Connecting with Industry

University of Wisconsin creates customized events for alums at major employers.

How can schools build better connections with industry? At the University of Wisconsin, one way is by capitalizing on strong ties with alums who are already out in the workforce. Pioneered by the School of Business but now run through the Wisconsin Foundation and Alumni Association, the Corporate Champions program targets companies that have a large number of alumni from all over the university. It identifies “champions” among those alums—usually recent grads who are full of enthusiasm—and works with them to plan events at the companies that will include all Wisconsin graduates who happen to be employees.

In addition to organizing the event, the school provides mementos that participants can put on their desks afterward to remind them of their connection to the university and to let others recognize them as fellow alums. These might be tiny badgers—the school’s mascot—or replicas of the distinctive sunburst chairs that adorn the terrace at the student union.

By strengthening the network of University of Wisconsin alums, the Corporate Champions program benefits everyone involved, say school officials. Companies can more easily recruit and retain other graduates from the school, employees can connect with colleagues they might not have known were fellow alums, and “Champions” can make senior executives more aware of their leadership abilities. At the same time, the program is a way for administrators to keep track of alums who work within key partner companies—and sustain valuable relationships with relevant industries.