I’ve always been a passionate believer in the power of Reed’s alumni to help students—and each other—find our way in this world. (And I’ll always be in debt to the late Prof. Richard Crandall ’69 for giving me my first real job.) However, it’s one thing to believe in the network—it’s another to watch it pulsing before your very eyes. And right now there’s no better way to witness the network in action than to check out the Reed Switchboard.
The Switchboard is just one of several great digital tools that the college maintains to help students launch their careers—see more at the Center for Life Beyond Reed—but because it harnesses the power of social media, it is also one of the most engaging.
Michelle ’18 needs a math tutor. Ariel ’05 has an opening for an architect. Nancy ’73 will exchange a collection of Virginia Woolf for some random chores. Betty ’51 seeks cheap housing in Uruguay. Hannah ’16 would like to connect with Reedies in Israel. That’s a random sample of the messages posted on the Switchboard on a single day. (See more at reedswitchboard.com.)
The Switchboard—think of it as classified ads for Reedies—is the brainchild of freelance reporter Mara Zepeda ’02 and New York University researcher Greg Borenstein ’02, who began strategizing how they could share career advice and contacts with Reed students and recent grads, and how to help students overcome the shyness they often feel about contacting alumni. Reed signed on as the Switchboard’s first client last year.
The genius of the Switchboard is its transactional approach to networking. There are only two kinds of posts, “asks” and “offers,” a structure that cuts down on promotions and status updates. At the same time, the Switchboard exploits a curious quirk of psychology—it’s often easier for students to ask a favor of a whole group than to cold-call an unfamiliar alumnus. By the same token, an alumna offering a strong lead on a plum job may not have time to track down individual candidates—but with the Switchboard, she doesn’t have to.
Last year, the Switchboard’s creators won a $20,000 grant from the Portland Incubator Experiment to take their platform to the next level. But whatever its commercial fate, the Switchboard has incredible potential to strengthen the connection between Reed students and Reed alumni. I can’t wait to see what it looks like tomorrow.