College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Alumni Blue Chip Network bridges gap between undergraduate students and seasoned professionals

“There’s nothing more powerful than feeling like you are part of a community.”

That’s Steven Bell’s philosophy. Bell, a senior lecturer of agricultural and biosystems engineering, wanted to close the gap between alumni and undergraduate students. So he founded the Blue Chip Network (BCN) earlier this year. The network of more than 80 professionals has grown since the group’s founding earlier in 2019, and it is a unique tool for students as they begin to understand the ins and outs of industry.

This is how it works: Bell leads interactive classes where he will call up alums and ask them to walk the class (who is all in on the conference video) through their day.

“I want to catch alumni in the normal course of the day,” Bell said. “I dial them up. They’re on the big screen in front of 100 people.  I ask, ‘Hey, just curious, what are you doing today?’ There’s nothing prepared. I want the current students to see what they would be doing in a typical day.”

Upon graduation, seniors are invited to join the BCN on LinkedIn. Those who are involved receive a chip that resembles a challenge coin used in the military.

“My sons are in the military,” Bell said. “For them, a challenge coin is an award. Why can’t we do something similar for our graduating seniors? Give them a challenge, when they graduate, to not let go of us and instead to give back.”

The challenge coin is inscribed with the motto, “Reaching back to pay it forward.”  “Servant leader” is etched into the gold and blue chip.

“To be a leader, you must help other people,” Bell said. “We are encouraging that idea with the Blue Chip Network. If you want to make a difference – influence the ones who are coming after you—you have to give back.”

The Blue Chip Network is relatively new, but has already had a massive effect on both students and alumni. Students are able to grow professionally through seeing future career opportunities, and alumni stay connected to their peers and serve as mentors. Bell said it best: “There’s nothing more powerful than feeling like you are part of a community.”