Tapping into its alumni network, Colgate University has created an innovative initiative that brings multicultural alumni back to campus to support its diverse students.
The Mosaic Initiative, a strategic outreach program, actively seeks to “weave a vibrant tapestry” of fellowship and mentorship by connecting the institutions’ alumni of color with students from underrepresented groups through volunteering and career development.
As a private, liberal arts institution in rural New York, it is not always easy to attract or keep students from international countries or from underrepresented populations, said Timothy C. Mansfield, associate vice president of advancement and alumni relations at Colgate.
“Making sure that students have a fulfilling experience, and likewise alumni, keeping them connected to the college, that’s a really important demographic that we need to be paying closer attention to.”
Following a 100-hour-long student demonstration in 2014 that called for more representation, inclusion and equity at Colgate, Mansfield’s alumni office began to think “deliberately” about “purposeful ways” it could better support students while also engaging with its alumni of color who felt moved by the demonstration.
What ensued was the creation of the Mosaic Initiative after alumni relations received an outpouring of messages from alumni of color asking how they could help or support students who possibly faced similar experiences that they did as an undergraduate student.
Jaleith Gary, a Colgate alumna and director of philanthropy at the Urban Alliance, said that when she learned of the events on campus, she felt a range of emotions from “empathy to fury to pride.”
“I was angry that it had even happened and wanted to know how I could support students on campus and mentor and encourage them as they navigated this life stage with the extra baggage of marginalization,” Gary said. “Their demonstration showed a resilience and commitment to change for a better Colgate. With the help of social media and intentional community-building, the incident sparked a deeper connection across students and alumni.”
Added Mansfield: “That powerful demonstration – and then the university’s response to it – was an important milestone because, not only were administrators listening in the right ways, but also responding with real, deliberate action following that,” he said.
Now, events such as Mosaic’s “immersion trips” take multicultural students to various metropolitan cities where multicultural alumni are employed, giving the students access to tailored career development and networking opportunities. The initiative’s “Internship Fund” also provides students wanting to pursue an unpaid or low-paying internship in their chosen career field with financial support from alumni gifts.
Mosaic has also sponsored a series of events and programs ranging from a private viewing of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, to an alumni game night at the Miami Heat arena, to workshops and other lecture events led by alumni.
Last April, Colgate welcomed Veronica McFall, a 1989 graduate, to be its assistant director of alumni relations for affinity and identity programs. The creation of her role, Mansfield said, affirms the institution’s investment in fostering diversity and inclusion in the alumni division.
However, a key component of the initiative – Mosaic Weekend – serves multiple purposes for the university. Foremost, Mosaic Weekend gives returning alumni like Gary, of Urban Alliance, the chance to speak with students and encourage them to create an authentic space at Colgate.
As a member of the Mosaic Advisory Board, she is able to leverage her personal and professional experience in order to work closely with faculty, staff, students and alumni to improve campus climate in “tangible ways,” she said.
“As a Black alumna, I am particularly committed to all students experiencing the best that Colgate has to offer: rigorous academics, a supportive community, and the basic necessity of mental, emotional and physical safety.”
With plans for the second annual Mosaic Weekend taking place, Mosaic’s organizers continue to look to its multicultural students and alumni in order to have the most impact. Student and alumni responses from the inaugural Mosaic Weekend in 2017 appeared to bode well for the initiative’s continuance. “I really appreciated that the university put this on for students of color, and I had a great time meeting and learning from alums whom I’d never met or come across at (other Colgate events),” one student wrote in their feedback.
“The tips were honest and amazing! Everyone was so open and honest about their experiences so people in the audiences felt connected to them and comfortable asking questions and creating dialogue,” another student said.
In an effort to continue the dialogue around diversity, Colgate launched Mosaic’s biannual e-newsletter that will document continuing diversity and inclusion efforts at the university and share news and accomplishments of multicultural students and alumni. The second Mosaic Weekend will be held March 2-3.
Tiffany Pennamon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow her on Twitter @tiffanypennamon.