Williams needs to facilitate the formation and maintenance of EphCOI (rhymes with thief-boy), Williams-connected Communities of Interest.

Basic idea is that there are large numbers of Ephs (students, alumni, professors and staff) with interests in specific fields and endeavors. One example is Ephs in Entertainment.

It began as a happy accident. In March 2002, screenwriter B. Daniel Blatt ’85 organized a dinner for Ephs after a New England Small Colleges function for Los Angeles-area alumni trying to break into show business. When nearly two dozen Williams alumni and friends crammed around a long table at a North Hollywood restaurant and stayed until closing to exchange e-mail addresses and business leads, Blatt knew he was on to something. Thus began Ephs in Entertainment, a drinking club with a networking problem.

The whole article makes for a fun read. The problem, though, is that there is no way for Ephs who don’t live in LA to participate. While there is a lot to be said for getting together over dinner, there should also be an EphCOI devoted to the entertainment business that would feature links to news articles, discussion of current events, advice for job-seekers, internship opportunities and so on. The same applies for Ephs in Finance, Ephs in the Law, Ephs in Football, Ephs in Cartooning, Ephs in et cetera.

Now, it is true that the College tries to facilitate some of this via alumni communities of various sorts, but, as best I can tell, these aren’t very successful. Does anyone use them? The main problem, I suspect, is that no one is going to bother with a resource that requires a login and password. (What percentage of alumni ever login to any part of the Alumni Society’s site?) Moreover, as best I can tell, all the alumni resources are essentially cut off from the worlds of current undergraduates. The real value (and fun) of something like Ephs in Finance would come from the interactions between alumni and students.

It would also be helpful to get faculty involved. Perhaps the single most famous and successful example of Eph networking is the famous Art History Mafia, which was centered around Williams faculty.

Another natural realm for such a community involves academic advising.

Simple outline is to create department centered teams of people who would gather information about that department, provide a FAQ and answer questions. For the most part, one students plus one alum would be all that you really need. There can’t be more than a few thousand words worth of things that students need to know about, say, the Political Science department.

These posts could all be categorized to make it easy for someone to pull up the collected wisdom of the participants about, say, Art History.

The College (as well as the Gargoyles) have recently worked on academic advising, just as they worked on it 20 years ago. None of the proposed solutions seem that useful. None use technology that wasn’t available when my father was at Williams five decade ago. Unless and until the collective wisdom of Ephdom is gathered together and made accessible (and interactive), academic advising will be sub-optimal.

What sort of tools do EphCOI require? Nothing fancy. Everything could be done with a blog, even within EphBlog, but it would be nice for someone else to take on the leadership role here. What is Gargoyle working on in 2005-2006? I suspect that the nice folks at WSO would be willing to help out. Even the College itself, perhaps under the leadership of OCC or the Alumni Society, will provide a rallying point.

But whatever the details, I would recommend that certain principals apply. First, the site (blog, webpage, wiki, whatever) must be open. People can’t be bothered to login. Second, the site must solicit feedback and material from both undergraduates and alums and, ideally, faculty. Third, specific volunteers will need to take responsibility for their EphCOI. I would certainly be happy enough to volunteer to help with Ephs in Finance and academic advising in Economics. And there are hundreds of alums like me who would be just as eager to participate.

EphCOI. You read it here first.

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