5 Steps for Building & Strengthening Students’ Networks

Step 3. Expand Networks to Expand Opportunities: Helping Students Forge New Connections

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Guiding questions:

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Leveraging students’ existing networks and empowering them to grow their social capital is critical. Since social capital is such an important component of our theory of change, we take a multifaceted approach to measuring it.”


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    Networks shape career exposure, which in turn shapes career ambitions. But broad exposure to diverse careers isn’t equally distributed.

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    Young people believe connections and social capital are essential for navigating their career journeys—but often struggle to build them.

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    When it comes to job-getting, there’s a surprising strength in weak ties.

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    Even brief chats with industry experts can make a difference.

We examined what value our students could add and how to present industry partners a lower-lift option to authentically engage with and benefit from students.”

Natasha Morrison, Director of Real World Learning, DaVinci Schools and DVX

If you’re trying to recruit new volunteers or mentors into students' lives → Look at the networks your students and community already possess, but may not be activating:

If you want to introduce students to new connections → First understand their experiences and interests:

If you’re brokering new connections on students’ behalf → Plant seeds of trust early on by surfacing (sometimes hidden) similarities:

If your students experience a negative interaction with a new connection → Debrief the relationship to mitigate long-term harm:

If your students know exactly what they want to do and where they want to work→ Cultivate a few very strong ties:

If your students are still exploring their interests or if your program is aiming to expand students’ options long-term → Invest in larger, more diverse weak-tie networks:

If you’re working with cohorts of students focused on new opportunities or job-getting → Build a culture and infrastructure in which peers can offer information and advice to one another:

If you’re inviting guest speakers, community members, or alumni into the classroom or other volunteer-based programming → Structure these visits as relationship-building opportunities, rather than one-off events:

If you're struggling to scale internship-based learning experiences → Experiment with shorter, smaller-scale experiences, but measure expanded connections:

If you’re investing in skill building and network building in your program → Design feedback, transcripts, and portfolios to expand and document who knows what your students know:

If your students are completing internships or apprenticeships → Provide employers with conversation starters that prime them to develop relationships:

If students are hesitant to reach out to new connections → Create a friendly competition:

  • DVX offers shorter project consults, rather than longer internships, with the goal of scaling students’ professional networks and experiences.

    Da Vinci Extension (DVX) is a hybrid college in Hawthorne, California, which includes work-based learning as a core feature of its model. As enrollment grew, DVX found it could rely on only three to five local companies to provide high-quality, full-semester, paid internships. To expand opportunities, “project consults“ emerged. Smaller groups of DVX students (typically four to six) form teams based on their career interests and engage in real-world projects with industry clients over a six- to eight-week period. Students are expected to take over the many moving parts of client and project management. Preparation and planning for DVX’s full-time educators and for clients were not as onerous. Unlike full-fledged internships, industry partners don’t always have to seek approval from higher-ups to embark on a consultancy. And students who are working while attending DVX didn’t have to quit their jobs to engage in a project consultancy. Thanks to this shift, it’s currently partnering with over 20 local companies on project consults. Read more here.

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    Evidence of impact
    Sample data collection strategy
  • Basta’s infrastructure and staffing model empower peers to expand opportunities for one another.

    Basta helps first-generation college students of color navigate the job search process. The organization has carefully designed opportunities for students to exchange their job search information with one another through a variety of channels. Basta uses Slack to host industry-specific discussions where students can trade interview tips, job opportunities, and industry-relevant news with one another. The program strengthens these near-peer relationships by identifying and codifying tasks that near peers can perform in lieu of its full-time, paid Career Success Managers. For example, Basta enlists recent alumni of the program to serve as resume and cover letter-writing coaches, with alumni leveraging their own experience to help students tell their stories to employers. For more on Basta’s approach, check out our Basta case study.

    evidence icon
    Evidence of impact
    Sample data collection strategy

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