Almost four years ago, Jonathan Van Dongen (‘17) received his diploma in front of his entire college class, which had spent the last few years pulling all-nighters, grinding out exams, eating in the Commons and exercising in the Simon Forum together. After spending a little less than half-a-decade pursuing his degree, Van Dongen found himself out in the real world, about to take on a job and move into the workforce. But there was a problem: Van Dongen wasn’t sure how to connect and network with alumni post-graduation.
Now, he is the outreach and programming director of the newly introduced Drew Young Alumni Association (DYAA), an alumni group meant to keep graduates from the last 10 years connected.
“My hope is that students will have the chance to gain skills and learn from experiences of those who have traversed similar paths in order to have a more informed post-graduate transition,” said Van Dongen, who added that he hopes the program will also help students as they move toward graduate school, careers, and life experiences.
According to its website, the association “aims to create meaningful programs for recent alumni and encourage them to foster and sustain a lifelong relationship with Drew and their fellow Drewids.” It also shares information and hosts events targeted towards the needs and interests of graduates from the last decade.
“[The association] is more tailored to the student experience,” said Van Dongen.
Since its creation last year, board members have been getting the word out about the club organically: connecting with fellow alumni and current students, advertising in Drew’s daily newsletter “Drew Today” and posting on their social media accounts.
Despite only being created last year, the idea for an association like this has been in the works for a while. Van Dongen said Director of Alumni and Parent Communities Carol Bassie has been pushing for a committee of graduates like this for a while.
“I think Drew has been aspiring to implement something like this,” said Van Dongen. “It just was not a priority.”
The DYAA’s main project is their mentorship program, which launched Feb. 2021. The program, a brainchild of Kassel Franco-Garibay (‘20) and Van Dongen, connects current Drew CLA and graduate students and alumni. It is currently in its first wave.
Franco-Garibay, the students and young alumni liaison, said that her favorite thing about Drew is the community and it’s commitment to creating connections with one another.
“The mentoring program is an excellent opportunity for Drew students to develop and strengthen professional and interpersonal skills in a structured environment while nurturing connections with the broader Drew community,” she said.
Regardless of if students participate in the mentorship program or not, Van Dongen wants students to know that there are alumni resources to connect with.
“Drew is a phenomenal place that has fostered some incredible talent beyond the Forest—talent and experience that can and should be shared to help the next generation become equally as impactful,” said Van Dongen, who has had several Drew alumni as unofficial mentors over the years.
The DYAA is currently receiving applications for Wave II of its mentorship program through April 4. If you would like to be part of the program, please visit https://drewconnect.drew.edu/hub/drew/program/mentoring-program/about.