Push for digitization brings students and alumni closer together
Online events bring students and alumni closer together: more participants, intensified international networking, spontaneous grassroots initiatives – the WU Executive Academy’s decision to carry out events online has been an overwhelming success, proving that fears to the contrary were unfounded.
“Our graduates and students have become closer even though they are farther apart.” This is the conclusion Regine Eitelbös has drawn. The WU Executive Academy’s Community Engagement Manager is responsible for facilitating networking between students and alumni, organizing networking and career events, and keeping an eye on the in-house online network WU EA Connect.
The WU Executive Club is the WU Executive Academy’s alumni community and today counts more than 4,500 members from 85 countries around the world. The WU Executive Academy has been organizing events offering networking, further education, and career advice opportunities on a regular basis. Next to guest lectures and panel discussions, these events provide plenty of space for personal exchange – an essential component at the core of an active community and an important factor for students and graduates, helping them further their careers, stay in touch with each other, and extend their networks on an international level.
And then corona came along. Overnight, personal meetings were no longer possible, and alumni events – for many of which high-profile guests had been secured to deliver keynote addresses – had to be cancelled until further notice. It did not take long for a digitization spurt to materialize, and with that came new opportunities. The WU Executive Academy did not only go online with regard to teaching, it also took its events to the virtual world, hosting them as video conferences.
In the past, we carried out all of our events for alumni here on the campus and then hired filming teams and invested a lot of efforts into streaming them to make sure alumni at the international hubs could also participate in the meetings. This was a lot of work without producing the desired effect most times.
When meetings were first transferred to the virtual world, many were worried about the consequences: “We were afraid that the networking idea would be lost and that we would get negative feedback – but the opposite was the case.” Alumni and students of the MBA programs met in video conferences and engaged in lively discussions online. This was particularly the case for the Female Leaders Network of the WU Executive Academy, which was founded by highly motivated female graduates who wanted to create an opportunity for female executives to network more effectively, share experiences, and support each other in their careers.
“In the past, all board meetings took place in Vienna. But now that they are held online, Anita Kirilova can also participate. She is a member of the board, who lives and works in Bulgaria,” Eitelbös explains. Through attending the meetings and engaging in a lively discussion with others, the MBA graduate came up with the idea to found a Female Leaders hub in Bulgaria. Anita Kirilova now works pro bono in the newly founded WU EA Female Leaders Network Hub Bulgaria, organizing both virtual and, where possible, actual physical networking events for graduates of the WU Executive Academy living in Bulgaria.
The social and virtual network of WU EA Connect helps students and alumni stay in touch across far distances and national borders. Regional hubs have formed, founded and managed by graduates of the WU Executive Academy. Today, there are hubs in seven regions in and outside of Europe: in Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, the Adriatic region, Romania, Russia, and Bulgaria.
Damir Matrljan, a graduate of the Professional MBA Project Management, has become a great fan of the online events. Born in Romania and having relocated to Switzerland for work, he shared insights and realizations he gained when he moved to a new country in a career event, advising fellow alumni considering a move to Austria as expat managers on what to expect and prepare for. Matrljan was so impressed by this exchange that he spontaneously decided to take on the managing role of the WU EA hub in Switzerland.
Global Executive MBA graduate Nicolas Peugniez is another alumnus who stumbled upon new opportunities. He participated, among other things, in a virtual career event for alumni and also used WU EA Connect, the internal digital network available to students and graduates of the WU Executive Academy. It works in a similar way to LinkedIn and connects graduates from all study programs and a wide range of countries. “WU EA Connect is a virtual icebreaker for our community,” Regine Eitelbös says. The network keeps giving rise to new career opportunities and valuable career advice.
WU EA Connect makes us a part of a community that encompasses all countries, cultures, and industries. I could connect to alumni from all over the world through the virtual events. I was really surprised how well everybody handled the virtual interactions.
Nicolas Peugniez is interested in the fintech industry. “At the event, I saw that three alumni from this field were in the virtual room with me,” he recounts. Using WU EA Connect, it only took him seconds to find them after the session. A follow-up meeting was arranged with only one click. WU EA Connect also works for offline events of the WU Executive Academy: the events feed shows in advance which members have registered to attend.
Peer-to-peer learning, i.e. learning by sharing and hearing about other’s experiences, is valued very highly at the WU Executive Academy. “Peer-to-peer learning works surprisingly well also in virtual communication,” Regine Eitelbös says. “What I have observed is that participants are more concrete and to the point when they communicate online; they are more focused and don’t talk around,” she shares.
Due to the great success, the WU Executive Academy will continue to offer online events and virtual meetings regardless of the development of the corona pandemic. There will, for instance, be a WU EA Female Leaders Power Hour, during which female managers and executives will share their experiences on a variety of career and leadership topics. The Virtual Hub Reunions for graduates will also be continued in the future. The next WU EA Lounge will take place on September 3 and host futurologist Franz Kühmayer as a guest speaker: “The event might be virtual, offline, or both at the same time as a hybrid event. In any case, it will be another highlight for our community. Whatever happens until then, we are well prepared,” Regine Eitelbös says.
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