When Steve Frenkil, BA ’74, the president of the George Washington Alumni Association (GWAA), describes the mantra of Colonials Helping Colonials, the Baltimore-based attorney quotes from the first-century Jewish sage Hillel. “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? And when I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”
“What that underscores,” Mr. Frenkil says, “is that we certainly should, as family members, help each other, and we also should be involved in the community. But it’s OK to also help the family.”
Nowhere is there more and deeper involvement in the community than at GW, he says, but in particular, alumni should return phone calls, text messages, emails, and other communications from fellow Colonials.
“In every school people help each other,” Mr. Frenkil says. “We are trying to build into the culture the expectation that Colonials help Colonials.” Although that culture of Colonials opening doors for each other has been a GW fixture for years, it’s very important to repeat and underscore that practice and to continue its sustenance, according to Mr. Frenkil.
Those interactions can be helpful whether they are with Colonials at the beginning of their careers or ones that are more established. Sometimes more recent graduates can provide better advice to students on coursework, on the anxieties and opportunities of the job search, and other relevant topics, according to Mr. Frenkil, while more established alumni can share bigger-picture reflections on best and worst professional practices.
“Relatively small interactions between students and alumni can make a big difference,” he says, pointing to GW’s Dinner with Alumni program, which has hosted more than 1,000 students since 2004.
Four years ago, Mr. Frenkil took a handful of students out to dinner through the program, and one student expressed an interest in a profession in energy and the environment. The two kept in touch over the years, Mr. Frenkil says, and one year the student shared that she was having trouble finding an internship in her hometown. Mr. Frenkil thought immediately of Lehigh Valley attorney Buddy Lesavoy, and soon the student had an internship.
“One alum called another alum,” Mr. Frenkil says. “I did nothing more than place a phone call.”
Sometimes, Mr. Frenkil says, recent graduates can be the most helpful to students. At the most recent Colonial Inauguration, Mr. Frenkil addressed students and then circulated among the tables where attendees were seated.
“As helpful as an experienced, veteran lawyer and business person might be, to be candid, I think if you’re 18-years-old, that recent graduate…has much more useful information to tell a student about what courses to take or what to think about in college than someone who is twice their age, because they are so far removed from the classroom and from living in resident halls,” he says.
But students shouldn’t hesitate to contact more established alumni, particularly if they are part of the Career Advisor Network, whether it’s to talk for two minutes or for two hours. “If someone signed up for the Career Advisor Network, they voted with their feet,” Mr. Frenkil says.
The online network, he adds, can help both students and alumni. “You don’t only use it to help other people, but you also use it to connect and help yourself, whether you’re looking for a job or advice in your field,” he says.
This kind of ecosystem of Colonials assisting each other is “really a part of the Making History campaign,” Mr. Frenkil adds. More than half of students give back to GW in the Senior Class Gift campaign, he notes, and that sends a message to their friends that giving back is important even to Colonials who don’t have a lot of money, and that even small differences are vital.
In a June 5 address during the GWAA annual meeting, Mr. Frenkil noted that the “historic and unprecedented philanthropic campaign” will “not only help to raise the resources necessary to fuel GW’s aspirations, but it also binds all of GW’s volunteers together in a remarkable, collective effort.” Alumni, he added, have the opportunity with faculty, staff, trustees, students, and others to both change GW and the world.
For Mr. Frenkil, the sacrifice his parents made to send him to GW in the 1970s helps drive his involvement today, as did his son’s experience as a student from 2002 to 2006.
“The number one thing that impacted me the most was the way that GW helped me focus on the importance of deep inquiry and challenging myself and trying to get outside my comfort zone,” Mr. Frenkil says. And when the same thing occurred for his son, “It really motivated me to want to get back involved,” he says.