Keeping the Sloanie Community Connected
The implications of the term “community involvement” changed drastically over the course of the 2019–2020 academic year. It is bittersweet to remember that a little over a year ago in October of 2019, more than 200 MIT Sloan alumnae from 21 states and six countries traveled to New York City for the MIT Sloan Women’s Conference. Together with a number of rock star faculty members and alumni speakers, this group of high-powered, high-achieving individuals discussed the challenges, victories, and opportunities for women in the workplace. By April, the world was much different. Though planning was well underway for the annual MIT Sloan Reunion, the school made the hard choice to change course. While Reunion alumni were not able to embrace one another at their class dinners or pack into Wong Auditorium to participate in Beaver Tank, they were able to reconnect in a whole new way. More than 800 alumni from across the United States and over 30 other countries tuned in online to share life updates and engage in programming by MIT Sloan faculty and their peers. Through the challenges and the changes, one thing remains as true as it was before—the MIT Sloan community continues to bear an impact due to the dedication of our alumni. To illustrate these efforts, here are the stories of two Sloanies who have gone over and above to keep their communities connected:
Locked Down but Not In
Familiar with remote participation through her involvement with the MIT Sloan Clubs, Asha Aravindakshan, SF ’17, was swift to not only continue but also enhance club programming when restrictions on gatherings began back in the spring of 2020. Even before graduating, Aravindakshan was selected to be a board member for the MIT Sloan Club of Washington, D.C. Despite relocating to Argentina at the time, Aravindakshan was an active member. In a true testament to Sloanie dedication, teamwork, and ingenuity, she would dial in to every meeting, and her fellow board members would put the phone in a fishbowl, fashioning a makeshift conference phone. Through frequent communication with her classmates, Aravindakshan was keenly aware of the content her peers were looking for and was ready to deliver that content through an array of programming—a practice she has continued since moving to New York City and joining the local alumni club, on which she now serves as Technology Events Leader. She was in the midst of launching a three-part, career-focused series last April when the city went into lockdown. After the change in logistics was solved for, the benefits of virtual events became clear. Planned to be held in a Midtown office space, the original capacity for the event was limited, but the switch to online increased attendance by a factor of five, and the audience ended up including alumni and students from outside the tri-state area. Beyond democratizing participation, Aravindakshan has used the opportunity to feature speakers who, due to space and time constraints, might have been difficult to host in-person otherwise. “The caliber of speakers that we have and the content that’s being presented are global in nature,” Aravindakshan noted, “and other alumni miss that exposure when we are hosting in-person events.” As unprecedented circumstances persist, so does the interest in community building, professional development, and quality programming. Aravindakshan , along with her fellow club members, continues to offer her time and talent to keep the MIT Sloan alumni community connected and informed.
Responding with Support
Andrew Mairena, MBA ’19, is motivated to volunteer by the authenticity of his fellow Sloanies and by the importance of giving back. He described the past year as one of introspection, which highlighted the needs of others in his community as well as the opportunities to support them. As a Sloan 5 volunteer, he had been actively planning events through the fall of 2019 and into the early months of 2020. When that all came to a halt, more than social opportunities were lost—many began to feel isolated, jobs were cut, and when community was needed more than ever, gathering was not in the cards. In the midst of this, Mairena recognized that “having a stronger sense of community is important, and the volunteers can facilitate that.” He soon actualized this conviction through his efforts with fellow alumni. As a first-year Reunion volunteer, Mairena worked with other committee members to pivot plans for reconnecting classmates. They encouraged their peers to attend virtual Reunion programming and engaged with others via their class’s online yearbook, through which they were able to check in on one another and hear about life and career updates. As a planning committee member of the MIT Club of Northern California AI Conference, Mairena worked with the team to rebrand the event for “AI for a Better World.” The week-long event brought together virtually over 1,000 attendees to discuss ideas for leveraging AI to tackle the new norm created in 2020. Beyond the need for new social pathways, the year also brought a global reckoning and highlighted the unfortunate disparities that exist for people of color. In response, Mairena worked with fellow MIT Sloan alumni to create the Sloan Affinity Group Alumni Advisory Council, which serves underrepresented members of the MIT Sloan community, through the Fall Career Webinar Series and an Underrepresented Minority Entrepreneurship Fund. While there is no telling how long the “new normal” will last, Mairena and his peers persist in creating positive networks, whatever the next “new” may be.
It is difficult to say if and how engagement might iterate yet again in the year ahead, but as we gear up for the next MIT Sloan Reunion and upcoming Women’s Conference, there is resolve in knowing that, whatever the confines, the MIT Sloan community excels at maximizing under constraint.