Graphic representation of the Laurentian Network

The Laurentian Network

Examining the Fabric of Alumni Connections

Deborah Dudley

Recently, St. Lawrence was ranked No. 3 in the nation for “Best Alumni Network” by The Princeton Review, but for Joe Keniston '05, M'07, director of Laurentian Engagement, the “network” is more like a family. When he came to St. Lawrence as a first-year student in 2001, Keniston admits it was about the place; by the time he graduated, it was about the people. 

“You go to St. Lawrence because of the academic programs, or because of the team you want to play for, or the facilities,” says Keniston, “and by the time you cross the stage at Commencement, you are not thinking about those things anymore. You are not crying in your seat while the Alma Mater is being sung, because of the dorm room you have to leave, or the fact that you can’t use the fitness center anymore. You are crying because of the people sitting next to you. You are crying because you will no longer get to see them every day.”

Keniston is clear: “When I say the people, it is not just friends. It is also the people who taught you, coached you, mentored you, guided you. They are the key.” However, Keniston knows better than most how keeping more than 28,000 Laurentians scattered across the globe connected—and more importantly, actively engaged—is anything but simple. These active connections involve time, resources, and the ability to navigate the changes that shape the interactions of each generation with their alma mater and with each other.

Our Secret Weapon

According to President William L. Fox ’75, there are several ways to speak about the alumni networks, or as he says, “those who know us best and love us the longest.” He points out that the college is setting attendance records at gatherings around the country and at reunion on campus as well as the increase in the number of alumni becoming integral to preparing students for careers, including an unprecedented number of internship placements because of alumni. 

“Honestly, this is our secret advantage, our secret weapon, in an ever-fierce field of competition,” says Fox. “I hear about this active expression of allegiance with feelings of admiration and envy from parents, graduates of other institutions, and even college presidents. They ask, what is it about the St. Lawrence alumni? 

“I can’t explain it in a single easy-to-grasp response. Most people assume the bonds are formed by the shared intensity of North Country weather. It’s not just the local weather, but rather, it’s the St. Lawrence climate, the atmosphere, the pervading milieu of optimistic founders, builders, and believers.”

It Begins at the Beginning

“The family is forged from your first visit to campus,” says Keniston, and throughout the four-year liberal arts experience, with a particular St. Lawrence twist—the First-Year Program. The past 30 years of the first-year immersion into the Laurentian family dynamic, with emphasis on integrating living and learning spaces, has laid the foundation of Laurentians ties long past their graduation date. 

Building on the FYP’s philosophy of integrating living and learning, St. Lawrence has recently added programming designed to foster academic and social success right out of the gate. Programs such as the Mellon Foundation funded Global Gateways program, an intensive summer orientation for first-year international students, and the HEOP (Higher Education Opportunity Program) summer orientation and pre-college courses are ways new students lay the groundwork for a strong campus network even before they attend their first class. 

In 2014, the University’s Institutional Strategy and Assessment Committee (ISAC) began a two-year study, consulting with students, faculty members, administrators, senior staff, and trustees on how to motivate and maximize engagement of students in their sophomore year: a critical time students begin to develop their long-term academic plans. ISAC submitted their initial proposal to the Board of Trustees in June 2015 and immediately launched into the 2015-16 academic year working to secure funding to develop the new strategies identified in their report.

In fall 2016, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded St. Lawrence an $800,000 grant to address the uncertainties of what is often known as the “sophomore slump.” The Sophomore Journeys program was born, and programming has expanded into several dimensions including targeted courses and sponsored research and scholarship specific to sophomores. 

With all of these efforts, the undergraduate experience at St. Lawrence is quickly saturated with an array of opportunities and events, many dependent on, or enhanced by, the Laurentian alumni and parent network. Examples include scholarships and internships supported or hosted by alumni as well as mentoring programs such as the Shadow-a-Saint or the Laurentians Investing in Networking and Careers, also known as the LINC program. 

LINC launched in 2013, with a gift and a vision of strengthening St. Lawrence professional networks from alumnus and parent Michael Arpey ’85, P ’17, managing director of The Carlyle Group. LINC provides a structure for establishing connections and sustaining a mentor-mentee relationship for a year, with the goal of developing the student’s networking and industry skills as well as encouraging a longer-term professional relationship. The program matches individual sophomore students with a St. Lawrence alumnus/a or parent, who serves as a professional mentor. LINC currently has 92 mentors paired with 96 participating students, and nearly 200 students have applied to join the program in the fall of 2018. Jacqueline Sovie ’18 was among the first group of students to participate.

75 Cups of Coffee and a Job at Morgan Stanley

“Don’t wait until you are a senior looking for a job to start relationships with Laurentians all over the world,” says , who secured a full-time position as a financial analyst with Morgan Stanley prior to graduating in May 2018 by capitalizing on the LINC connections.

In the fall of Sovie’s sophomore year, she was paired up with Arpey as her LINC mentor, hoping the connection would provide her a bridge to working in finance on Wall Street. By the end of the year, Sovie, an economics major and member of the women’s lacrosse team, secured an internship at TD Ameritrade in New York City, and decided to use her free time and the confidence she had gained from Arpey’s mentoring to begin expanding her professional networks. Using LinkedIn,  sent a message to 278 finance professionals in New York City, inviting each for coffee. She sat down for more than 75 cups of joe that summer. Many who accepted her invitation were Laurentians, including the father of one of her lacrosse teammates who had Laurentians friends at Morgan Stanley. Connecting the Scarlet and Brown dots resulted in an internship the following summer.

“I didn’t have time for coffees anymore,” says Sovie about the Morgan Stanley summer experience. “I was working some days from 6 o’clock in the morning until 11 o’clock at night, but I was lucky to have Laurentians by my side … to look out for me and help give me advice.” She returned to campus for her final year with a position as a financial analyst at Morgan Stanley waiting for her after graduation.

Sovie’s experience is not unique. Paul Nakamura ’18 secured a full-time position through a Laurentian-sponsored internship with eBay. Nakamura and three other St. Lawrence seniors completed eBay’s inaugural finance and analytics internship program in the summer and 2017, coordinated through St. Lawrence Career Services in partnership with Andy Cring ’92, eBay vice president for global financial planning and analysis. Nakamura, along with Ben “Webb” Campbell ’18 and Jennifer Scudder ’18, three of the four Laurentians interns that summer, have joined the company fulltime.

The Morgan Stanley and eBay stories are just scratching the surface of the number of student-alumni connections that convert into career moves. Ina Maloney ’17 found full-time employment as a front-end engineer with VEOCI, an operations software development company based in New Haven, Connecticut, after an internship coordinated by Geoff Baum ’10, VEOCI leading technical researcher and designer. Nevaan Perera ’18, a 2017 summer intern at VEOCI, has also joined the company and has become the latest to convert fellow Laurentians into co-workers. And Nick Santaro ’18 was looking to secure a spot in dental school when, in the summer of 2017, he took on an internship with Paul Levi ’62, a periodontist and long-time supporter of St. Lawrence internships in Burlington, Vermont. Santaro is now preparing for graduate study in dentistry at SUNY Stony Brook. 

The number of opportunities for St. Lawrence students and alumni continues to grow. More alumni, like Arpey, Cring, Baum and Levi, have recognized the need for additional networking strategies to help St. Lawrence students compete in in bigger markets and add to the programs that have helped students like   Sovie, Nakamura, Perera, and Santaro.

SLU Connect

In 2015, St. Lawrence launched the SLU Connect program in Washington, D.C., six days of panel discussions, networking events, and site visits capitalizing on the expertise of alumni and parents in cities and regions across the country. 

“The goal of SLU Connect is to immerse students in the culture of the area they are going to,” says St. Lawrence Trustee Jennifer Curley Reichert ’90, founder, president and CEO of Curley Company, a Washington, D.C.-based public relations firm. Curley is one of the principal architects of the SLU Connect program. She, along with Lynn Fox, a 30-year career veteran at the Federal Reserve Bank and spouse of President William L. Fox ’75; Elizabeth Shaffer Kadick ’11, a member of the St. Lawrence Alumni Executive Council and associate vice president at Curley Company; and members of the SLU Connect steering committee believed that St. Lawrence students needed to be better prepared to vie for coveted internship positions, especially in bigger cities with larger universities.

The most recent D.C. visit had students sitting down with U.S. Senator Susan Collins ’75 of Maine as well as a visit to The World Bank headquarters. Over the past three years, the SLU Connect program has expanded to include Boston, Albany, San Francisco, and Mountain States (Jackson Hole, Big Sky, Denver, and Salt Lake), which brought together Laurentians for industry panel discussions and career networking events. Expansion of the program hinges on Laurentian volunteers in each region, such as St. Lawrence Trustee and parent Joanie Byrne Hall P’17, who recognized the need for St. Lawrence to include the opportunities in the Mountain States and was critical in expanding the SLU Connect program west.

San Francisco was the latest addition to the growing number of host cities. Students traveled over midwinter break to the Bay Area to meet with technology, media, and finance professionals as well as take in the culture and landscape of the West Coast. Cring, whose eBay interns have now joined him out West, was instrumental in organizing the Bay Area itinerary. 

“All of us in our careers have had people who have helped guide us,” says Gary Dake ’82, president of Stewart’s Shops and SLU Connect-Albany participant. “The opportunity to help some of these gifted young students who are at St. Lawrence today learn a little bit more [and] maybe make some better decisions, is just a heartwarming feeling…to know that I’m helping to shape a life.”

“I got my first job through an alum,” says Cortney Terrillion ’99, voicing a common refrain for many Laurentians. Terrillion is the newly elected president of the Alumni Executive Council, which has recently expanded its ranks from 35 to 50 members in an effort to have even greater impact on the alumni community they serve. In addition to supporting admissions efforts and raising money to create an endowment for internship scholarships, the council continues to partner with the campus to organize and support numerous student and alumni networking events both on and off campus with hopes that more students can repeat the refrain. 

“If you look at the council, it is a wide variety of people. Many of us are interacting with different groups or adding different value,” says Terrillion. “What you are passionate about in your life is what you want to help out with in the network as well. It has always been important for me to support St. Lawrence and help people get together, not only in my social circle, but also the extended St. Lawrence network.” Terrillion believes this is what being a “Laurentian for Life” means, a phrase coined from the work of the Council.

“St. Lawrence is one thing that we all share,” she says. “We want to help the students understand being a Laurentian is not just when you are a student, but also when you are an alum, helping one another achieve our goals.”

The Octopus Effect: Expanding the Reach of St. Lawrence 

As President Fox articulated during the 2018 Commencement exercises, the reach of the Laurentian family expands with each generation: 

“Many of you will head to great cities of great continents; a large number will begin graduate studies at famous research universities and professional schools,” he told the families and friends gathered in Appleton Arena. “Some of you will become teachers at the Fessenden School, St. Paul’s, Greenwich Country Day, New England Center for Children, and the corps of Teach For America. Positions have been offered and accepted at Cantor Fitzgerald, Colonial Williamsburg, eBay, FDIC, Fidelity Investments, Goldman Sachs, NASA, Morgan Stanley, Memorial Sloan Kettering, UBS, AmeriCorps, Wayfair,  and Walker & Dunlop. One of you will be joining the United States Air Force and another will be entering the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department. Many of you will be working outdoors, even in wilderness and backcountry conditions. A few have signed up for congressional campaigns this summer and fall. Following a nationally known St. Lawrence tradition, at least four of you will serve in the Peace Corps.”

Every graduate in turn expands the potential for alumni to come back and share their personal and professional insights. The Career Services office, in partnership with the Alumni Executive Council, Laurentian Engagement ,and the Advancement team, facilitates just that, bringing numerous alumni and parents back to campus to share their expertise with students through events such as Sophomore Career Boot Camp and the Laurentians in Residence series. These interactions can have a domino effect, or as Dzifa Yador ’11 puts it, an “octopus effect,” with energizing even more alumni. 

For the first time since graduating in 2011, Yador returned to campus last April for the spring Laurentians in Residence program. A native of The Bronx, she studied performance and communication arts with a minor in government and is now a media producer for Velocity, Viacom’s in-house creative agency. She was one of five young alumni on the panel, three of whom were women of color. According to Keniston, it was the
most diverse panel to date and garnered the highest attendance in
the program’s history.

“I honestly did not have any expectations,” says Yador, but after visiting classes, having conversations with President Fox, meeting with faculty and students both formally and informally, she was able to get an immediate understanding of the current campus climate. “It was the perfect snippet of what the feel was on campus.” 

Although her visit to campus focused mostly on her professional insights into contemporary media and entertainment industry practices, she was reminded of and candid about the complexities of being a student of color in the North Country. Current students in attendance during the discussions and receptions were open about owning and addressing the dynamic, often difficult dialogue on race and inclusivity at St. Lawrence. 

“I was very impressed by how assertive the students were in asking really smart questions and putting me on the spot saying, ‘Hey, this is what is happening on campus, how do you feel about this?’” she says. What struck Yador during her visit, was the energy that all of the students, not just students of color, had when discussing the challenges and tension that the community was negotiating and the eagerness of the students, faculty, and staff to engage in important local and national dialogue about race.

“I was feeding off this energy. I was busting at the seams when I got back to New York,” says Yador, who immediately reached out to her friends. “I wanted to share my experience with them, and see if it would energize them,” she says, “and it did. I see this as an octopus extending that energy and excitement to each of my friends and their respective alumni networks as well—people that maybe I didn’t know—so that this becomes a continuous conversation and doesn’t just end with my visit.” 

Two weeks later, seven alumni dropped everything and traveled to Canton to organize around the need for alumni of color to assist the next generation of Laurentians. Lexi Williams ’15, assistant director of Laurentian Engagement, helped facilitate discussions with students, faculty, and administrators. All of them immediately answered Yador’s call to show current students that there is are alumni who can personally identify with their experiences, but more importantly, who are available to partner with St. Lawrence to mentor students professionally.

“How people are identifying and interacting with the University is always changing,” says Keniston. “It is not always your class year that you are close with or how you think about your SLU experience. Every Laurentian has a place in the community. Everyone has a voice, and by listening to each other, we will become stronger together. We need to be at the forefront of relationship-building is what we are here for.”

Connecting People Through Place

The work of expanding and strengthening alumni networks through specific affinities is largely coordinated through Keniston’s team in partnership and collaboration with numerous campus offices, committees, and individuals across the country. People like Terrillion and the Alumni Executive Council, the Board of Trustees, and individuals like Mike Arpey, Lynn Fox, Andy Cring, Joanie Byrne Hall, and countless others partnering with the institution are the muscle behind the networks and the ranking. 

However, the St. Lawrence campus experience remains at the heart of it all. Laurentians returning to Canton is key.

“We bring people back together to celebrate the Scarlet and Brown over 75 times per year here in Canton, across the country, and internationally,” says Keniston. 

“We hear it all the time, people who have not seen each other in 40 years, come back to campus and meet and say it is as if they had never left,” he continues. However, if people can’t make it back to campus, he says, his office works hard to try and bring pieces of campus back to them, either in regional events or through traditional and digital communications. 

The energy that Yador experienced returning to campus, the conversations over coffee which catapulted Sovie to her first job at Morgan Stanley, or even a chance encounter of someone wearing the Scarlet and Brown can transport Laurentians back to this place, where a family was formed.

“Everyone has that story of when they are in the grocery store wearing a St. Lawrence cap and someone says, ‘Oh, my cousin went to SLU,’ or ‘I’m of Class of ’78,’ or you get honked at because you have a St. Lawrence bumper sticker. Those types of things are really happening,” Keniston says. “People are proud to be Laurentians for life. That, in and of itself, is the biggest component of a strong network. Looking in the mirror, on or off campus, and seeing the pride in wearing the Scarlet and Brown.”

SLU Connect San Francisco
From left: Stanley Gigord '10, Nayasha Miller '12, Darrlyn Moorer '10, Tishara Joseph '13, Anthony Patterson '10, Brittany Parham-Patterson '10, and Terry Parham '12 returned to campus to meet with students, faculty staff and administrators in an effort to build and strengthen alumni networks for students of color.
Dr. Paul Levi '62 and Nick Santaro '18
Senator Susan M. Collins '75 of Maine
Jennifer Curley '90
Jacqueline Sovie '18 And Michael Arpey '85, P '17
Dzifa Yador '11