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UBC is the first Canadian university to offer a new networking technology like TrekConnect to alumni and students - photo by Martin Dee
UBC is the first Canadian university to offer a new networking technology like TrekConnect to alumni and students - photo by Martin Dee

UBC Reports | Vol. 52 | No. 8 | Aug. 3, 2006

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

UBC students, alumni take advantage of online social networking

By Basil Waugh

The anarchic world of online teen culture has inspired a new social networking website for UBC students and alumni.

Similar to popular sites like MySpace and Facebook, TrekConnect is an online forum where UBC alumni and students can share expertise, network for jobs, catch up with long-lost classmates — and maybe even spark a romance.

With the launch of TrekConnect in June, UBC became the first Canadian university to offer networking technology of this kind to alumni, joining more than 50 U.S. universities and colleges. And when classes resume in September, UBC will become one of the first universities in North America to open this resource to current students.

Marie Earl, UBC Assoc. Vice-President, Alumni, and Executive Director of UBC’s Alumni Association, has worked with TrekConnect’s software on both sides of the 49th parallel. She came to UBC in 2005 from a similar position at California’s Stanford University, where students created the software (known as inCircle), and first offered this innovation to alumni.

“Our 225,000 alumni living and working around the globe represent an absolute wealth of knowledge and opportunity, and with TrekConnect, alumni and students can finally begin making the most of that network,” says Earl. “Universities have wanted to provide this service for a long time, so I think you will see others following our footsteps in Canada now that the technology is available.”

UBC’s decision to extend the system beyond alumni to students will make it a richer, more essential service to both groups, says Earl. “By giving students access to alumni in industry, academia and the arts, we are providing them with an exciting new world of professional and academic mentoring opportunities. And for alumni, it gives them a link to each other without us in the middle.”

Looking back at TrekConnect’s first two months online, Earl says alumni response has been overwhelmingly positive. Initially launched to 120 alumni, close to 4,000 alumni have already created personal and business profiles by mid-July. There have been over 50,000 private messages sent between members and more than 60 blogs uploaded.

In contrast to public social-networking sites, which have been plagued with allegations of identity fraud, TrekConnect is known as a closed — or trusted — system, meaning that new registrants must be verified by staff as UBC alumni or students before gaining entry to the site.

Once registered, users can search for contacts by name, class year, geography, or interests. There are also forums to buy and sell goods and exchange everything from job and housing opportunities to concert tickets.

“Most first-time users are blown away with the site’s ability to connect them not only you’re your friends, but also your friends’ friends, and their friends too,” says Earl. “Suddenly people see they have contacts in countries and in professions they never knew existed.”

Alex Burkholder, a third-year human geography student working in the Alumni Office for the summer, is excited about the networking possibilities that TrekConnect will offer students.

“Students need to make a lot of decisions on their way through university and beyond, and what better resource to have than a community filled with people who have already gone through it all,” says Burkholder, who belongs to several of the site’s interests-based groups, including All things Sailing, Amnesty International and the Indie Rock club.

For more information visit, www.alumni.ubc.ca/connect/trekconnect.

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Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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