Even if the professional aspect might seem more useful to start with, an alumni network is not just about business, says Maria Ramstad Kristiansen from the Swiss School of Tourism and Hospitality SSTH in Passugg. The SSTH community provides a personal and valuable network of professional contacts.

Maria Ramstad Kristiansen, you are the director of alumni at the SSTH. Is there really still any need for this kind of graduates’ network in the era of social media?

The alumni network is an important channel for former students to stay in touch with the school. Our alumni network helps the school convey its spirit and dedication more fully by getting information to the alumni that just can’t be achieved using social media. In contrast to social media, we offer a genuine relationship with the school, which means personal and individual attention. This kind of service can only be provided by people who really know their stuff and understand the needs of their users. The success of strong alumni relations comes from keeping alumni up-to-date about events, news and activities and thus maintaining their affiliation and involvement with the school after they have graduated. In contrast, social media provide a useful communication and information channel for staying in touch. In order to keep our own alumni up to date and maintain their enthusiasm for the SSTH, they need people they can contact and who understand their needs and wishes. We view our alumni as “ambassadors” for our school and the “SSTH” brand. They are in a position to help our students find placements and jobs and to answer their questions, and can even provide the school with valuable partnerships and resources in some cases.

You are an alumna yourself, having graduated from the SSTH eleven years ago. How do former students benefit from the alumni network?

That’s true, I did indeed graduate here in 2005. The main reason I moved to Switzerland back then was to enter a different field of study at the SSTH. I chose the SSTH based mainly on recommendations of the CEO where I worked at the time and of several SSTH alumni. They gave me a lot of information about the different study programs and told me how they’d found life on campus. I found this information far more true to life and useful than what the brochures had to say. The solidarity among the alumni fascinates me time and again. They share the same “SSTH” experience, which has usually had an instrumental effect on their lives.

And what other benefits do former students gain from the alumni network?

The alumni network is a large community of personal contacts who share the same “SSTH spirit”. Students’ direct relationships with other SSTH alumni open up a wide range of opportunities for expanding their own professional network. Fresh graduates are able to expand their network with other graduands or former students, offering placements, jobs, customer relations or partnerships, which all provide valuable career prospects. We post an exclusive list of job vacancies online for SSTH alumni. Just like many other alumni organizations, former students can access the well-known Hosco recruitment network from the SSTH website. SSTH alumni are some of the first to be informed about the most interesting job opportunities. Particularly if you are interested in taking on a new professional challenge, it makes things much easier, of course, if you have access to just the right information via an existing alumni network.

Which is more important, inter-personal relationships or professional networking?

I think you need both. Even if a professional network could prove more useful to start with, an alumni network is not just about business. For example, there are regular social events, too, such as the Alumni Apéro during the Food Festival. Events like these provide the perfect opportunity to chat with students, professors and other alumni. These conversations and meetings sometimes forge friendships for life.

How do you keep the network on the boil?

The most important thing is that we and the alumni themselves all enliven the network and play an active role. For our part, we offer the alumni a range of services and access to the school’s resources. Intense contact via various communication channels, including social media, keeps our fingers on the pulse and enables us to identify trends and keep up with the current goings-on in our alumni’s lives.

How important are regional groups for the alumni network?

Our network depends greatly on the regional “chapters”. These chapters, their presidents and committees provide alumni members with a local “SSTH hub”, you could say. This is how individual alumni members can contact or nurture relations with the SSTH. The local chapters are in close contact with the SSTH. You could also describe them as the “extended arm” of the SSTH that provides us with real insights into the alumni’s professional and personal circumstances. In order to always stay bang up to date, the SSTH runs an alumni database that can be searched for data or communication preferences, according to need, and is just plain useful for organizing all kinds of events.

In order to facilitate global networking, the SSTH is setting up alumni branches all over the world. The first was created in Nepal in 2014, then last year two were formed in Dubai. What plans are there for any others?

Our first official chapter was launched in Nepal – in Kathmandu, in March 2014. The next was the UAE Chapter in April 2015. Right now, there are several active unofficial chapters that are in the process of formalization in Hong Kong, Seoul, Cyprus, Bergen and Oslo. And of course we are also hoping to launch the first two official chapters in Switzerland this year – Passugg and potentially Zurich.

What do you have lined up for the SSTH alumni this year?

Our next formal event in Switzerland will take place on May 7, 2016. Our students are organizing the 14th International Food Festival in Passugg. Each year, the SSTH welcomes around 100 alumni to the event who take this opportunity to gather and catch up with one another. The Food Festival is not aimed exclusively at Swiss alumni, but at the whole community, wherever they are. Indeed, we are expecting former students from all over the world – Norway, South Korea, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom, to name just a few.

Once an SSTH student, always SSTH

More than 5,100 students have graduated from the Swiss School of Hospitality and Tourism SSTH in Passugg since it was founded 50 years ago. Students and graduates agree – once an SSTH student, always SSTH. Almost all students stay in touch with the school after they graduate.

The network now boasts over 5,000 alumni spread across more than 100 countries. The SSTH alumni network covers six continents. The SSTH Swiss School of Tourism and Hospitality has been training and educating trade professionals and management for the hotel and catering sector since 1966. It is a member of the Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL).

This article appeared in hotelrevue on April 28, 2016

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