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by Leadership Participant

At the end of October, I returned to my alma mater, Earlham College, for homecoming festivities, Alumni Council meetings, and related events. What really struck me about the extended weekend was how the theme of “connections” was constantly evident.

On Thursday evening, dozens of alumni met with students in a networking session. Alumni who attend consistently rate this as a highlight of the weekend. They really enjoy meeting with students and hearing about the wonderfully impressive work they are doing. Alumni get the opportunity to encourage current students and offer the benefits of their experience and hard-earned wisdom. Just one example of “connections” happened when I met a young man who has done some very impressive work with photography and imaging in scientific research. An upcoming project will involve a survey of bird populations and nesting in a remote corner of Iceland. He intends to do some thermal imaging magic from a hot air balloon that will be fueled by ethanol that is distilled on-site. (I’m sure none will be diverted to other uses.)  A major challenge in this endeavor is the fact that he has zero experience with hot air balloons. I was able to put him in contact with a colleague who is a hot air balloon pilot who is active in teaching young people how to pilot balloons. I was also able to alert this young man and the faculty member who is mentoring him to an opportunity to present at an annual birding conference in Ohio.

At the Outstanding Alumni and Distinguished Service Awards Ceremony, we heard story after story that involved connections. In particular, one young alumna had made a career of working with communities with few resources to create murals in public spaces designed by groups from that community. In some cases, murals were designed by prisoners and executed by family and friends who were waiting for them. This created and maintained connections and the murals served as conversation starters between the community members and visitors to those communities.

At an afternoon tea for donors, I met a young lady who was strongly influenced by a faculty member who was also a professor of mine <cough> years ago. The professor convinced the young lady in question to work as an intern doing lobbying in Washington DC. This was not an easy sell given the student’s initial perception of the nature of lobbying. But this internship was at the Friends Committee for National Legislation and the student found it so rewarding that she hopes to land a job there after graduation. The faculty member knew the organization and the student well enough to know this would be a great match.

At the same event, my wife, who ordinarily would be the last person on Earth to engage in small talk or engage with strangers, chatted with a student who intends to do an internship in rural Indiana in the field of tele-medicine. She was able to give this student a lot of information and advice about rural Indiana communities and also put the student in contact with a regular participant on one of our bicycle tours who happens to work as a tele-medicine nurse in rural Indiana. 

All of these stories (and many more throughout the weekend) really highlight the importance of making connections and the “Four I’s.” Absent the “Four I’s,” none of these connections would happen. All of the connections described promise to make the world at least a little bit better.

Mark E. Napier   
Indiana University