Tower Guard’s advisors often hear from past members about how sad they are when their service year ends. They miss being a part of the group, working toward a shared vision and purpose. Each year, the outgoing class talks to the incoming class about how they wish they’d had the time to create a way for past and present Tower Guard members to come together. The Tower Guard service year is a big commitment, however – creating alternative format text, tutoring students with disabilities, advancing disability awareness, engaging in service events, organizing fundraisers and much more. The typical year doesn’t leave much time to dream up and organize a big undertaking like connecting with alumni.
But the 2020-2021 academic year was anything but typical. With the pandemic limiting the activities that Tower Guard members could participate in, this year’s class was given the gift of extra time, and they’ve used it creatively. Like many of us, they formed goals from ideas that they’ve wanted to explore for years, focusing specifically on connecting with Tower Guard alumni.
For almost 90 years, Tower Guard members have pledged to volunteer 120 hours during their second year at MSU toward making our campus more inclusive and equitable for students with disabilities. Service hours are coordinated with the MSU Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities (RCPD), and include reading and scribing exams, creating text and graphics in alternative formats like Braille, electronic text and 3D prints, and engaging in tutoring and study sessions. Social events for both RCPD students and Tower Guard members round out the service year to help build community for all. One of the oldest continuously operating student organizations and the only one to hold a key to an office in Beaumont Tower, Tower Guard is highly regarded at MSU. Each year Tower Guard invites the top academic achievers of the first-year class to apply and selects 70-80 new members.
Laya Silverman, 2020-21 Tower Guard Historian, spearheaded an initiative to accomplish two goals – an online photo album to share past and present Tower Guard memories, and a program for pairing current Tower Guard members with former Tower Guards working in their field of interest. She named it Alumni Connections.
Laya is an MSU Packaging major with a minor in Environmental and Sustainability Studies. With her degree she hopes to design sustainable packaging materials, as well as technologies that make packaging more accessible to everyone, including features such as raised text for those with visual impairments. “In today’s ‘online world,’ we have been separated more than ever before,” Laya said. “With the monotony of online school, it is easy to forget what we are working towards. Alumni outreach has been such an important part of my Tower Guard experience because it reminds me of my ‘greater purpose.’ Tower Guard alumni have used their experience in this organization to do such amazing things and I hope to do the same.”
The Alumni Connections program caught on quickly, with 35 alumni and 42 active members participating during Spring 2021. Alumni mentors shared their journey in the work world, and provided guidance, motivation, support, and role modeling to mentees. They worked together to explore career ideas, set goals, develop contacts, and identify resources. This also allowed mentors to give back to their Tower Guard community and reconnect with the Tower Guard experience, which for many was a life changing one. Laya received a great deal of positive feedback from program participants, who found that sharing a mutual field of interest and Tower Guard experiences helped mentors and mentees form a bond.
Robert, a corporate mentor and 1982-83 Tower Guard alumni, said of his mentee: “He is a very impressive student with great personal and academic stories. I reviewed his resume from my perspective as a long-time Engineering employer. We did some tuning to really let his academic credentials, his work ethic, and high-character service really come through. We also discussed appropriate interview strategies for this stage of his academic career. I have no doubts that as he progresses, he is going to do very well, hopefully I helped him tell his story as effectively as possible.”
The other half of Laya’s initiative, an online photo album, has resulted in a Flickr.com collection containing over 4,000 images and videos, combining dozens of submissions collected by Tower Guard and RCPD staff. To date, 67 past members have connected with the album, and efforts are underway to continue adding photos each year to create a visual story of each Tower Guard class’s experience. Laya has “heard from so many alumni saying how great of an idea this was. This album connects them to some of their most meaningful MSU experiences. We have had responses from as early in the organization as 1952 - those were the responses that gave me chills!”
“Through the work I did with the Tower Guard Alumni Connections program and our Flickr album, I really wanted to strengthen the Tower Guard community.” Laya said. “Tower Guard members in the Alumni Connections program are able to build strong connections within their chosen field that will last a lifetime. With the Flickr album, alumni are able to show their family and friends photos from their time in Tower Guard and look through over eighty years of memories. Alumni outreach is something our advisors have been wanting to do for a while, I was just here in the right time and place. I want to give a huge thank you to our Tower Guard advisors for giving me the resources to launch both of these programs. I would also like to thank Tower Guard’s Treasurer and a good pal of mine, Spencer Richardson, for helping me accomplish these tasks. I would not have been able to do as much as I did without them.”
“One of the most common phrases you hear when joining Tower Guard is “Tower Guard is what you make of it,” Laya continued. “At first, I didn’t really know what this meant. I knew Tower Guard was a community service organization, but I didn’t realize that Tower Guard IS a community. I have become friends with some of the coolest, smartest, and most dedicated students at MSU. We not only know how to have a good time, but we also have had really meaningful conversations about what accessibility looks like at MSU. I have learned so much from my Tower Guard experience and am forever grateful.”
To find out more about Tower Guard, visit the Tower Guard website at https://www.msutowerguard.org/ or the RCPD Tower Guard page at https://www.rcpd.msu.edu/programs/towerguard. Tower Guard also has active social media accounts on Instagram (@msutowerguard), Facebook (@TowerGuardFamily), and Twitter (@MSUTowerGuard).