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Peter Gottwald, one of the first alumni of the study programme Politics and Public Administration, has been chair of the University of Konstanz Alumni Association (VEUK) since 2015. In this interview, he discusses some of the VEUK's most importat goals.
Mr. Gottwald, the University of Konstanz Alumni Association aims to increase its engagement with students. Why is this so important to you and your colleagues on the managing board – after all, students are still on-campus, part of the university, and not yet alumni?
Our goal in alumni work is to build and strengthen relationships. Of course, this relationship is best established while the students are still on-campus. It is of great importance that as an organization we get involved in campus life. To do that, we need to align our offers and services even more with students' interests. The comparison may not fully apply, but in sports clubs, the promotion of young talent is an essential part of their work: Half the young soccer players of the 2009 UEFA European Under-21 Championship became world champions only a few years later. The whole world is looking at the next generation. Similarly, today's students are the alumni of tomorrow.
To signal to students that they are particularly welcome in the alumni association, the member's general meeting decided that the membership fee would be set at zero for students and stay free of charge for two more years after graduation. Was that a clear or a contested decision?
The decision made by the general meeting was clear in the end. The process that led to it, of course, was not. Any change is difficult at first, and the idea of the non-contributory membership for a limited period of time has been hotly discussed in the past. And there are, as always, legitimate counterarguments to consider. However, with the exception of one abstention, the majority voted in favour of the idea. With free membership for students, we are building on the principle of "give and take", as we're of the opinion that there is a great chance of retaining our student members after they graduate.
And how was the response among students?
It's been great! In conversation with students, we've received consistently positive feedback. At the university's 50th anniversary celebration, we were able to welcome around a hundred new student members. For students, interaction with alumni can be very beneficial: We have ties to alumni in interesting positions across all disciplines, so in terms of starting a career, it makes great sense for students to seek these connections. Of course, our engagement with students is not limited to facilitating a successful entry into professional life. We also support projects and activities that directly enrich campus life, such as freshmen retreats, student council meetings, or academic conferences.
Can students contact the alumni association if they need support in the realization of a project or initiative?
Naturally – we are happy to support meaningful project proposals and ideas in accordance with the VEUK's statutes, whether the initiators are members of the association or not.