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Cyberspace keeps classmates connected

By Minauti Dave

If you stop to think about your collegiate glory days, you're bound to remember the people and places that helped make them memorable. And although staying in touch with fellow classmates post-graduation is tough, the Internet is one way to help you stay close.

One of the online tools that will give you that connection is your school's alumni Web site, a concept that is constantly evolving. Right now the basic things most alumni association sites offer to former students are a newsletter, contact information for national chapters and university news. This includes databases for phone numbers, and home and email addresses of the school's graduates.

Just in the last couple of years, the Internet has drastically changed alumni Web sites, turning them from ordinary to interactive. Now most provide chat rooms and discussion forums where alumni can hook up and talk about everything from local gossip to politics.

Princeton University's Alumni Council has given its site a cyber-overhaul with the addition of Web cams and online courses. Grads can watch and listen to university professors teach economy, English literature and foreign languages whenever they want. The cyber class is fully equipped with photos, maps and charts, and it's free of charge to Princeton alumni.

"It gives alumni the chance to see what's happening from wherever they are. Most of our Web site... It's really just to inform them and help them stay connected to this community."

associate director of Princeton Alumni Council's Class and Regional Affairs

Web cams on campus provide a post-graduation look at school reunions and parades for alumni, via a live broadcast. "It (the Web site) gives alumni the chance to see what's happening from wherever they are. Most of our Web site... It's really just to inform them and help them stay connected to this community," says Adrienne Rubin, associate director for the alumni council's class and regional affairs. She is also a 1988 Princeton graduate.

In the year 2000, the university hopes to start chat rooms and set up a content portal for students and alumni to use as their start page.

The University of Texas' alumni organization called the Ex-Students' Association is taking its site one step further and helping graduates find jobs. This spring the site is launching "orange pages," a directory of names and phone numbers of companies that alumni are employed with. The site will also have a link directly to the company's Web site.

"Mainly it promotes the businesses that alumni are involved in. Hopefully it will facilitate networking and supporting alumni," says Jim Boon, executive director of the alumni association.

UT has an e-commerce portal called zlonghorn.com that current and former students are using as their start page. The site has university, national and international news, stock quotes, search engines and shopping links. The entire page can be customized according to what a person wants to see and read.

John Valva, the director of marketing and membership at the California Alumni Association for Berkeley says these types of portals are the hottest things out there. In an e-commerce portal, a shopping Web site (like Amazon.com) has an agreement with a university's alumni association to give a percentage of its profits back to the association.

Since e-commerce sites have only recently drummed up interest in Web users, only a handful of universities have them. Valva says that number sits at about three dozen as of December 1999.

Berkeley's alumni association already has an e-commerce portal and has plans to add a content portal in 2000. But unlike UT's, which is a profit-driven combination of an e-commerce site and a customized content portal, Berkeley will keep "global mall" (e-commerce portal) separate. "I don't want the content to be driven by sales. It should be driven by real objective content," he says.

The parts of Berkeley's alumni Web site that see the most traffic by graduates are a search engine of national newspapers, a page of trivia tests and a link to the university's homepage.

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