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Alumni Switchboard Connects Reedies with Success

Reed Switchboard has already grown from fourteen to twenty alumni promising up to $16,000 in donations to Reed.

A project to connect current career-seeking Reedies with alumni, and donate $40 to Reed for each connection made in the process, is rapidly gaining momentum. Reed Switchboard, which launched just before Working Weekend three weeks ago, has already grown from fourteen to twenty alumni, and from $10,000 to $16,000 in pledged donations to Reed over the next five years. An anonymous donor has pledged to donate an additional $1000 to the Student Body if Reed Switchboard can acquire one thousand followers on Twitter. According to Greg Borenstein ’02, the Art major turned programmer who conceived Switchboard, the project was founded on the notion that “alumni relations and career services are inseparable.” Borenstein said in an email, “No one is better able to help Reedies find jobs that truly suit them than older more experienced Reedies who share their diverse passions.” If one of the twenty Switchboard alumni can’t help a current Reedie personally, they can refer the student to alumni who can.

Reed Switchboard has already assisted students with interests in various fields. Current Senator Sarah Carlisle ’13, English major, emailed Switchboard after finding the group on Twitter. Carlisle met Mara Zepeda ’02, a Russian major integral to Switchboard’s success, who was on campus during Working Weekend. Carlisle said that after contacting Switchboard with “a lot of interests and half-formed ideas,” the reply she received “included a contact for almost every single idea slash possibility I had written about; it was actually kind of overwhelming.” Zepeda said that Reed Switchboard launched to deafening silence from the student body. “So we employed the basic tools of community organizing: a simple website, Twitter, a letter sent to the professors we had when we were at Reed, and fifteen hundred business cards distributed across campus. And then, the best tool of all, pounding a lot of pavement over Working Weekend.” Carlisle worked with Zepeda to place Switchboard valentines in Reedies’ mailboxes last week.

Darius Rejali, political science science professor, said in an email, “I heard about Switchboard from a note placed in my faculty box, but I immediately recognized that half the students on switchboard were alums who I knew and I knew cared about Reed.” Rejali has since promoted the project in his classes, “Because I think highly of all the alums in it and I think they’ve achieved great things and they can help current Reedies expand their imaginations of what is possible out there (besides reading books). Because whenever I’m with Reedie alums, they always want to know whether Reedies today are as weird and offbeat as they were (yes, I say – but here’s an opportunity for them to find out).”

The group of fourteen alumni that founded Reed Switchboard sent a letter to President Colin Diver last April announcing the formation of what was then called the GBAC Switchboard. GBAC, or Greg Borenstein Anarchist Collective, was a Reed house from 1999 to 2002 on 39th street where many of the fourteen alumni met. The alumni wrote that, to them, GBAC represented, “a conversation across disciplines about finding our life’s purpose, pursuing creative solutions to entrenched problems, and building a community of friends and collaborators around ideas.” The Switchboard was envisioned as a means to connect current Reedies with alumni in a similar discussion without “the apparent logistical constraints of collecting, aggregating and centralizing information.” According to Borenstein, the administration “rejected our offer of a formal donation,” and provided next to no “useful support,” so Switchboard alumni “decided to administer the program ourselves.”

Zepeda stressed that though the Switchboard has grown quickly, it will remain a close group of alumni and “probably never grow to be more than a few dozen members.” According to Zepeda, the Reedies she spoke with on campus “were really touched we came to them,” and that they “like the informality of the Switchboard… They can call and say ‘I like Borges and penguins and building robots. I’m a Physics major. I’ve just finished writing my first graphic novel. What should I do after graduation?’” According to a poll in the March issue of Reed Magazine, forty-six percent of the class of 2011 has found work, while another twenty-two percent are seeking work. Zepeda said that Switchboard alumni hope to save recent Reed graduates the struggle finding the right career many of them experienced.

Borenstein, confident about Switchboard’s future, said “I predict that we will blow through the amount of money pledged to students much more rapidly than we initially expected. We’ve also had more alums who’ve heard about the project offer to contribute so I hope it will continue to grow.” Zepeda concluded, “Speaking personally: when I am in a position to hire Reedies, I want to hire them. I want to make dinner for current students when they come to visit the city I live in. I want Reedies to secure meaningful work that makes the most use of their incredible, bottomless talents and creativity. In five years, I want the students we’ve been in touch with to be in a position to join the Switchboard.”

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