At the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, more than two-thirds of alumni traditionally make gifts to the annual fund. At USC’s Marshall School of Business, the school’s alums have a nickname: The Trojan Network. Tuck and Marshall grads rank among the top alumni networks, according to the annual survey conducted by The Economist.
In 2017, the magazine polled current MBA students and recent alumni about the “effectiveness” of their school’s alumni on a scale of 1 (Poor) to 5 (Excellent). In doing so, The Economist was able to measure, to an extent, how engaged school alumni were in mentoring and helping with job searches.
University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business was top: It produced a 4.81 average. In fact, this score was the third-highest among top MBA programs across the various survey criteria, which also evaluated faculty, culture, facilities, and satisfaction. Tuck trailed closely behind at 4.79, beating out Stanford (4.77) and Marshall (4.73) as runner-up. Those scores, of course, are so close they effectively represent a tie of sorts.
The moderate class sizes also facilitate an esprit de corps at Tuck and Marshall that further deepen bonds. At Tuck, each class is comprised of roughly 280 students – a size that enables first years to connect with second years – and then turn around and mesh with incoming students.
Tuck boasts a size where no one can hide and a culture where no one gets left behind. Every Thursday the school has "Tucktails," which is a happy hour. Because the school is so small, students can get together in one room and drink beer and wine and just talk and catch up on the week.
At 225 students per class, Marshall’s size lends itself to a similar collaborative and community-driven culture.
Both schools lay down expectations early on, through word and deed, that sets the tone. At Tuck, this responsibility is constantly being reinforced – an embrace of giving back that is the bedrock of the Tuck experience. This same message is delivered at Marshall’s orientation from administrators, faculty, second years, and alumni. It is the bargain that first years struck by joining Marshall: They will enjoy the advantages of intensive support from the Trojan Network. In turn, they will be expected to do the same long after.
From the alumni side, it is a “virtuous cycle” where intensive Trojan Network support drives alumni to go above-and-beyond in mentoring and opening doors for the students who follow in their footsteps.
Programs like Tuck rely heavily on outreach to connect the right students with the right alumni. Masland points to his career services operation. They are in constant contact with alumni about returning to conduct educational programming about their industries, roles, and employers. The center performs more personalized and targeted outreach as well. Students can connect with 2,000-3000 alumni across a whole breadth of subsectors based on student interests.
Class bonds lead to engaged alumni. Both are forged during rites of passage: shared experiences that connect students and alumni. At Marshall, that transcendent tradition is PRIME, an international study trip that highlights the core Global Context of Business course. Here, students fan out to rousing locales like Hanoi, Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Buenos Aires. Now 20 years old, the PRIME experience has become the binding experience that brings students and alumni together.
At Tuck, travel also brings together classmates. During winter break, for example, 40-50 “Tuckies” will band together for fun treks to locales like Japan and Brazil, usually led by student hosts from these countries. In fact, Tuck’s trademark closeness has been heavily amplified by the program’s international students. Notably, the school is renowned for its cultural celebrations. For example, the Brazilian cohort hosts an annual Carnivale, replete with dancers and Caipirinhas. Not to be outdone, Indian students put on a Dewali, a fall festival packed with skits and food that quickly turns into a dance party. In February, the Chinese contingent held a dumpling-making party to celebrate the New Year.
Both Marshall and Tuck maintain programs that match up students and alumni, along with setting the stage for alumni responsibilities to come. At Marshall, students participate in a one-on-one program with an alumni mentor. In addition, they attend an in-person event that brought all of these mentors together.
MBA alumni contribute to their alma maters in other ways too. At Tuck, alumni are welcome to speak in classes, a chance for students to pick up real-world practice advice. They are also included in educational activities, such as speaking at the school’s vaunted Private Equity Conference – where alumni traditionally stick around for cocktails and dinner with students. Considering Tuck’s remote locale, the high response rate to such invitations is a testament to the lasting bond between the school and its alumni.
The programs also offer opportunities that condition students to reflexively give back. At Tuck’s Admitted Students Weekend, for example, students run the show, even opening their homes up to candidates to stay overnight and enjoy dinner together. During orientation, this servant leadership is underscored by a community project that takes students out of the Tuck “bubble” to work with a local nonprofit. A cornerstone event would be February’s Tuck Gives, an auction where students help support peers who are going into non-profit or socially-focused summer internships. The donations are often service-related, such as choreography or workout training. In the end, they serve a larger purpose.