A pair of Jasper High School grads headed up a group to create a new platform designed to connect Jasper alumni around the world to each other and, hopefully, back home.
Noah Bawel and Luke Hochgesang visited home last summer before heading out to work in Chicago and Austin. Bawel had graduated from Rose Hulman and Hochgesang from IU and they two were getting ready to head to their careers but felt in their downtime, they could contribute something to their home community.
“We had some downtime and just wondered how we could give back to the community that has been so instrumental in our success,” Hochgesang said.
The pair has been friends since 6th grade when, according to Hochgesang, they met in band and he realized Bawel had a stocked fishing pond. “I love fishing so the connection was made,” he laughed.
Fast friends through school, the pair helped establish a mentorship group while performing well scholastically and applying themselves to extracurricular activities. They understood the need for networking and mentorship connections early on in their lives.
Along the same line, an idea based on their own struggles with networking and finding connections at college as well as the cities where their careers were taking them formed. How could they connect with Jasper alumni either at home or around the world to find assistance in their careers or even in moving to a new city?
Local officials have recognized that students typically leave the area for college and then don’t return until they are starting families. Population demographics show a precipitous drop at about 18 to 19 years old and then around 28, those populations begin to come back up.
While some do return, many don’t as they settle into the communities where they launch their careers. Economic development groups have understood that a connection to home with links to potential careers here could be a factor in addressing the lack of workforce in the area as well as bringing talent back. However, the process of creating a link has remained an unsolved part of the problem.
Hochgesang and Bawel identified two types of people that graduated from Jasper High School; Frisbees and boomerangs. Frisbees leave and never come back and boomerangs return home.
“We want to turn more Frisbees into boomerangs but we also understand that not everyone wants to return to the area,” Hochgesang explained. “So, can we help other frisbees land next to each other?”
To do so, the platform connects these individuals based on their single geographic connection, Jasper. This makes networking easier and can ease transitions for other frisbees as they head to other areas of the country.
In addition to the website, gradgrid.org, the nonprofit will produce an annual newsletter and host an annual get-together for members. Plans are in development for future meetups but the first is scheduled to occur Sunday, December 23 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Brew. The first newsletter comes out on December 10.
By adding the newsletter and meetup, the pair hopes to continue to keep Jasper front-of-mind for individuals living outside of the community. Local industry, government and economic groups will have the ability to send out information like jobs and new business incentives to hopefully, attract this talent back to the area.
An additional benefit is that it creates a database of grads with a connection to the area that could be drawn upon for mentorship and talent acquisition.
After coming up with the idea, the pair gained support from the school corporation, local industry, economic development groups and government officials fairly quickly.
“The momentum of the growth of this program is a true testament to how invested people are in their community here,” Hochgesang said.
The two drew upon their own network of friends with the technological skills necessary to build the platform out. Some are still in college while a couple are still at Jasper High School. They also relied on some guidance from graduates living outside the community.
The first launch is designed for Jasper but the pair has plans to add more schools in the future.
If you are a Jasper grad, sign up for the service is easy and can be done by visiting the homepage of the site and clicking a button labeled “Join Your Wildcat Family Today.”