Student-Alumni Connections in the UAE

The UAE NYU alumni network is a potential bridge between the Saadiyat bubble and the vibrancy of professional life in the country.

May 06, 2018

alum Illustration by Shenuka Corea

With NYU Abu Dhabi’s fifth graduation ceremony approaching, the Class of 2018 will join the cohort of 572 NYUAD alumni and around 600,000 NYUNY alumni. The latter group is dispersed around approximately 170 counties, the UAE included.

The exact number of NYU alumni living and working in the UAE is difficult to estimate, as mobility is one of the key features of the country’s population and NYU alumni are no exception to the rule. Despite the country’s transient nature, there is a UAE NYU Alumni Club that has been operating out of the country for the past nine years, around the same period of time as NYU’s presence in the region. However, despite the slew of events and opportunities happening within the campus walls, the NYUAD community remains relatively unaware of NYU's presence beyond Saadiyat.

Gabriel Garcia, Class of 2020, is President of the Mentorship program, which connects NYUAD students to professionals in the UAE. Although the program cooperates with NYU Alumni, there is a lack of communication between NYU alumni and the NYUAD campus as a whole.

“The relationship is getting stronger now, I don’t think in the past we had that much of interaction. [NYU Alumni are]… making sure they’re being inclusive of the NYUAD community,” Garcia said.

At the same time, he pointed out the importance of the alumni’s input to the mentorship program. The university has helped to make that connection.

“The relationship was established at the very beginning when we started the mentorship program. Actually our first mentor was the head of the NYU Alumni Club of the UAE and he put us in touch with several other professionals that were interested in mentoring NYUAD students and that were also alumni,” he explained. “He has helped a lot in the creation of the program and he’s been advising us on mentorship, through his programs we’ve got several mentors.”

Garcia mentioned that both the CDC and the Office of the Alumni Relations helped to establish and maintain the connection.

The Office of Alumni Relations only strengthened its presence on campus in January, when John Pine, who previously ran the corresponding office operating out of New York, moved to Abu Dhabi to become NYUAD’s first Director of Alumni Relations and Annual Giving.

“I work closely with my partners in [New] [York] at the NYU Alumni Association in developing strategies to continually engage all of our alumni in Abu Dhabi and around the world,” Pine described his work in correspondence with The Gazelle.

Despite the novelty of his title, Pine emphasized that his appointment marks no major shift in NYUAD’s handling of its alumni affairs. There has been a staff member working on maintaining relationships with alumni ever since the first class left campus. His office’s mission remains fairly the same and is consistent with that of the NYU Alumni Association based in New York, “to build and sustain a lifelong relationship between the university and its alumni.”

As far as the scope of professional development is concerned, there is some overlap between the work of the newly strengthened office and the already well-established Career Development Center.

“The Career Development Center has been partnering with NYU alumni in the UAE since [its] inception. Many alumni are employed at organizations that we work with on internship or full-time recruitment programs. Due to the highly transient nature of people in the UAE, as well as the robust amount of alumni we have in the global network, we continue to benefit from alumni, whether they facilitate career insights for students in the form of sessions or presentations, or advocate within their organizations for NYUAD student talent,” wrote Dana Downey on behalf of the CDC.

Yet, when it comes to establishing these valuable relations, according to the CDC, many of them should be initiated by students. Making professional relationships is a life-long skill, and for the CDC, sharing professionals’ private contact information is often at odds with both legal regulations and social norms. The CDC, however, is willing to help students find publicly available information and guide them through the process of drafting an introductory message.

Alternatively, a more cushioned way of making the first contact is through occasional networking events, or through enrollment in student-organized mentorship programs. A number of NYU alumni have volunteered to serve as yearlong mentors for both male and female students.

With the many differences between NYU’s campuses in Abu Dhabi and New York, a question arises as to whether an affiliation to the same name is at all relevant. The extremely different experiences of living in these two cities, discrepancy in academic offerings and the fact that many of the alumni never experienced NYU through its undergraduate liberal arts curriculum can all undermine the feeling of familiarity between NYUAD students and NYU’s broad alumni network.

Yet Lisa Stoclet, an NYU Stern alumna currently living in the UAE and one of the Women’s Mentorship Program’s mentors, believes there is still scope for meaningful connection.

“I have been through some of the same experiences. I know many of the campuses, schools, dorms, libraries, and neighborhoods that they will experience and can provide some insight. For students wanting to go into finance I have some relevant experience and advice regarding courses they should take to round out their economics degrees from the AD campus,” she wrote.

Likewise, as an NYU alumna in the city hosting one of her school’s portal campuses, she also acknowledges the benefits that she and the alumni network receive, as increased name recognition in the region opens up many doors to all NYU affiliates.

This sentiment is echoed by Shanthi Thangaraj, who was raised in Dubai, pursued a law degree in India and completed a graduate program at NYU in New York. Having recently returned to the UAE after years of travels, the very active NYU alumni community in the country was one of her first connections. The office in New York, which connected her to other alumni including other practitioners of law, was, in her experience crucial to reconnecting her with her school away from the school she attended.

Students stand to benefit greatly from alumni relations, for the UAE-based network brings together professionals accomplished in a variety of fields, including business, finance, hospitality, the public sector and law. Many hold managerial posts and have prior experience working in New York’s most desired work locations, including the UN Headquarters. With NYUAD about to conclude its eighth year, it will take a few more jobs and degrees for most of its graduates to reach high-level positions in industries as diverse.

With Saadiyat’s physical isolation from the Abu Dhabi mainland and the UAE, the NYU alumni network is a potential bridge between the Saadiyat bubble and the vibrancy of professional life in the country. With a lot of untapped potential remaining in the alumni, their eagerness to facilitate the exchange between NYU’s communities in the UAE is affirmed by NYUAD’s offices, members of the UAE NYU Alumni club and the students themselves. Garcia added that there will be a lot of improvements as the years go by.

“The relationship is getting stronger now,” concluded Garcia.

Karolina Wilczynska is Managing Editor. Email her at [email protected]

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