An Inside Look at MIT Student Chapter's Corporate Sponsorship Program

Over one-third of AIChE Student Chapters receive funding from corporate sponsors. Many of these chapters attest that their corporate sponsorship program is their most effective source of income. The AIChE Student Chapter at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has allowed us an inside look into their successful corporate sponsorship programs. Selected answers appear below. 

Describe your sponsorship program.

Every fall semester, our AIChE chapter organizes and hosts an Industrial Networking Series. We put together a program of information sessions (with free dinner provided!) featuring seven to ten companies spanning pharmaceutical, energy, and consumer products industries. These companies tend to be larger corporations that fly out from across America to participate in the fall campus career fair. Once company representatives agree to host with us, we ask that they make a suggested donation to help support our chapter. We’ve also recently started a spring ChemE-exclusive career fair for the spring semester. We invite many local startups in the greater Boston area to provide students with additional opportunities for networking and job-searching. We’ve found that this timeline works best because the recruiting schedule for startups tend to extend later in the year. We typically don’t ask for a donation in these cases, but companies are still encouraged to donate. Resources from our corporate sponsors are used to support the AIChE Chem-E-Car Competition®, student-faculty interaction, freshmen engagement, intercollegiate bonding, and various other academic enrichment programs.

Approximately how much funding per student chapter member does your sponsorship program bring in?

We typically net ~$4,000 from our sponsorship program every year, and these resources finance many programs that impact approximately 150 undergraduate chemical engineering students (about $25 per person).

What student-held positions are involved in the sponsorship program and what role do they play?

The vice president of external affairs oversees the corporate relations function by setting sponsorship targets, drafting sponsorship letters, and coordinating AIChE initiatives with the department career administrator. The corporate relations co-chairs interact with company representatives, organize logistics, and ensure that the company information sessions run smoothly. The treasurer handles finances and works with the ChemE department to determine budgets for each committee. A corporate relations chair typically assumes the new role of vice president of external affairs during each board election for the next academic year, which has really helped in maintaining good relationships with our sponsors.

What steps do you take to retain sponsors? What is your sponsor retention rate like?

Our sponsor retention rate is close to 100%. Once new board members are elected, our new corporate relations chairs connect with company representatives to facilitate university relations throughout the entire year. By the time our information sessions take place, our board members have developed a great relationship with the recruiter, which makes it easier to re-invite them the following year.

In your experience, what do sponsors most often seek from the sponsorship?

Many of our sponsors are very enthusiastic about recruiting students for internships or full-time jobs. As a result, our chapter uses the donations to provide stronger academic programs and career development opportunities that promote technical and leadership development. In particular, these initiatives may help students prepare for a successful career with these companies.

How have you changed your sponsorship program over the years?

While the sponsorship program initially started out as a way to fund our student chapter events, it has since grown into an effort that emphasizes career opportunities for undergraduate students. As a result, we have reached out to smaller companies for spring semester recruiting with the primary goal of helping our students gain industry experience early on.

What advice or insight can you provide for a student chapter starting a corporate sponsorship program?

Reaching out to alumni is a great way to build up a network and establish friendly university relations—this is key to ensuring sponsorship retention. Maintaining the close relationship with a sponsor is a major challenge, especially as student chapter board members graduate. When starting a program, be sure to continue correspondence with the same company representative throughout the years. (You may also want to consider requesting a smaller donation until the relationship has developed). Furthermore, be sure to emphasize the positive impact of the sponsorship on student engagement​ and professional development, because it will help convince companies of the value their resources would bring to your chapter.

Does geographical location or local industry seem to play a part in which companies are interested in sponsoring your student chapter?

If you are looking for sponsors outside your local geographical area, definitely consider hosting your information sessions in-season with your university career fair. Many company representatives understandably request to host an information session around this time, because it helps them with the on-campus recruiting process. Because of this, it is important to reach out to potential sponsors three to four months in advance (but check to make sure you are compliant with your university policy).

Industries local to your university are an especially great asset, especially with the alumni network. It is also possible that professors have collaborated on research projects with many of these companies, so it would worthwhile to ask your advisor about any potential contacts.

Has your student chapter experienced any difficulties finding corporate sponsorship due to the chemical engineering department’s size?

We have a grand total of 150 students enrolled in ChemE. Although we faced some challenges in establishing new corporate relationships, we were able to work around this because chemical engineering is such an interdisciplinary field. Be sure to be upfront about being open to advertising the information session with graduate students, academic society mailing lists, (i.e., SWE, SHPE, NSBE, etc), and other majors (MechE, MatSci, BioE, Chem).

For more information about MIT AIChE, please visit its website.