Engaging new students remotely through virtual programming
"Students love the Presence mobile app! The first time that was introduced, that was like a really big game changer. Students know that they can basically go there for everything."
It’s easy for student affairs professionals to think that campus life can (and should) become the center of any student’s world. When we plan programs, create new initiatives, and foster micro communities, we like to think that every student who has even the tiniest bit of interest will show up, eager and available to take part.
But we can easily forget to account for one thing: Time — or rather, the lack of it. Students are busy. They hold down jobs, care for their families locally and all across the world, volunteer for causes they care about… and, oh yeah, take classes and study for their degrees.
Harris Public Policy students are perhaps even busier than the world’s average oh-so busy student. Courses and academic requirements at Harris are exceptionally rigorous, plus students are easily (and understandably) dazzled by the many activities awaiting their enjoyment in the Windy City. And, most students graduate in just two years!
All of these factors create a lot of pressure for Harris’s student affairs professionals. They really have to hustle to match their students’ schedules, needs, and ambitions.
“Two years is not a lot of time for students to focus on the student life portion of things. They pretty much have to dive right into a leadership position or an extracurricular opportunity, and then they dive out quickly too when they start to look for a full-time job. It’s a really tight turnaround.” – Brandon Kurzweg
And if you assume that grad students don’t need to be engaged in campus life to become workforce ready nor learn new co-curricular skills to gain confidence, you’d be mistaken.
“From a student development standpoint, I think sometimes there’s a thought from people outside of Harris that like ‘You’re working with graduate students; they must have it all figured out by now.’ But that is just not true whatsoever. – Brandon Kurzweg
Brandon and his teammates continually see students struggle with issues that all humans wrestle with throughout our lives — sense of identity, self-confidence, outlook on the world, and so much more.
So, Harris’s SApro team is constantly considering and reevaluating the department’s role; how can they best support their students? What do students most want and need out of their grad school experience beyond their degrees?
How to engage students quickly and provide them with robust, developmental experiences — these were the core challenges the Harris team struggled with each and every day before partnering with Presence.
With so many responsibilities and opportunities competing for their time, both on campus and beyond, Harris Public Policy students often asked “why?” Why should they get involved in student life? Why should they bother going to an event when they’re swamped with coursework? Why should they join a student organization when they already founded three as an undergraduate?
Well, Presence has helped answer that question.
“Because of the data from Presence, I’ve been able to show a snapshot of what the student experience looks like from a campus life perspective. It’s been the very first time that folks have been able to tangibly see what that’s like.” – Brandon Kurzweg
The SA pro team no longer has to answer the “why”s with “because” or “trust me; it’ll be fun.” They can tell the story of student involvement, showcasing how highly involved students are the most workforce ready and successful in classes.
And using the Presence mobile app has saved students on their most precious commodity: Time. Rather than needing to run from building to building to get a bunch of forms signed or logging on to dozens of websites to check items off of their programming to-do lists, students can rely on Presence as their one tried-and-true stop.
They picked it up extremely quickly, too.
“I especially love love love that students can get customer service support right then and there, on demand through the portal! The fact that that is open to any user I think is great. My student leaders have used it a lot of times without having to go through me first. I don’t have to be a one-man one-stop-shop for everything anymore. Presence is my students’ go-to place now.” – Brandon Kurzweg
The SA pro team is perhaps most in love with the real-time data that’s revealed to them each and every day. They always know which individual students and demographics are not involved, so that they can continually make strategic changes to boost involvement… or even change up individual, in-progress events on the go.
One way that they’ve incentivized involvement is Presence’s points feature. Harris’s points are branded as professional development credits — and they showcase exactly that: How students have grown professionally through co-curricular learning and leadership.
Previously, Brandon and his teammates tracked these credits through a super complex spreadsheet that he called “nightmarish.” Or rather, they tried to track the points this way; it was far too confusing and time-consuming to be accurate.
But now, with Presence, Harris Public Policy is living a data-lover’s dream with 100% accurate, 100% automated data that’s accessible 24/7. Now, that’s a formula for engagement success!
As Harris continues to grow its programs, staff, and student body, the student affairs team needs to understand what precise factors influence engagement. They want all students to be able to convey incredible co-curricular journeys with their potential future employers.
To do this, they’re using Presence to track and measure less obvious factors that may influence engagement. Brandon and his team plan to investigate how time spent with academic advisors correlates with involvement, if certain popular off-campus housing communities have more engaged students than others, and how the number of interactions that a student has with faculty outside of the classroom may play into their engagement.
By knowing all this, Presence will become invaluable to many, many people outside of student activities! Faculty, academic advisors, and housing professionals will be all highly interested in the data Presence provides and eager to adjust their initiatives based on concrete evidence.
“We’re still playing around with what we really want to get out of the combination of these comprehensive data sets. How can we really utilize the data to give us a full spectrum picture of what the student experience is like here? Who’s benefiting and who’s not benefiting? How do very targeted initiatives and programs reach those folks? We’re excited to keep exploring answers and building solutions. We won’t have to just keep making guesses about what works and what doesn’t thanks to Presence..” — Brandon Kurzweg
Brandon and his team also love highlighting the robust connections between campus life experiences. That way, after students attend a single event, they’re enticed to show up for many more! They understand how the experiences offered by Brandon’s team aren’t just a random hodgepodge; they’re highly intentional, working together to guide students through pathways of development.
As with an institution, Harris will surely still face many challenges in engaging students, but the SApro team sees a bright, data-filled future with Presence — all while saving time!
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