UCalgary alumni found themselves working in Hong Kong. Were they a little lonely, a little homesick for the Den, a 35-cent coffee?  No one remembers anymore, but a group of about 100 grads (mostly engineers and business alumni) began meeting and have never stopped.

With a current membership of 600 UCalgary grads, the Hong Kong Affinity Community is UCalgary’s oldest and biggest group of alumni who continue to meet several times a year. Many of their meetings have links to the Alberta Government or to the Hong Kong offices of the Canadian Consulate or Chamber of Commerce, but their gatherings can also be strictly social affairs with no political affiliations.

“It all depends on the group’s executive lead,” explains Wendy Tam, BComm’86, who says career development and maintaining a strong link to UCalgary have been paramount to their group’s success.

Hong Kong alumni at Calgary Flames vs Boston Bruins hockey game in Beijing in 2018

Hong Kong alumni at Calgary Flames vs Boston Bruins hockey game in Beijing in 2018.

Dinos women's volleyball meets, mentors

Closer to home is another alumni affinity community that’s just been established. Busy collecting old jerseys and past photos for a nostalgic display at a recent championship, the group’s chair Amanda Moppett-Beatch, BKin’04, BEd’10, explains that, sadly, the group was formed over a sudden tragedy — the 2018 loss of teammate, Sarah Onofrychuk.

“We don’t, however, want our only reason to connect to be over sad news,” she stresses, “but we do want current players to meet alumni through events and a mentorship program that we hope to start next fall. At that point, we may also play Sarah’s favourite game, ‘Swedish two-ball.’ That would be the ultimate connector.”

Whether they’re Hong Kong alumni, Dinos, grads from Scholars Academy or law alumni living in Toronto — UCalgary Alumni now supports 16 affinity groups which are defined as “alumni who share a common interest, goal or experience,” says Nada Rustom, UCalgary’s alumni leadership engagement specialist. Affinity groups can take many forms from geographical locations (UCalgary has active communities in Hong Kong, Toronto, and San Francisco) to faculties, shared interests, even issues — affinity communities,” she explains.

Funding, connections and a toolkit

Support may come in the form of funding (to a maximum of $2,000 per event, twice a year), connections and a communication toolkit designed to reach other like-minded individuals. 

“And the experiences these groups organize are remarkably diverse,” adds Rustom. Take the Dinos women’s hockey team: they had 36 alumni turn up at The National for an evening of bowling. And then there’s a new niche group of Werklund graduates (who work outside of the K-12 school system) who were busy organizing a March event dubbed Diverse Careers in Education before the COVID-19 outbreak stalled their plans. 

This is where a panel of speakers with education degrees were set to speak about their careers and experiences in the private, public and non-profit sectors in Calgary, explains Jessica Park, chair of UCalgary Education Alumni Network: Beyond the Classroom, adding they are hoping to stage the event at a later date.

Many of UCalgary’s alumni affinity communities have grown out of Facebook groups and seem to alternate casual mixers with mentorship programs for new grads, as well as some professonal development opportunities. Although still at the nascent stage, Beyond the Classroom has plans to create a resource where profiles of alumni with education degrees will share their diverse career paths and “how the skills and experiences are being used beyond the classroom,” adds Park.

How to launch an alumni affinity community

If you’d like to launch an alumni affinity community — whether you’re looking to mingle with like-minded individuals or to support a specific group or cause — here’s what you first need to consider:

  • Have a goal in mind and how you’re going to achieve it.
  • Find your allies. For UCalgary Alumni support, you need an executive chair and three to five alumni champions.
  • Outline what will your events or meetings look like.
  • How will you measure the success of your affinity group?
  • How will you communicate with your group?

Still curious? For more details, email alumnivolunteers@ucalgary.ca .