MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XVII No. 5
May/June 2005
Provost Responds to
Professor Postol's Allegations
International Students and Scholars:
A Legacy for MIT and the U.S.
Lorna Gibson New Chair of the Faculty
Back to the Future
Academic Expectations
Strengthening TA Training
Faculty Mentor Program:
A Growing Success
Advising and Mentoring of Undergraduates
Mission to Banda Aceh:
Excerpts from a Journal
Summer Without Summering;
Slave Huts, Bonaire
The Purpose of Poetry
Survey Says:
Faculty Approve of Updated Lunch Program
Alumni Attitudes and Involvement
Tenure and Promotion
[from the 2004 Faculty Survey]
Have you ever considered leaving MIT? [from the 2004 Faculty Survey]
Printable Version

Alumni Attitudes and Involvement

Elizabeth Garvin

Click here for a quick overview of our MIT alumni.

This spring has seen an incredible level of involvement from alumni at MIT. Alumni have turned out in record numbers to meet President Hockfield, the Alumni Fund is on a record pace in both number of donors and total dollars, and the online usage of the Infinite Connection Website ( greatly exceeds that of any other alumni association. Is this level of involvement sustainable? The data suggests that it is and that alumni involvement and financial support will continue to grow. And this is positive news for faculty, who rely on these resources to keep MIT in the forefront.

Last spring, the Alumni Association commissioned a survey to take a fresh look at alumni attitudes about MIT and alumni services.

This was part of an overall focus in recent years, encouraged by the Board of the Alumni Association, to develop a robust set of metrics to measure the effectiveness of Association programs. We had a good sense of alumni interests and experiences from conversations and correspondence with alumni from all classes and courses, from all across the world. We had an increasingly sophisticated set of measures and evaluation tools. But we were overdue in asking alumni a comprehensive set of questions to verify or challenge our assumptions about underlying attitudes.

What do alumni think of MIT?

The 2004 Alumni Opinion Survey, conducted by Opinion Dynamics Corporation, measured attitudes about the Institute, the Alumni Association, and giving. There is much good news to report. Attitudes toward MIT are generally positive, alumni are responding to communications from MIT, and the already strong alumni giving shows great potential for growth.

As faculty, you know that the MIT experience is intense and while many students emerge exhilarated, some feel like toast. In fact, 70% of alumni have either very warm or warm feelings about the Institute. When asked an open-ended question "Is there anything specific you feel is good about MIT today?" the alumni cited good education/high standards (24%), over a tenth noted their pride in MIT, 15% noted MIT's good reputation, and 11% said MIT's science and technology efforts made them proud. When asked about what's not so good, 60% replied either "not applicable" or nothing. For those who identified negative aspects, 7% named fraternities/living group issues; 5% said alumni services/communication; and 5% cited quality of life. There are clearly still some residual issues about changes in the FSILG system - 22% of former fraternity members think that the "fraternity issue" is a particularly bad aspect of MIT.

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What alumni services are important?

A remarkable 94% of alumni report that they read Technology Review in the past year. The second most popular activity, at 74%, is visiting an MIT Website. Some 36% had attended a reunion or a local alumni function; 21% had volunteered in their local club, affinity group, on reunions, or as an educational counselor. In fact, more than 7,000 alumni are engaged as volunteers annually in Association groups, events, and activities.

Most satisfying to us is that alumni feel connected and the overall view of Alumni Association activities is positive. 52% feel very well informed about MIT and 42% feel somewhat well informed. In a series of questions asking what services were most important and what services the Association performed well, there were very high correlations between those considered highly important and those we performed well. The survey confirmed that our multi-year effort to focus resources and energies on Web services was indeed the right strategy - e-mail forwarding for life, an online alumni directory, and other online services that we market as part of the Infinite Connection enjoy enormous use and are highly valued. We knew the usage was high: the Alumni Association Websites receive over half-a-million hits monthly from 40,000 unique visitors, and the e-mail forwarding for life service is currently forwarding nearly 15 million messages monthly.

Not surprisingly, there are some generational differences in opinion. Only 50% of alumni graduated pre-1969 has visited an MIT Website. A whopping 94% of graduates since 1987 have visited MIT online.

Why does it matter?

Having strong alumni support matters to all of us. Alumni who believe in MIT's values and commitment to excellence are advocates for the Institute. They influence the next generation of prospective students, they commit time and energy to activities connecting alumni around the world, and they provide increasingly important financial support.

In the recent capital campaign, alumni donated 53% of the $2 billion raised. Although only 54% of alumni contributed to the campaign, 67% of alumni have donated to MIT over time. Survey data shows that we have opportunities to expand this support significantly over time, both in the number of donors and the size of their donations. The Alumni Fund, which counts alumni donations (up to the first $100,000 of any individual gift), raised $31.5 million in FY04, an increase of 7% over FY03. If you remove the $100,000 cap, gifts from alumni donors totaled $109.6 million. Alumni giving provides essential resources for innovative education and research, as well as providing substantial support for scholarships, fellowships, and unrestricted funds.

So, MIT's relationship to alumni matters in multiple dimensions.

Moving forward

The Association continues to refine programs, pilot new activities like our recent Women's Leadership Conference, and develop new ways to engage alumni online. One of the most exciting accomplishments of recent years has been our ability to expand the number of faculty presentations to alumni around the world.

Alumni are less interested in nostalgic views of MIT than they are in new and exciting research and education at MIT. We are incredibly grateful that 15% of the MIT faculty are part of Alumni Association efforts to share knowledge and insights with alumni worldwide. This partnership makes a tangible connection between the Institute's research and education and alumni lives, careers, and priorities.

There are many ways for faculty to connect. Some faculty host MIT Alumni Travel Programs, like the peripatetic Jay Keyser, who will host his 11th alumni expedition with a trip to Tahiti next spring. Others speak at club events, like Neil Gershenfeld's April presentation at the Club of Puget Sound on how the content of information relates to its physical representation. Dedicated faculty like Professors Lotte Bailyn , Margery Resnick HM , Adèle Naudé Santos , Dava Newman AA '89 , and Mary-Lou Pardue spoke at the Association's first Women's Leadership Conference April 30th. This year Technology Day, the intellectual centerpiece of reunions, focuses on bioengineering with talks by Douglas Lauffenburger, Linda Griffith, Angela Belcher, Ram Sasisekharan, and Martha Gray HS '86. Not only are these events valued by alumni, they give faculty a fresh opportunity to share ideas on multidisciplinary panels. When I meet with alumni around the world, faculty lectures are the club highlights they recount.

The Association's effectiveness is due largely to a terrific partnership with alumni volunteers who help identify trends, set strategy, and serve as advisors. A number of alumni faculty have served on Association boards and ad hoc committees, providing an essential link to the realities of MIT today.

We hope to find many ways to encourage faculty participation in alumni activities and welcome your suggestions and questions. For a full sense of Alumni Association activities, browse our Website:

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