Advancement

Want to Better Serve Students? Design With Empathy: Reflecting on ListenUp EDU 2019

Want to Better Serve Students? Design With Empathy: Reflecting on ListenUp EDU 2019

Did the last conference you attended have a dance interlude? How about an artist in residence? A jazz musician? Was every session interdisciplinary and interactive?

I could go on, but rather than list all the things that set ListenUp EDU, the conference we hosted two weeks ago with Campus Sonar, I suggest you browse the #ListenUpEDU hashtag on Twitter and Instagram yourself.

ListenUp was about, well, listening—listening to students, to alumni, and to our teams in higher education in order to better serve our constituents and create change within our institutions.

If you’re interested in hearing about what’s in store for Listen Up 2020, sign up for the mailing list on the conference site and we’ll keep you posted. For the benefit of those who didn’t make it to ListenUp this year, I’ve tried to summarize the conference in four points.

How the University of Maryland Engages Previously Unengaged Alumni with Online Book Clubs

How the University of Maryland Engages Previously Unengaged Alumni with Online Book Clubs

If you could meaningfully engage hundreds of alumni who had never interacted with your institution before with a program that didn’t require staff time to run, you would, right?

We probably all would. But that might not stop us from being skeptical if we were told that the program that could do that is a virtual book club.

But the proof of the book club is in the reading. Jeff Williams, Associate Executive Director of Engagement and Outreach at the University of Maryland Alumni Association, and his team launched four book clubs in July and reached nearly 2,000 alumni in 46 states almost right away. Over a quarter of those had never engaged with the alumni association before. And they did it all with minimal staff time by partnering with an outside company to handle the program.

What is Design Thinking, Anyway? And Why Should We in Higher Ed Care?

What is Design Thinking, Anyway? And Why Should We in Higher Ed Care?

If you’ve attended a conference or read articles or, well, done anything, really, in the past few years you’ve likely heard of something called “design thinking.” And if you’re anything like me, you’ve turned your nose up at what seems to be the latest fad out of Silicon Valley.

But design thinking is not business-school jargon. It isn’t pretentious, or fake, or overhyped. It’s actually useful—yes, even to higher ed, with all its quirks.

Here's why.

Hello, We’re People: How Losing Weight Made Me Appreciate the Value of Community in Creating Meaningful Change

Hello, We’re People: How Losing Weight Made Me Appreciate the Value of Community in Creating Meaningful Change

Change is hard. (See: Newton’s first law of motion). And humans are inherently lazy and creatures of habit. If there is more than one way to do something complex, we will almost always take the easy route. That, or shove it in a drawer so we won’t have to look at it.

So when I decided I wasn’t happy with the way I was looking and feeling about my weight for the umpteenth time, I held on tight to my inertia until a friend invited me to a Weight Watchers meeting. 

Why You Should Beware Scores, Predictive Algorithms, and Other Mathematical Mumbo Jumbo

Why You Should Beware Scores, Predictive Algorithms, and Other Mathematical Mumbo Jumbo

There are, the saying goes, three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

We tend to think about that axiom in the context of politics, where people willfully manipulate numbers to suit their beliefs and goals. But statistical analyses in any context are only as perfect as the people who perform them—which is to say that none of them are.

The predictive scores, algorithms, and other mathematical tools that advancement and alumni teams are increasingly using to evaluate alumni engagement and likelihood to make a gift often obscure reality and, as a result, counterproductively warp our priorities and strategies.

Every engagement or affinity score, or algorithm, or survey result is one or more steps removed from reality. What happens to these numbers in the intervening steps is what makes them powerful, but it is also what should make us wary. Here’s why.