With a growing community of over 1000 members, the GAF alumni network is increasingly a focus of the Foundation's work, in line with George's hope for 'this diverse group of students to network between each other, across disciplines, across states and across years.'
As the work of The George Alexander Foundation became increasingly focussed on the education of young people via scholarship programs in the early 2000s, it became customary that new scholars were given a George Alexander Foundation pin. It was George Alexander’s wish that, one day, these pins would be a means by which two scholars from different years, different institutions, and different walks of life, would be able to recognise one another as members of a shared community.
Times have changed, and young people don’t really wear pins anymore! However, the sentiment remains very much relevant to the Foundation’s work, and increasingly it is a priority as the GAF community gets bigger, to create opportunities for meaningful connections between scholars that are more exciting and far-ranging.
For example, this year, at an Earthwatch Student Challenge expedition attended by CEO Craig Connelly and Program Coordinator Mairead Phillips, the ten participating year 10 and 11 students were led by a young PhD field ecologist, Caitlin Polack, who was a GAF Earthwatch participant herself in 2011. This circle of learning, a George Alexander Foundation alumnus teaching and guiding current GAF students, captures perfectly George’s vision for a community of likeminded and inspiring young leaders who have much to gain from one another.
Another excellent example, again at Earthwatch, is that a past GAF Earthwatch Student Challenger, Jessica Peart, is now interning at Earthwatch. These two stories are testament to the formative nature of the Earthwatch Student Challenge experience. The desire of past participants to continue their involvement in the Earthwatch community and work speaks to the value and quality of the program.
Increasingly, we have been focusing on fostering similar opportunities for GAF alumni to get involved in the Foundation and learn from one another. Last year Swinburne scholar Pip Wheaton designed some excellent infographics for our 2016-17 Annual Report, and GAF alumni Cassie Cohen and Vicki Abraham spoke on a panel at our 2017 Alumni Event at the State Library of Victoria.
This year’s alumni event was a GAF trivia night held in Melbourne, which was a great opportunity for scholars, fellows and alumni to meet and have a laugh in a less formal setting. It wasn’t all play and no work, however, as there was a George Alexander Foundation themed trivia round. Judging by the results – all teams scored full marks on this round – it’s clear quite a bit of study and preparation was involved, as opposed to a quick Google search…
We are excited to be in the process of organising an alumni event at Murdoch University for early next year, at which we are pleased to confirm Murdoch GAF alumni Elise Bowen will be speaking about her personal and professional journey since graduating. This is the first in what will be a series of events at our numerous interstate partner institutions, through which we aim to provide networking and social opportunities for scholars and alumni. Further details about this event will be confirmed in the new year, so watch this space!
And now in place of a pin, we have the 2018 equivalent: social media! We are so excited to see GAF scholars, fellows and alumni engaging with us and each other on Instagram and Facebook, whether it’s through tagging us with their GAF Frank Green SmartCup, entering into our Instagram competition, or keep us up to date on their overseas fellowships and semesters abroad. These platforms are especially important as a vehicle for connecting members of the GAF community from different universities and different states.
We have a lot planned for the next few years, and we look forward to unveiling further networking and mentoring opportunities for our community of alumni.
If you’re a GAF alumni and you’re interested in getting involved with the George Alexander Foundation, get in touch!