Creating a One-College Student Experience Across Four Campuses
“Switching to virtual programming has completely saved our campus life. And Presence alleviated many of the headaches that I feared would come from it. The pandemic has presented major challenges to all of us — students and staff — but the tools that I’ve been able to learn and customize through Presence have brought us many unexpected rewards.”
Campus life has many staples that student affairs professionals have traditionally turned to: Set up tables for student organizations, pass out fliers on the quad, and offer free food — the cheesier the pizza, the better. Boom, done. The students will be engaged, right?
Well, that sounds perfectly fine in theory, but National Louis University had long found these classic efforts not to be enough. They had “meh” responses from students, not “wow”s. And in March 2020, even the most basic programs became downright impossible due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Suddenly, having virtual offerings became not just a nice-to-have supplemental idea; it became an urgent need. Marquece Holifield and her teammates needed to build virtual campus communities and programs, or the entire campus community would be non-existent for the foreseeable future.
Now, it must be noted that Marquece and her colleagues love a good challenge. They’re an enthusiastic bunch who’ve happily barreled through plenty of barriers before. It’s just that the pandemic presented obstacles unlike any others before it.
It seemed like they would have to have to redesign many of their long-trusted processes. Talk about overwhelming!
“We were already understaffed and each wore a dozen hats. When COVID hit, it was like ‘oh, we need to exchange out our entire wardrobe for twenty new hats?! It seemed ridiculous, but I knew we had to do something. We couldn’t abandon our students; we just had to abandon our usual practices.” — Marquece Holifield
Fortunately, all it took to vanquish Marquece’s understandable sense of doom and gloom was a phone call. After speaking with her Happiness Expert, she was inspired to use Presence in new ways, utilizing industry-leading tools she already had access to — tools that were designed with virtual engagement in mind from the get-go.
So, over just a few weeks, Marquece and her teammates — in her own office and beyond — worked to design a robust catalog of virtual programming.
They were super proud of their progress (if they must say so themselves) but one unknown factor remained: The students. Would they find virtual engagement to be, well, engaging? After all, it had never been tested at National Louis before.
Fortunately, students steadily trickled in — not merely attending the programs but fully participating and praising them! They especially adore the flexibility that virtual programming offers. Students can attend events and complete co-curricular courses at their own time, place, and pace. Working a part-time job, caring for children, or sleeping at odd hours doesn’t disqualify any student from robust engagement; on-demand programming is designed with exactly those concerns in mind!
“Students who couldn’t participate at all are now able to! No one is ‘too busy’ because our programs are too flexible to accept that as an excuse. Presence has made all the difference in making virtual engagement a benefit, rather than a barrier.” — Marquece Holifield
But having the gusto to go out and create virtual programming didn’t alone lead to a successful semester for National Louis. All of their efforts were powered by Presence — tying together the creation, promotion, and assessment of virtual programming in one intuitive platform. Presence tools have allowed National Louis to truly thrive within its new virtual reality rather than merely survive.
“Once students get a hold of the Presence mobile app, they get really excited. They gush about things like ‘Oh, I can add things to my calendar! I can look every day and see what’s going on on campus. I can plug the whole week in!’ The student buy-in has been amazing.” — Marquece Holifield
Students can easily find out about upcoming live events, as well on-demand streaming content, via National Louis’s Presence portal. And staff love that they can automatically track attendance (through Presence’s new integration with Zoom) then gain insightful assessment data from it.
Gamification has played a particularly big role in motivating students to attend their first virtual programs and keep coming back. Marquece and her team can embed videos, quizzes, and reflections right into each experience, allowing students to test their own learning and earn prizes based on points that are automatically calculated by Presence’s software.
Event check-ins have also been simplified. All attendance is now tracked automatically through Presence’s new Zoom/Team integration — saving staff lots of time and giving them access to great real-time analytics.
Finally, Marquece treasures the fact that Presence’s Happiness Team was ready and eager to guide and inspire her throughout the virtual transition. They proactively encouraged her to think boldly and get creative in using Presence’s progressive, industry-leading tools to amplify virtual student engagement.
“Franklin, our Happiness Expert, is a phenomenal partner. It’s more than just a business relationship. We’ve developed this very professional friendship in which we frequently catch up on life and what’s going on. But also because of his in-depth student affairs knowledge, when I’m trying to figure out how we can meet a challenge, adapt to a different way of working, or create a solution in Presence, he’s right there with me. He has the forethought to offer great ideas that are realistic, too.” — Marquece Holifield
Thanks to Presence, Marquece didn’t have to toss out everything she had ever learned about student affairs; she merely had to adapt it. It even gave many of her colleagues in other departments the pushes they needed to embrace innovation and get creative in meeting the ever-changing needs of today’s students.
Everyone at the institution is now able to focus on creating immersive and power programs rather than worrying about the logistics and if students are going to show up.
Because New Student Orientation 2020 was fully virtual (run through Presence!), Presence has been integral to every new student from the very beginning of their campus life journey. That means that in the next few months and years, using Presence will be second nature to them.
Soon, students will intrinsically know that the mobile portal is the place to look for upcoming events, student org opportunities, leadership election polls, event registration forms, budget requests, and more. Paper forms and overly complex processes will seem laughably antiquated, weak shadows of the far superior solutions that students will quickly become used to.
“Students are basically already addicted to adding things to their calendars. I hear it every day; they’re so excited about how easy it is and what’ll mean for them student orgs and individual learning moving forward. Oh and I love love love that we had a lot of aesthetic control in how our portal was built, in what it looks like. I know that that’ll be huge in other departments getting on-board, too.” – Marquece Holifield
Marquece also plans to utilize Presence’s experiences feature (already one of her favorite tools) for virtual community service. This will allow her to build a catalog of service-learning opportunities and automatically award students certificates, points, and prizes — plus measure their attainment of skills, all complemented by Presence’s service-learning tracking feature.
The COVID-19 pandemic threw a major wrench into National Louis’s path, but thanks to the student affairs team’s willingness to experiment with new ideas, empowered and informed by tech, the campus community is using that wrench to build a campus community that’s stronger than ever before — even from students’ mobile devices.
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