It’s difficult to know whether to call it an inside story when more than 100,000 people are in on it. But with how often you see the knowing smile and nod when someone says, “Tommies hire Tommies,” the secret is probably out.
For decades, the “Tommie network” has been one of the university’s greatest strengths, a foundation of loyalty and pride, and a recognition of the high-level education and career preparation students get at St. Thomas. That manifests itself in a robust alumni network that helps current students with informational interviews, mentoring, job shadowing, and internship and job connections.
The results are profound: 95 percent of both the classes of 2015 and 2016 have reported employment, enrollment in a graduate program, volunteer service or enlistment in the military within a year after graduating; and 65 percent of the class of 2015 reported having an internship while at St. Thomas.
“As a hiring manager you want to put aside your biases, but it sticks in the back of your mind throughout the interviews that you have an expectation St. Thomas students will come through. … St. Thomas students are just more polished and better prepared,” said Brad Meyer ’04, administration, finance and planning manager for St. Paul Parks and Recreation. “Sixty to 70 percent of the internships we’ve hired since I’ve been here have been St. Thomas students … and I haven’t had a bad experience once.”
A powerful combination
With so many contributing factors, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what has made the Tommie network as strong as it is today. One reason is undoubtedly the size and range of the alumni network, which spans the state, region, country and globe.
“A lot of schools don’t have that vast network we do,” said Jenna Johnson ’14, who started her career in admissions at St. Thomas and now works in Alumni Relations. “My area [for admissions] was southern Wisconsin and a lot of students wanted to know if we had Tommies in Milwaukee and Madison, so if they wanted to go back home to work they had support there. The answer is yes, we have alumni there. We have alumni pretty much everywhere.”
Locally, the depth of the St. Thomas network is invaluable for current students: Tens of thousands of St. Thomas alumni have remained in the metro area and throughout the state, meaning they’re easily accessible for students in St. Paul and Minneapolis.
“There are Tommies at pretty much every company here in the Twin Cities. … You’ll have some connection to every large company here,” said Chad Grossmann ’16, who started a career at General Mills last year by having coffee with a fellow Tommie alum. “Tommies really do help each other. I’m a prime example of how it all worked out.”
The willingness to help one another seems to come naturally thanks to a combination of school pride, recognition of the quality of students and desire to keep momentum going.
“People feel that this network, this school, helped form them into what they are now in the professional world. They want to give back so people can have that same experience,” Grossmann said. “These people helped me, I want to help that sophomore looking for an internship, that junior who doesn’t know their career path, that senior who missed out on some opportunity. I want to be a sounding board for them for advice. You realize the benefits the school has offered you … you want to return the favor and continue this legacy that this network truly does help them.”
“Tommies recognize the value of the St. Thomas education and realize they’re coming from a good, high-level institution,” Johnson added. “And Tommies are nice people. It’s easy to connect with them. Tommie alumni have a large presence, especially in the Twin Cities. If, as a student, you’re looking at doing an internship or job at one of the employers around here, you’re usually going to find a Tommie.”
Jennifer Rogers, associate director of the St. Thomas Career Development Center, works with employers that come to campus to recruit students. She recognizes, on a daily basis, the presence and strength of Tommies looking to hire.
“We have an informational questionnaire for visiting companies, and just this fall, 56 percent – over half the employers that came here in the fall – have management who are alums. The year before, that was 60 percent. That network is out there,” she said. “Another option they can say is, ‘I’ve had success hiring Tommies.’ That number is well over 80 percent. In 2015, it was 90 percent.”
More options than ever
With such a well-established tradition and loyalty already in place, St. Thomas has taken more steps in recent years to make it as easy as possible for students and alumni to meet and help one another. Alumni Relations has answered the call of President Julie Sullivan to raise the number of student-alumni connections: Last year the Student-Alumni Mentoring program – which has been around for almost 20 years – nearly doubled in participation, with more than 1,400 students and alumni connected. Alumni Relations also has created a more formal young alumni network to help those one to 10 years out from graduation, so “that value proposition of support continues well out of school,” Johnson said.
“This network is more developed and prevalent. The tightknit nature of the St. Thomas network is just there. It’s inherent,” Grossmann said. “With other schools, are students using their four years to get their degree and be done? Or to be part of this lifelong community? With St. Thomas, it’s lifelong, and that’s much more the case than other schools you see.”
Resources like webinars, virtual networking and national visits are growing in number and scope, Johnson said, and will continue growing as Alumni Relations shifts to new and improved online platforms. Increasing options and accessibility are all about making it possible for everyone to do what they want to do: Help fellow Tommies.
“We all are for the common good here. We say that and it’s true, but we really all are for the common good and that includes for each other,” she added. “Not everyone has financial means to give back as young alums, but everyone can give back their time and expertise. That’s a good way to start.”