Last March, when Scott Mabry ’90 was looking for a summer intern to help out in the northern Virginia offices of Volkswagen Group of America, he wasn’t sure where to turn. Then, he learned about Switchboard.
Kenyon’s Switchboard online community began in April 2015 as a way to connect alumni, parents, staff, faculty and students. Mabry, a German major at Kenyon and the current senior manager of business planning and optimization for the carmaker’s vehicle logistics section, was able to tap into Kenyon’s student body to find the intern he needed.
After hiring Maia Emden ’19, an economics and international studies major from Bethesda, Maryland, Mabry posted a testimonial to Switchboard: “I received a number of emails and responses from people interested in the opportunity, connecting with a Kenyon alum and my company in general. The intern selected was from Kenyon and has helped us immensely this summer.”
Tristan Neviska ’13 oversees Kenyon’s Switchboard efforts in his role as associate director of young alumni engagement. He said Switchboard updates many types of community messaging that used to happen over email, such as promoting campus events, helping people buy and sell items and connecting alumni to students seeking jobs, housing and mentoring.
Switchboard, named for the vintage machinery that allowed telephone operators to facilitate revolutionary connections between far-flung people, is a way for someone in the Kenyon community to give targeted help even if they don’t have time or resources to volunteer for the College in other ways.
“Everyone has something they can post on Switchboard — even if it’s someone like me who plays music and just wants to find someone else to jam with,” Neviska said.
James Wojtal ’18, from Oberlin, Ohio, found Switchboard the right mechanism to put out a very specific request to Kenyon alumni because the request would not invade privacy and the responses would be fully voluntary. In November, he asked for older people “who identify as LGBTQA+ or queer” to help him better understand gay afrofuturist writer Samuel Delany, the subject of Wojtal’s English honors thesis. His post quickly got 103 views, three endorsements and two direct responses.
“It was very interesting to me to learn what queer life was like before I was born,” Wojtal said. “It was very helpful. In my first conversation, we talked about Kenyon then, what this person’s life was like. Switchboard was really useful to reach a different network of people than what I have.”
Switchboard also helped Pierce Scranton ’68 P’97 H’09, of Ketchum, Idaho, who didn’t get much response when he asked his friends to read his manuscript for a psychological thriller.
“When you work on something for five years, you wind up getting tunnel vision. You’re too close to it,” Scranton said. “Going to Switchboard for help worked spectacularly. None of them knew me, so there were no punches pulled. I’m much more confident in the novel now.”
Scranton’s experience with his novel, “Asleep Real Good,” illustrates the benefits of the platform: he got four readers within two days of his post, and three of them were recent graduates with English degrees. “I got a broad spectrum of feedback, but the young alumni were really good at the technical aspects — the grammar and the minutiae. It was interesting to go back and forth with them,” he said.
Kenyon’s Switchboard now has more than 2,300 registered users. About half of those members are alumni, and another quarter are current students. Parents and Kenyon staff are each about eight percent of the Switchboard community.
There’s still plenty of potential to grow. The Office of Alumni and Parent Engagement estimates there are about 28,000 Kenyon alumni, parents, staff, faculty and students who could join Switchboard.
“I’d like for the Kenyon community to adopt it as a cultural thing in their day-to-day lives. It’s the new place to go to see if someone found your coat,” Neviska said. “It’s something you can bookmark and check out daily to see what’s going on.”
Signing up for Switchboard takes just a few minutes at switchboard.kenyon.edu.