The Best MBA Alumni Networks

Members of USC Marshall’s vaunted Trojan Network

SCHOOL SIZE BUILDS COMMUNITY THAT FOSTERS ALUMNI ENGAGEMENT

The moderate class sizes also facilitate an esprit de corps at Tuck and Marshall that further deepen bonds. At Tuck, each class is comprised of roughly 280 students – a size, says Masland, that enables first years to connect with second years – and then turn around and mesh with incoming students. This creates a far different dynamic for Toews than what her brother experienced at Harvard Business School.

“There were 900-1000 students there,” she says. “He certainly didn’t know everyone. I know everyone in my class at least by name and I usually know a few details about them. That’s the case for most people here.”

In short, Tuck boasts a size where no one can hide and a culture where no one gets left behind. That creates a very unique social order. “Every Thursday, we have Tucktails, which is a happy hour,” Toews shares. “Because the school is so small, we can all get together in one room and drink beer and wine and just talk and catch up on the week. That’s really special. I was just talking to friends the other day about how there is usually one party on Friday and one party on Saturday that the whole school has decided on and it’s nice that it’s not cliquey because we’re all going to the same places.”

At 225 students per class, Marshall’s size lends itself to a similar collaborative and community-driven culture. “It is small enough for everyone to get to know each other pretty well,” Ziemniak asserts. “The classes are small enough that students feel they have a connection to everyone in their class. We benefit from our size, but we also benefit by putting students front and center when it comes to pushing the program forward.”

tuck career stats

Jonathan Masland heads up career development at Tuck

TUCK AND MARSHALL SET THE EXPECTATION EARLY FOR STUDENTS

The alumni’s pay-it-forward just doesn’t happen organically, however. Instead, both schools lay down expectations early on, through word and deed, that sets the tone. At Tuck, this responsibility is constantly being reinforced – an embrace of giving back that is the bedrock of the Tuck experience. “As you graduate, the expectation is that you benefited from alumni helping you with your career and learning, so the ethos is one where you help the classes that come after you,” says Masland.

This same message is delivered at Marshall’s orientation from administrators, faculty, second years, and alumni. It is the bargain that first years struck by joining Marshall: They will enjoy the advantages of intensive support from the Trojan Network. In turn, they will be expected to do the same long after. “That spills over into alumni,” Ziemniak observes. “We’re all in this together. We are a family. A win from one Trojan is really a win for all of us. We try to make sure that is instilled from the very beginning.”

From the alumni side, it is a “virtuous cycle” in the words of USC’s Gasper, where intensive Trojan Network support drives alumni to go above-and-beyond in mentoring and opening doors for the students who follow in their footsteps.

“With any great network, it is so steeped in history and tradition,” Gaspers stresses. “The minute you step on campus for orientation, they’re talking about the Trojan family. They bring in the marching band for our MBA orientation week. Throughout the experience, they keep reiterating the strength of the Trojan Network. More importantly, you make connections with alumni during recruiting and get mentoring. By the time you graduate – at least for myself – I felt that I really saw and felt what the Trojan network was. More important, I felt the responsibility to carry that forward since I benefitted from it so much.”

CAREER SERVICES TO THE RESCURE

That’s not to say alumni are flocking to their alma maters begging for opportunities to coach the next generation. Instead, programs like Tuck rely heavily on outreach to connect the right students with the right alumni. Masland points to his career services operation. They are in constant contact with alumni about returning to conduct educational programming about their industries, roles, and employers. The center performs more personalized and targeted outreach as well.

Tuck in winter.

“As we get into the year, we’ll get fairly detailed profiles from students for their summer internship or full-time job,” says Masland. “We’ll group them. Let’s say you want to work on the West Coast in early stage tech. We’ll share those things with alums who work in that precise area. We’ll ask the alums to see what they can do to help the student. We connect with 2,000-3000 alumni across a whole breadth of subsectors based on student interests.”

That said, the school aren’t always the ones who initiate these meetings. “Reunions are fun for me,” adds Masland. “We had alumni from China who got together and hosted a networking lunch for Chinese students. It was organic; they just wanted to connect and they had a great conversation. We also help the real estate alums track down the students so they can have networking conversations with them.”

SHARED EXPERIENCES SET THE STAGE

Class bonds lead to engaged alumni. Both are forged during rites of passage: shared experiences that connect students and alumni. At Marshall, that transcendent tradition is PRIME, an international study trip that highlights the core Global Context of Business course. Here, students fan out to rousing locales like Hanoi, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Buenos Aires. Now 20 years old, the PRIME experience has become the binding experience that brings students and alumni together.

“When alumni come back for recruiting events or on campus, PRIME is something they can talk about with students,” Ziemniak insists. “They always want to know, ‘Where did you go on PRIME?’ Immediately, they have that connection and shared experience. Alumni still look back fondly on that experience.”

At Tuck, travel also brings together classmates. During winter break, for example, 40-50 “Tuckies” will band together for fun treks to locales like Japan and Brazil, usually led by student hosts from these countries. In fact, Tuck’s trademark closeness has been heavily amplified by the program’s international students. Notably, the school is renowned for its cultural celebrations. For example, the Brazilian cohort hosts an annual Carnivale, replete with dancers and Caipirinhas. Not to be outdone, Indian students put on a Dewali, a fall festival packed with skits and food that quickly turns into a dance party. In February, the Chinese contingent held a dumpling-making party to celebrate the New Year.

Tuck Tripod Hockey

“The whole school will show up for culture events and festivities” Toews reminisces. “They bring all the rest of us into their culture and share it with us. It is that kind of sharing that is really one of the best parts about Tuck.”

Well, except for maybe ice hockey. Want to speak the language of a Tuck alum? Forget finance and think faceoffs. Here, tripod hockey is the stuff of memory for many students. “I believe at least 50% of class goes out and plays hockey in the evenings,” says Masland. “It is something the alums did too. They can remember being on the ice, where your stick is like your third leg, and they remember it fondly. So students can talk to alums about it and they can relate to that shared experience.”

Go to Page 4 to see student and alumni survey scores given to 25 top MBA programs on alumni network effectiveness. 

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