It was Justin Whittle’s first time in Europe, when he arrived in Goettingen back in 2019. Justin is an Australian Master Student for Sustainable International Agriculture (SIA) who did not have any connections and networks here before. Moreover, the majority of his fellow students in the SIA program were internationals and found themselves in the same situation. The 10th anniversary of the program inspired Justin to found an official alumni chapter and create a sustainable community of former and current SIA students. We spoke with Justin about how to build a community like this and why it is important.

You are a full-time Master student. How do you manage to combine your studies with your volunteering activities for the SIA Alumni network?
This was a mammoth task to organise because firstly, I was a fulltime studying student and secondly, due to the new EU data protection laws. However, I was determined to make this happen so I made a small working group with the ex- SIA coordinator and staff in Goettingen. Our small team of three worked on alumni chapter for 10 months trying to organise the logistics and formalities with stakeholders, alumni associations and receive the approval from the faculty and the dean of studies. I have been voluntarily working on SIA Alumni for 18 months now between my studies. This is not easy to do alone. That is why I always surrounded myself with a supportive team.

When did you launch the SIA Alumni network?
We had an official alumni launch event on 18th October 2019 in Goettingen with a guest talk and professors. It was such an amazing evening and after we have been growing and growing organically. Since the launch, and 8 months later we have had over 300 SIA Alumni from over 40 countries registered with us. They have reconnected with us on Facebook, LinkedIn and through our website. We are constantly reconnecting old graduates and the alumni is getting stronger.

Do you have a specific agenda for it?
We promote exclusive job opportunities, mentorship advice, webinars, entrepreneurship and research collaborations. Our goal is to build an alumni network that makes its contribution for the food secure future in accordance to the SDG goals.
What does motivate you to invest so much time and effort into this network? And what is so special about it?

It has been an experiment over the past 18 months and everything in alumni is voluntary. It can be very difficult balancing study life with alumni. However it has been one of the most rewarding parts of my SIA experience and time here in Goettingen. I work voluntarily because when you start a project like this, you begin to understand that the network is incredible and the opportunities, mentorship and talent from alumni are priceless.
Our program is mostly international, around 60-70% of alumni come from out of Europe. Hence, the SIA program feels more like a family then an alumni group. Many alumni and students rely on SIA as their second family when studying in Germany and that is why our bond and connection is strong. People who graduate SIA go to work in very successful roles and are very appreciative of the opportunity to study here in Goettingen. Hence the SIA family is now a global family and one that I am so humbled to be a part of thanks to my time here in Gottingen.
I highly encourage any student like myself to consider investing time into forming an alumni chapter or participating in one that already exists.

If there are any SIA-alumni among your readers, we highly appreciate if they contact us via e-mail or our Facebook, LinkedIn or webpage. Our website:

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