How can College alumni who are 10 or 20 years away from graduation and who live all around the country connect with Penn, to keep learning and to give back to current students? That was the question Adam Levin, C’05, WG’09, raised with the alumni relations staff at Penn Arts & Sciences.
“We wanted a way for alums from the College, wherever they find themselves, to be able to connect to students and the school, to feel engaged with something that I think provided them with so much when they were younger,” says Levin, Co-Founder of Durable Partners.
The answer is the Arts & Sciences Ambassador Council, whose members share a love of the liberal arts and a determination to build and strengthen the Penn Arts & Sciences network. “Ambassadors” come from all over the country, and work in a variety of disciplines.
That range of experience led to one of the Council’s first initiatives, the Ben Connect online platform, which lets College alumni offer mentorship to current students. “At one of our first meetings, we invited students to brainstorm, and that came up as a topic,” says Levin. “Students in the College really have a lot of choices in front of them. We wanted to create a platform for more casual and personal communications.” Ben Connect launched in the spring and is now open to all College alumni and students.
Students in the College really have a lot of choices in front of them. We wanted to create a platform for more casual and personal communications.
It’s just one manifestation of the mission and commitment of Council members. Before the pandemic, they held networking and career information events like Career Conversations. In one, hosted by Council member Alex Bellos, C’06, President of West Elm, at the company’s headquarters in Brooklyn, Bellos and Laura Alber, C’90, PAR’20, PAR’23, CEO of Williams-Sonoma, shared career insights and strategies for success. The evening also provided an opportunity for young alumni and students to connect with mentors.
The Council also organized salons with members of the Penn faculty. Most importantly, they are (like the name says) ambassadors for Penn Arts & Sciences, its alumni, and its students—working to engage alumni, create connections, and support the school through actions and gifts.
Alexandra Nemerov, C’07, and her husband Vincent Szwajkowski, C’07, have been involved in the Council since its inception. They’ve hosted a faculty salon and, in January, a screening of the documentary film Shattering Refuge by Sonari Chidi, C’20, L’22, at a theater in Los Angeles.
“We’ve been involved with Penn in so many ways, but the Ambassador Council allows us to engage on a much broader and deeper level,” says Nemerov, Creative Director of The Pioneers. “It gives us the opportunity to connect with local alumni, learn more from current students, and have an impact on the forward-looking direction of the school.”
Council events are continuing virtually for now. A series of Career Conversations will begin in September, with the theme of perseverance.
Levin sees a silver lining in the new virtual world. “We're now connecting with more college alums in more cities and more towns all over the world,” he says. “And there's a kind of casual nature to this, where we hope that people feel the school becomes more accessible to them because we're bringing arts and sciences to your living room.”
We're now connecting with more college alums in more cities and more towns all over the world.
“I think one of the best parts about Penn is that it's always changing. And I think it's always getting stronger,” says Levin. “And this council needs to keep developing itself in the same way, to provide what the participants need and the students need.”
“In just a few years, the Ambassador Council has become instrumental in creating value for our alumni and students,” says Deb Rhebergen, Associate Vice Dean for Advancement for Penn Arts & Sciences. “As its membership continues to grow, their unique perspectives and skill sets, along with their range in age and location. will make the Council even more vital.”
If you’re interested in learning more about or joining the Ambassador Council, please contact Kathe Archibald, Director, Global Alumni Engagement.