Alumni role models. A simple, effective and rewarding strategy to increase student engagement in public high schools.

How can educators motivate high school students? A key is helping them see how the effort they put into school can yield concrete payoffs in their future. Yet we all know that hearing that message from teachers is just not enough. Is there an accessible way for educators to increase student motivation by helping them see the connections between their high school experience and a productive future?

nullYes – the answer is through engaging recent graduates, your alumni. Alumni from your school are uniquely powerful influencers. Why? Because they share your students’ diversity, come from the same neighborhood and went to their school. That shared background means alumni automatically win a level of trust and respect that can be hard or impossible for teachers to achieve. Alumni benefit from the powerful effects of Homophily – the more someone is like you the more you naturally trust, respect and are influenced by them.

Research supports the unique power of alumni. Students identify with and admire near-peer graduates, whose footsteps they are following. They see them as positive role models. Students report they admire the hard work, dedication, and determination shown by alumni. Hearing the real-life success stories of alumni motivates students to think more about longer-term goals, and they help students develop the confidence and agency that can drive them forward.

By sharing their experiences, alumni help students see how their work in high school connects to college and career success. They do this by providing direct, relatable proof that the education you’re giving your students matters. 

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Alumni stories, strategies, and career paths expand students’ sense of what they can achieve - creating greater confidence and empowering agency. Alumni pathways and opportunities provide students with role models and evidence of career paths they might have dismissed as impossible or never have thought of on their own.

Alumni not only help students see that college and career success is achievable, but they also show them how to get there. Their stories begin in your classrooms and in your communities. And they provide replicable road maps that your students can follow.

And the good news is alumni are excited to return to their school and give back. Alumni want to be leaders and role models. Schools just have to reach out and invite them back.


Future First USA offers a simple and powerful program, the AlumniToolkit. It allows teachers and schools to mobilize their alumni to meet their program needs and student goals - from college readiness to career partners, STEM or STREAM, project-based learning, or social and emotional learning - alumni can do it all. The AlumniToolkit does all the work for you.

AlumniToolkit is a program of Future First USA, reinventing alumni programs to support 21st century high schools.


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Jeff Stein M.Ed.

Written by Jeff Stein M.Ed.

Education Innovator & Executive Director FutureFirstUSA.org / AlumniToolkit.org