Josie: What’s up? Josie and The Podcast listeners, and welcome to season three. I am Dr. Josie Ahlquist and thank you so much for tuning in for this episode. The goal of Josie and the Podcast is to connect tech and leadership, with heart, soul, sass and lots of substance.
Josie and The Podcast is sponsored by Campus Sonar, who is more to me and the show than a sponsor. They have been a true partner, which is actually their approach to the campuses they support through social listening.
You see, social listening is the modern higher educations professional’s tool to inform strategic, authentic and consistent engagement efforts. Your campus will immediately see a difference. But the real value is over the long term. It supports the higher education institution of the future, driving strategic efforts to help you reach your institutional goals. They have a new e-book, The Higher Ed Social Listening Handbook, and it’s my go-to resource. I’ve cited it in blogs, my book and yes, even this podcast. Which has tips to conduct social listening, including a strategic model, key metrics and over a dozen campus cases studies, on things like crisis management, student engagement, brand management, influencer marketing and audience research. You can download it today at info.campussonar.com/podcast.
Now, on to what you’ve tuned in for, this week’s guest.
Our guest this week is Dr. Jason L. Meriwether, Vice President for Student Success at Rhode Island College. Prior to this role, Jason was the Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs at Indiana University Southeast. In 2016 he was named to the Southern Indiana Business Source 20 under 40 classes of 2016 and 2014. He was also selected to the Louisville’s Business First Top 40 Under 40. Jason earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication from the University of Louisville, earned his Master of Arts degree in Psychology from Fisk University, and earned his PhD in Educational Administration with a specialization in Higher Ed Leadership from Indiana State University. Jason’s contributed to a number of publications, books and conferences, including topics like hazing prevention, digital engagement and student retention and persistence.
As you’ll learn in this episode Jason is an amazing mentor and good friend of mine, so we had a lot of fun chatting in this episode. It’s also obvious from his social feeds, things like he loves his family and is deeply invested in his campus community. With all of his activity on social media, he even jokes he doesn’t know how he keeps so active, but nonetheless he’s an impressive example of a digital leader in higher education. He’s got this authentic blend of his work life integration and is committed to data inform efforts to support student success.
We also geek out about eSports and gaming, Star Wars and yes, even professional wrestling. So let Jason and I know your thoughts about this episode and if you’re joining us today you can find me on Twitter and Instagram at @JosieAhlquist. And Jason’s got a couple of platforms which you can find in the show notes. That first one is at @jlmeriwether06 and at @ricvpss. Remember all the resources, people, content that we chat about are located in those show notes, found at Josie Ahlquist.com/podcast. Enjoy.
Thank you for joining. Been a minute since we’ve caught up. Good thing for social, I feel like I know everything that you’ve been up to. But I’m sure we’re going to get into a lot of goodness on the podcast today. Talking about social and knowing what you’ve been up to, a new question I’ve added is to talk about your most recent post, on Twitter, on Instagram. Tell us a little story about what you posted last.
Jason: My most recent post? Well you know I post so much …
Josie: You do …
Jason: We just posted today about a new initiative that our new Vice President for Advancement actually came up with, just to do a little school spirit in college colors. So we just created a new campaign for new and returning students to make Friday sort of a real spirit day, and today was the inaugural day for that so the President was out on the quad and took photos with students wearing RIC colors and faculty and staff.
Other than the retweet of baby Groot, the most recent work related post … well, the baby Groot was work related too because that’s a cool event tonight that’s happening in our Student Union, we’re playing Guardians of the Galaxy on the quad, on the big screen, doing sort of a drive in on campus. So that’s why we did the baby Groot.
Before the baby Groot the other tweet was just a photo of us and members of our team just rocking the RIC spiritwear. Of course me being me, you have to see I’m rocking the RIC ankle socks, that’s a big part of it. And we’re going to every Thursday make that a college colors day and make that a big part of our school spirit.
Josie: Nice. The superhero kind of geek culture does carry over to the brand of you, too. I remember seeing May the Fourth Be With You, and some other fun stuff that may come up later.
Jason: I do that every year. May the Fourth is the thing.
Jason: I’m all about Star Wars and I kid you not, I had lunch today, my wife and she was driving. And so, she looks at me and says, “What are you doing on your phone? Are you catching up on emails?” And I said, “No, I’m actually watching The Last Jedi on Netflix becomes it’s there.” It’s so …
Josie: Oh my goodness …
Jason: I was watching the epic battle between Kylo Ren and Luke Skywalker when he force projected himself across the universe. So that was my car ride. Yeah, my nerd life is a big part of me and it does play out in the digital presence. But it’s cool, you know.
Speaking of that, really one of my favorite groups to interact with on campus are college gamers. They’re just such a fabric of every college society. In fact, in each of my high level administrative positions, I’ve always made sure that the college has a game lounge. I’ve actually been able to be a part of the construction or development or renovation or something to create game lounges so those students have space. Because you’ll see the gamers, in a room trying to play Twilight Imperium, or playing Mario Kart or Smash Brothers, really getting deep down in gaming and having to do that in a space that doesn’t really … you know, like there’s a TV there. But it’s not their space and so creating that gaming lounge has been cool.
I’ve been at Rhode Island College for a year and my first order of business was to turn the space in the Student Union into a game lounge. So now, they’re in there playing Fortnite. I got to come in there and play with them, so I can beat them.
But yeah, even when I give my talks to high school students, it’s like, “Okay, who wants to be a physician? Who wants to be an attorney? Who wants to play sports? All right, where my gamers?” And I remember years ago when I started doing that, you had one person raise their hand, kind of quietly look around.
And now, I say, “Where are my gamers,” and you get 15, 20 students who are excited about it and that’s a part of the community. You see a lot of my visual engagement, either tweeting the gamers or posting and tagging them on Instagram, or I’m at their events.
In fact, last year the gamers had an event. My game is 007 Goldeneye. I also have Nintendo 64, so they hooked one up. Somebody challenged me and of course, I vanquished them. Yeah …
Josie: I’m so glad you brought this up. In a previous podcast, I got talking about Twitch and eSports and literally you can turn your gaming skills into your main source of income if you wanted, right?
Jason: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Josie: And just for you to ask that question, where are my gamers, that’s really cool that you could acknowledge that as a legitimate thing. I am horrible at video games. You’re like … it’s natural to you, that’s what you do, so I think it feels authentic.
Jason: I don’t just do it, but I win, but yeah, that’s true. And so … yeah, it’s funny because we’re actually working on eSports. We just hired a new Assistant Vice President Dean of Students and when we set our priorities for her first year, and we talked about what we wanted to achieve. eSports is a part of it actually. My President is committed to it and we’re actually looking in our capital planning, and in our master planning for the campus, getting a space for eSports on campus as we set this up and join a league. That’s a huge part of the campus and so I’m excited to see it created that way. So yeah, you can go on Twitch and see what’s happening.
Right now, I actually think they’re in Seattle today. I looked at Twitch a little while earlier just to see what was happening. I think they’re doing some gaming right from Seattle. And I want to have that on our campus. Can you imagine that?
Josie: Oh yeah.
Jason: Having the live stream from Rhode Island College. We want to be a part of that because that’s where students dwell and we have to be in those spaces. Your Vice President’s a gamer, a game lover and a gamer and a little bit nerd too, it all works out.
Josie: I’m totally going to keep my eyes on that. That’s really cool.
Jason: Maybe that’ll get me back on the podcast next year, it’d be cool.
Josie: Yeah, yeah. Maybe we’ll stream on Twitch I guess, I don’t …
Jason: There you go.
Josie: Well, your roots within tech, at least how we meet each other, was we were both blogging, I don’t know, 2013, 2014, we were really interacting a lot on Twitter with all kinds of different student affairs, higher ed professionals, but we were both blogging about social media and higher ed. What originally drew you in to this potential for digital engagement in higher ed?
Jason: You’re going to laugh at this. I’ve actually been doing the social media thing really for a long time. Even before the blogging began. Because one of my passion points is really college liability of policy. And so, back in the mid-2000s just as … that’s when there was like, Black Planet and College Club and MySpace, all of those are antiquated and gone now.
But even when Facebook was like a thing where you had to have a dot edu, and if you look at the development of that, there were these cases where colleges were getting in trouble because they were mishandling student conduct issues on social media, in it’s framing.
And so, you had the Maciej Murakowski case at University of Delaware. Thomas Hayden Barnes versus Zaccari, he was the President of Valdosta State. And there were some cases like that.
Even in my alma mater, University of Louisville, there was the Nina Yoder case, a nursing student who posted some really not friendly but interesting things on MySpace around describing students, describing their student teaching, describing patients, and really saying some unflattering things.
Those are some of the early cases where institutions really struggled with how to deal with that. That’s really where social media began for me. At the time, I was the Assistant Dean of Students, handling conduct and the real question was can we use this stuff in a judicial case, like what someone posts?
And now, everyone talks about First Amendment issues. [Fire 00:12:43] is a dominant entity in the First Amendment game as it relates to college. Whether you agree with them or disagree with them, they’re there and they have a perspective, and they have insight and influence. When Fire was first really moving into language around the digital space, so I was researching all of that. Just to try to frame policy.
And I remember I presented at a conference … Gosh, I swear to you, I think this was maybe 2006, 2007, maybe 2008, I don’t know, but I presented at a conference about all these cases that were happening. And I remember everyone was saying, “Well wow, we’re going to slow down the Internet so YouTube doesn’t work. We just don’t Facebook on our campuses.”
And so, my introduction to social media was really from a policy standpoint, before I ever even had my own social media account. And then, I remember the day in undergrad, when Yahoo went public and somebody told me about stock and I did that. But outside of that, that’s really where it began for me. That evolved into saying, “Wow, this isn’t just a policy issue, this isn’t just a way to figure out how to navigate or mitigate challenges, but this is really where students are going to be.”
Do you remember that thing, JuicyCampus? Do you remember that?
Josie: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Oh yeah.
Jason: How wild that was, and I remember there was some institutions, maybe we shouldn’t call them by name, that had some really wild stuff happening on JuicyCampus. It went down during the 2008 presidential election. And there were campuses where all these racial things being posted, attack faculty, students going at each other. And remember, it was all anonymous.
So again, there was this scramble for like, how do you deal with that from a policy standpoint? There was real damage being done to students. Even then, the question became how can we do positive things? How can we actually interact with students? It kind of grew from there.
Josie: That’s interesting, you first approaching it through that policy problem solving perspective. But with the lens of possibilities. I think sometimes those two things don’t always come in the same package. Both those philosophies at the same time.
Jason: Yeah, you’re absolutely right, Josie. It’s funny because going back to your … because we meet at, is it NAFSA-
Jason: … the first time?
Jason: It was NAFSA. We were in Baltimore and I had my groupie moment. It was like, I met you and met Ed Cabellon. We had engaged on the SA chat, do you remember?
Jason: Every Thursday, we would go on SA chat and we engaged. And then, I remember someone in your family was ill, and I DM’d you like, “Hey, I saw you post about this. Is everything okay?” And then we kind of started talking from there.
And then, Ed Cabellon, Ed is like the Ice Cube of higher education social media. He’s like one of the original founders and framers. I remember I met Ed there. I walked up like, “Oh my God, you’re Ed Cabellon. Can I shake your hand? Can I look at you? What can we do?” … Trying not be creepy but you know, it’s like, “Wow, you’re Ed Cabellon, on the go,” yeah, you know. And all of us just connected. And now, you’re like my digital sister. It’s nice.
Josie: You were Vice President at the time and just so real. Like, literally who you were on Twitter, that’s how you were showing up at a conference.
But you’re this opposite too. Mentorship is huge to you. You’re a main instigator of why I started this business, like really making it legitimate. But I know there’s dozens of other young professionals, mid levels, but even executive levels that you’ve mentored and coached and sponsored.
So it always goes both ways. I know we’re getting off topic about social, but it’s just really cool to see that whole package, where how you show up in all those places …
Jason: Here’s the thing: I appreciate what you said. Thank you very much for that, Josie. Because what we do is … social media has to amplify who you are, amplify your personality, not falsify it. And if we can do digital media and get out there and engage and … like your students see this.
It’s funny, I had a freshman walk up to me like, “Hey, you’re like the Vice President on Instagram.” And it’s like, yeah, I’m not Doctor anybody, I’m the Vice President of Instagram. That’s cool.
Josie: That’s awesome.
Jason: But they see that and they know that. I went to see Black Panther. I have a personal Instagram, and they’re like, “RIC VPSS, follow me at R-I-C-V-P-S-S. You’ll see cool stuff about Rhode Island College. Share this plug.
But with that in mind, seriously … And I’ll have a student who’ll see me and say like, “This is cool.” We went to see Black Panther and I posted a picture of my family all doing Wakanda forever by the Black Panther sign. And it was cool, I got my comic book t-shirts on. ‘Cause I never thought that movie would even exist in my time. I’ve got my comic book t-shirts that I had before the revolution last year of Black Panther or earlier this year.
But I’m saying all that to say that what’s wild about that is that when I posted my picture of my kids and my family, that meant a lot to students to just say like, “Oh wow, this is cool. You’re doing stuff for RIC and you go to movies, too.” Like, yeah … so students talk to me about that.
The trick is I try not to stalk them and be in their stuff. I post content about the college, and I’ll like some things but I try not to be in stuff so they don’t feel that I’m doing too much in their space. And I promise that in orientation. I’m not going to be stalking you and all in what you do.
So it’s cool. When they meet me, they have to be the same, I have to be the same. And same thing at a conference. You cite people in your research and your publications and the books coming out soon, right? Yeah, I’m proud of you.
But as we do this stuff it’s really important that when people meet us we’re the same. You’ve had people that you’ve cited, you’ve met, same as me, and you meet them, it’s like, “Wow, you’re amazing.”
And then sometimes it’s like, “Wow, you can really write a good book. Meeting you? Not so much.” Right? And I don’t ever want to be that person. And so you got to be authentic. But yeah, it has to amplify your identity, not falsify it. And if live by that, things work out.
Josie: And students sniff that out. And I appreciate you bringing up how you make that statement when you tell your community that hey, you can follow me. It actually is … I got thinking about it … kind of a big ask to ask a teen or young adult to do that because, like you had said, they’re first thought might be, “Well, are they going to go into my business,” right? Like, “Why? Am I going to get in trouble all of a sudden because I’m conducting with them on Instagram?”
So you kind of have to have this social proof of both showing up, genuine, and then really not … being on the platform for the wrong reasons.
Jason: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Josie: Even though my research shows students are not doing all those terrible things that we think they are, even though we see that stuff in the news, it’s not every single young-
Jason: Well they do that on their Finstagram and not their Instagram.
Josie: Right. Or maybe like a … yeah, Snapchat. And we don’t want to be connected on those.
Jason: Yeah, I don’t want to be a Snapchat. Yeah, I don’t want to be in that at all. I have teenagers. I definitely don’t want to be in Snapchat land.
But you’re right though, Josie. Students have to know that if we’re interacting with them, they have to know that we’re not trying to, as you said, be in their business. But that it’s really about pushing out content.
And they see themselves. It’s such a humbling thing. Like, I grew up on a tobacco farm. I’m from Kentucky. I’m sure everyone here is like, I’m clearly not from New York, I’m am so from Kentucky. The southern accent and twang is real.
It’s like, if a student walks up to me and says, “Hey, I want to take a picture with you to post,” that’s humbling. To this day, every time, that’s an honor. And then, when you put that engagement out there, it does open up.
I had a student DM me recently about a facility issue that they were having. And they didn’t talk to their RA, they didn’t talk to their RD or the housing team. They DM’d me. And I was like, “Okay, we’ll take care of that. I’ll send an email,” and got a response for them. And that’s cool, and that’s the space. If a student wants to engage, we have to be in those spaces.
But we have to be ourselves. And we can’t be creepy or weird either.
Josie: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jason: We have to be ourselves.
Josie: Right. And how we would define professional or appropriate someone DM’ing us, well actually isn’t that just problem solving and customer service? It’s kind of pushing against work culture, and I appreciate your openness to explore a variety of avenues to do that.
Jason: Well, here’s the thing: If I didn’t respond, I’m failing them. That’s a student who says, “Okay, well I’ve reached out, the Vice President says I’m on social, find me. He stood up at orientation and he said,” … at the beginning of every orientation I have students follow me and then I give a little swag to three or four that are following. I go out and I pick the followers and say, “Okay, you get some swag.”
And then the trick is I remind to don’t unfollow me because you didn’t win swag, right? I say, “I’m here. Hit me up if you need me.” And if a student contacts me and I don’t respond, not only have I lost my authenticity, I’ve lost the opportunity for the college to serve their student, and then they’re gone, and their tuition’s gone with them. If that’s where they dwell … they may not want to send that email or go on the work order system. That’s where they dwell and I’ve solved their problem.
And there are times when you have to say, “Okay, let’s move this to an email,” or, “Just come to my,” … Sometimes I’ve had to respond and say, “Okay, just come to my office. We help folks out that way too.” But if that’s where the students are interacting, it’s just as important as a face-to-face interactions.
And it’s not even just younger students. The adults are in that space, too.
Josie: And you really are a problem solver. Which I want to maybe jump to a question about data. You were recently interviewed by Providence Business News where you answered some of the same conversations we’re having but specifically how Rhode Island College and yourself are really digging into data and digital engagement.
What are some practical or even simple ways that you’re really utilizing data from student engagement, retention, recruitment, and I guess really solving real world problems with a media answers with data?
Jason: Oh you know, Sean Carter said it best, “Men lie, women lie, numbers don’t lie.” And we have to live by that. That’s Jay-Z for the uninitiated.
With that in mind, we have to use our data that way by digging into trends on retention. We can understand lots of items around student demographics. If you want to understand first generation students, we can look at how they’re persisting in certain course. When and where are they signing up for orientations? What are the bottlenecks? What are the barriers? What are the items that impact attrition?
And on the other side of the coin, what impacts success? What are we doing well, maybe to expand capacity? Like right now, we have a program called Learning for Life, and it’s this grant funded partnership with the School of Social Work.
And so, the College’s retention rate’s about 74%. Well, the students that are Learning for Life have 87%, almost 88% retention rate. And this is a three year old program. When you dig into that data, and you look at the students we’re serving, the capacity is only there for about 900 students. But they’re performing well, more on the path to graduation.
And so when we dig into that data what we realized was that the first year students who are utilizing that service have the highest rate of all the students who use those services. We’re now moving to do some aggregated and dis-aggregating and all that with the information now, we’re on a path that by next year we want every first year student to have a navigator, that’s the person through Learning for Life who does that direct intervention and support.
Even if one student may not need it as much, and another student may need more intensive services, by having that kind of support system around for all our first year students … if we just say, “Hey, Learning for Life is great. People like it.” You can’t stop on the satisfactory survey, you really have to dig down into the data. So that’s what my team and I are doing.
And so, that’s cool. Just in that, we’re totally re-working the focus of that program. We’re going to continue serving who we serve, but we’re doing some funding movement, and next year we’re going to try to double the number of navigators so every freshman can have, to make sure that’s available to everyone.
And you get that by actually studying what’s available to you and then using that to inform your decision. That’s really where data is. You can make tons of decisions about academic programming.
Right now I’m doing this thing where I’m partnering with certain academic programs to invest some scholarship dollars. For example, our Africana studies major, they have a new director, and she’s been director of that major for about nine months. She’s tripled the number of majors, just on her own. And she’s got this really cool partnership with some other programs to get students to be double majors and that sort of thing.
So I’m looking at that growth and saying, “Hey, this is a place to invest.” So we just did a scholarship deal with them, where the faculty Department Chair and other faculty, they have scholarships to recruit with, scholarships for retention, so they can grow that program.
And then with our nursing program, we have a DNP, a Doctor of Nursing Program. They’re supposed to be at 10 students. Their first year, they were only about six or seven and they needed a few more students. And that’s a place where you want to sustain and you want to grow. So we got some trend data there and we were able to invest some scholarships.
So we had one place with tremendous growth, and a dynamic nursing program. Our nursing program has a 100% in class pass rates this year. That’s crazy. That’s amazing. So with that in mind, we looked at our Doctorate of Nursing program, we put a scholarship component with it to help more adult nurses come back into the program and boom, they’re now at 10.
Just by digging through the numbers you can find places to invest. And that’s a much better way to make decisions than just saying, “Oh, we’ll put money where we want to, or we won’t put it anywhere,” just for the sake of what someone thinks.
Josie: Yeah, data informed decisions. It seems so obvious but maybe for someone that’s new to thinking about approaching data beyond a satisfaction survey, what are the really salient trend data that you’re really looking for? And where is that coming from?
Jason: Persistence and completion data is really the place to begin. What are the trends among students? Where are the losses happening in terms of attrition? Where are academic programs growing? What are the factors that are contributing to that? And getting into the data to make those decisions. Looking at when and how we offer classes. Using things like wait lists to look at student demand. A lot of institutions just have a course schedule and they just say, “Okay well, we’ll just stick last year’s course schedule on this year’s course schedule,” without any really movement.
Our faculty … I really work with a great faculty at RIC and they’re really working to be flexible. For example, we’re having a lot more demand for evening courses. So our School of Social Work, you go over there at night, it’s like club social work because they have classes all night because that’s where the student demand. You can go there at 9:00 at night and the students are in there. And they’re meeting student demands.
Looking at student interest, how many students are working? We’re working on some trends for articulation partnerships with the community college system here. One of the things I asked them for was not just tell me what students and where you hide the high demand majors, but in those high demand majors when are they taking classes?
For example, in the psychology program, if we have potentially 150 transfers for that program, and a 100 of those students are taking their classes at night, we have to pull that information and give it to our faculty so they can plan accordingly, because they don’t want the same thing when they transfer to RIC.
Those are places to look, going back to social a little bit, looking at engagement, where students engage in the university or college.
We just implemented for the first time this year a registration campaign using social media. It’s wild. But that’s one of the fun parts about being an integrate now is we can innovate. We have a lot of opportunities to create. As a part of our registration campaign, we created a social media component where we did geo targeting.
We put a digital geo-fence around the campus, Snapchat, Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook. We actually didn’t use Twitter, and I’ll tell you why later. But we did Twitter. We started with Twitter in the fall but the engagement was really low, so for the spring campaign for this fall, we didn’t use Twitter because the engagement was low.
But what we found is that our website clicks, where people were clicking on our digital ads, went up 530% or 540%.
Jason: Where people were clicking through to the registration page. And then, this year we got really wild with it where we just didn’t do the geo-targeting within a mile of the campus, when we did the second iteration of the campaign we did the geo-fence 50 miles around the campus, with registration messaging. Because the majority of our students live with 50 miles of the campus.
We expanded and we saw our website clicks go up again. We saw a huge behavioral modification in when students are registering for classes. Just using digital media that way and looking at the tools, like I said, you couldn’t have paid me to believe that Twitter wouldn’t be the place of the most engagement. But it wasn’t. It was Instagram or Snapchat. So you have to look at all those data analytics.
Josie: Right, right. What would be a quick definition of target geo-fencing for those that might not know?
Jason: Where you basically drop a pin. We start with our campus as the epicenter of the campaign. And basically we pay the social media networks to put our advertising …
Oh, we did Pandora too, I forget about the Pandora message. It was cool, they got to let me do it again next year. But we did the Pandora messaging and too. You put an app, so basically any device that goes through that targeted area would receive an app about Rhode Island College and registering for the fall semester, or registering for the spring semester, or registering for summer school.
And then, the cool thing is it follows you. We did the same thing with high schools. We took some of our prime targeted high schools and we drive geo-fence messages around those high schools. So when the students are going through they’re getting apply or RIC.edu/admissiontest.
We even studied to the point where we knew which types of ads students clicked more versus not, to look at the click through rates, and you compare that to national averages. That is so much fun. You’re talking about nerding out? That is so much fun.
Josie: It’s pretty wild. I landed in South Dakota to visit family and within minutes my Instagram ad feed updated and I was getting promotions about the areas called the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore. It catches up to you quick. To know the behind the scenes of how those things happen is interesting. And to hear how much of it increased your drive was to your website, that’s pretty remarkable.
Jason: Well not only the website, but it also changed behavior where more students were registering early. And then it even had an unexpected impact on my … I knew students would think it was cool, but I had no idea how much.
It had an impact on morale, where you have students like, “Hey, we see web ads from Brown or we see web ads from Salve Regina or something like that, some colleges in our area. And now we see RIC there too. Like, it’s cool.” And that creates some excitement for students.
But having those reminders, that gets further than an email of a bulletin board or hanging a banner on campus. That’s just as powerful as an advisor making reminder calls.
And we did all of that put together but the geo targeting campaign, it was clear, it was measurable, it was decisive and we have to stay where the students are. We looked at it, like I said the first time you couldn’t have paid me to believe that Twitter wouldn’t have been a place where our students engage, but they weren’t they.
Josie: It definitely trends a bit away from a lot of teens and young adults. There’s some that are active but it’s a harder, I think, market to break through.
Jason: Yeah, I was hoping we would get adults there. It was interesting. It actually kind of surprised us because … obviously we had a lot of adults on Facebook. But we were actually getting more, when I say adult I mean 25 and up because that’s what the American Council in Education describes as an adult in college.
And so, that 25 and up thing, we were actually getting a lot of them on Instagram. And it was really interesting. That stuff, it’s just a lot of fun.
Josie: You have two sides of the house that really come under your portfolio, from enrollment and student services. I do think enrollment is ahead of student affairs, student services in some of these unique and problem solving marketing methods. So it’ll be interesting to see if student affairs starts to apply anything like that in their types of outreach.
Jason: I would say this, and obviously I began in student affairs and the enrollment management thing sort of fell into the middle of my career and has endured. I’ve always done both and I really wouldn’t have it any other way than to work with both of those areas as a vice president, and I’ve been fortunate to do that.
There’s a lot of integration. It’s interesting how that changes the conversation, where you begin the student affairs meeting with enrollment, sharing data and getting their opinions and points of view and integrating that information. It works really, really well.
I say all that to say that I think that probably the thing enrollment management has had the most impact on it my career, is the way that I approach assessment in student affairs. And really, even not being afraid to talk about revenue. And student affairs, we talk about a lot about the caring aspect and theory and the importance of our work because it’s deep. And it has a huge breadth and scope in terms of student affairs.
But what my EM background has done has also made me a little less afraid probably, and I’ve been trained early in my career, to talk about revenue impact and the impact of data and to just say, “This is the impact that these student affairs have on revenue or have on retention.”
Or I’ll take a student affairs program and say, “Okay well, the students that we’re serving has this retention rate compared to students who aren’t using these services of to the campus average or GPA.” And then, by virtue of what’s the revenue …
I had an academic support program one time that I put in my residence halls. And my team and I, we had to drill down to what we could tell you that 84% of the students who went to tutoring in the residential learning centers had a final grade of A or B in the class if they went to tutoring four or more times.
And having housing speak about that, beyond just, “Okay, well this is the bed count or this is the money we make,” but this is the way services … Everyone knows that for the most part if you live on campus, the average GPAs are higher. Research has been saying that for an epoch. But to really drill it down to this is the way academic support’s having? Or if you can measure RA programming, and look at the value and the scope and impact of RA programming, and look at retention by floor, by cohort, by demographic?
There’s so many areas across the board in student affairs. And unfortunately because I have athletics in my portfolio too … We’re just able to integrate all of that. Right now my team is just finishing up their annual reports … Everyone got them in today, everyone on time, go team I love you all.
With that in mind, is we’re doing this work. We’re coming in … it’s not these long narratives explaining why we’re valuable to the institution, but they’re infographics that show measurable and discernible and clear impact. That show how much impact we’ve had on revenue. We raise money, we buy grants, we do all this stuff. And we show the impact of all that in a really different way, and I think my enrollment management background has helped me.
Josie: The integration, the impact, having those two houses really build off of each other. And all the same goals, right? Student engagement, retention, get them out there and get them jobs. I just know a lot of those times those houses don’t talk too much to each other. It’s interesting to hear about your model and your approach. Thank you for sharing.
Talking about integration and your social media pages, another thing came up in this article from the Business News Providence was how you integrate your life into the work that you do, especially that shows up on social media.
Give my listeners just a little insight about your approach. How you make those choices, how you do want to show up. And maybe if you have any kind of strategy behind it.
Jason: We have to be present. To be successful, I think especially in the role I’m in, we have to be present. We can’t lead, we can’t manage, we can’t guide, we can’t shape, we can’t influence. Whatever we can’t serve most of all, whatever we want to call our work, we can’t do that if we’re not present.
And so, the digital engagement gives me both the way to magnify the presence, to celebrate the students that are conducting programs or that are present, to just give shout outs, to have fun.
But also to remind people that there’s a vibrancy on campus, especially on my campus, [Unity 00:39:33], we’re largely commuter. We get students who come to campus, and we have a welcome week, we’re having these programs. We have a weekend movie series, we have a service learning projects, music on quad, great fraternity and sorority life. All this stuff is happening on campus.
But when you have high school saying, “Oh, if you go there, it’s a commuter school, it’s nothing to do,” … we have to fight that. Social media has been a great way to perpetuate a message that there really are great things happening on campus. It helps to amplify that part of it.
So for me, I use that as a tool to really say, “Hey this is the campus experience that our college can really provide, and yeah, I get maybe prior leadership or maybe when you were there, the 80s, and okay, maybe there wasn’t that much going on. But that’s not where we are in 2018.” So social really helps me tell that story.
And then, the other thing that’s really cool is that, like I said earlier, you have to be just consistent with who you are. I have my other associate Vice President, she’s an introvert. I told her, “You be as social as you want to. You don’t have to do what I do no social media. Sometimes I don’t even know how I do it. But you don’t have to do that. You be yourself and you engage and you interact at your pace that’s comfortable for you.” She’s really enjoying getting to do that.
For me, my pace is like, hey, we go and we interact and we put out there where we are. But it’s really about celebrating the campus. It’s really not about self aggrandizement or plugging myself. It’s about the engagement on campus. If it’s going to a baseball game, if it’s going to gymnastics, a financial literacy program, if it’s welcome week, if it’s at a movie. It’s not so much a work, life balance. It’s a work, life integration. How do you make this play off each other so you can be successful?
We had a comedian on campus the other night. It was welcome week … Not comedian, excuse me, a magician on campus. And he was really great. We had him on campus and we had a packed barroom to see him. It was Saturday night. It was one of our first big programs of the year. On move in, I’d been there since 6:00 that morning, getting RAs, meeting people. Going off on move in … it wasn’t Saturday night, it was Friday night. But anyway … See? It all…
Josie: It all blends together …
Jason: Yeah, but either way it goes, so then by Friday night, I really want to hang with my kids. Well, you know, they like magic. So it worked out. I brought them with me to see the magician. Work, life integration. It’s kind of cool.
It’s fun because our children have grown up on college campuses. My wife and I both have stories of taking our kids to class when we were getting our Master’s degrees and when I did my PhD, “Daddy, we’ll just do homework together. We’ll all do it together to get to the table.” There’s an integration there.
And even, I would share like that on social and it was just kind of cool and it made a little bit of fun. You wouldn’t believe how many people would contact me saying, “I’m working on my Doctorate degree too, and it’s cool that I can do the homework thing with my kids,” and all of that. You just never know who’s looking. Just be who you are …
I don’t post everything that happens in my life, but I definitely try to post the cool stuff. Hortense Brown always said, “You may not post a bologna sandwich but you always put Baked Alaska.” I kind of just say we have to treat life like Baked Alaska and be out there and be engaged.
And since I’m always on my campus and always doing stuff for the college it’s really important to keep social media a part of that. I’m there so hey, why not post it?
Josie: You’re definitely a fun follow and very consistently active and engaging, so that was a good note that you guided … would you say it was your new assistant VP, that yeah, how she shows up might be different than your activity.
We’ll include all of your digital homes in the show notes but I love how you’re using LinkedIn as a visual platform. The photos that you might find on Instagram you’re also putting over on LinkedIn. I think that’s pushing the platform but in a really cool engaging way that just keeps telling the story and that accessibility piece.
Jason: All right, thank you for that but let me tell you the story behind that. I think we texted about that LinkedIn thing a few weeks ago, when we were talking about the podcast and you mentioned LinkedIn. Let me tell you the cool thing behind that.
We’re actually working really hard to draw a national pool of candidates. I just had two searches, one for an assistant Vice President, and we hired Dr. Tamika Wordlow-Williams, she came from East Carolina. And then my associate Vice President is Dr. Ducha Hang, she came from Salve Regina. We had national pools for both of these jobs. We hired a director of [inaudible 00:44:23]. We hired someone from Cal Lutheran, where you actually earned your Doctorate degree.
Jason: And in doing that, the interesting thing is that because LinkedIn, for a lot of higher education professionals, is the place to look at content and look for jobs and stuff like that, what’s kind of cool is that every time we post a job, you know how you can see the little thing with your LinkedIn views and you can see Google analytics?
Jason: Every time we post a job, I begin to notice … I noticed this when I worked in my last institution actually. Every time we post a job, my LinkedIn views would go up 397%. I’ve been really intentional this last year in my current role to know that’s where candidates are looking for the information about the campus experience.
I did a blog about that a couple of years ago, I think for the Student Affairs Collective, where I said we have to know we’re not just making decisions about candidates based on their social media but they’re making decisions about us based on ours.
So LinkedIn was a great place to just put out there, this is what’s happening on the campus. This is what the experience is like every day. And I can’t just start posting content three days before the job goes up, right?
I’m saying all that to say that that’s been a huge, huge impact for me. And I would have candidates say, “When I looked at your LinkedIn, and looked at what was happening on the campus,” … I had several candidates mention that in phone interviews, or as finalists, that that was a resource. Because they’re checking me out because I would be their supervisor, I’m the person leading the division. If they see that engagement on the campus, it’s like, “Wow, this is happening.”
In LinkedIn, it maybe professionalizes the context. But the other thing we’re measuring is … I don’t have the data yet, I wish I had it to share with you, I actually have HR looking at it. Because I knew I was going to podcast, I ask HR directly did they have it yet and she told me that they’re going to need about another month to pull this together.
But we’re actually measuring the education of our candidates, comparing the past to the present year. And we’re also measuring the distance from which candidates come. Just looking at finalists for the last couple of jobs, a lot of our candidates for one position that we just filled, where we did a prior search that did fail, most of our candidates, at least the one who got phone interviews and were finalists, were all within about 30, 45 miles of the campus. The search that was successful, we ended up with candidates, we averaged out for people that got phone interviews and the finalists, average distance about 212 miles from the campus.
Josie: Oh wow.
Jason: Well I check this data thing, seriously … You look at the intersection of that with what we do digitally with LinkedIn, how we tell the story of the campus, and people see it, we’re checking out the hashtags. So that’s part of it.
Josie: LinkedIn is definitely an untapped tool for data, for recruitment. I see a lot of campus leaders that just update, if anything, their LinkedIn profile and leave it. Your story is really a great one … for me to be able to share that.
Jason: Thank you.
Josie: You do have to take it a step further, right? Seeing what those differences are in recruitment when you are really trying to get candidates from around the country or the world … yes. That’s definitely a tool that I’m so glad you brought up.
I just have a few more questions left. Thank you so much for … We’ve gone through a lot in almost this hour so far.
I would be remiss though, if I didn’t bring up this curve ball. Which I told you I was going to ask you.
Jason: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Josie: But it’s all of Jason too. Which is just on another little spice. You’ve got so many different interests, from Star Wars to Guardians of the Galaxy, your family, you’ve been published all over the place, in your directions for student-
Jason: Thank you.
Josie: … leaderships and student services. You got it going.
But you also have-
Jason: Thank you.
Josie: … this … You’re a super fan or a big fan of WWE.
Jason: All wrestling, not just WWE.
Josie: All wrestling, okay, my bad.
Jason: [crosstalk 00:48:19] Japan, Ring of Honor, the [inaudible 00:48:23], but yeah, we love WWE too.
Josie:Tell me about the [SA 00:48:27] Kliq.
Jason: Okay, so this … Now remember we started the show, I’m a nerd. So we’re going to end the podcast with I’m a nerd. I am a huge wrestling mark. And in wrestling terminology a mark is a huge fan. Don’t tell me whether or not it’s real. I say it’s kayfabe. I prove that I’m a mark, see? Google that, kayfabe. K-A-Y-F-A-B-E.
But yeah, here’s the thing. I did a blog … I was a blogger for [Socialnomics 00:48:55]. I really still am, I just haven’t done one lately. But you can find the content there. Some cool stuff. I was a blogger on higher education and social media for Socialnomics. And did that really actively in 2014 and 2015. And then, it was like, “Oh I got to finish a PhD and write a dissertation in 2016.” I kind of slowed down, but I graduated.
What happened with that was I did a blog about SA grad social media sensations. And there were some graduate students like [Becka Windover 00:49:27], she’s at Cleveland Clinic now, Becka’s great … like [Craig Bitterman 00:49:34], who’s now at UMass Boston, and is also a speaker. Craig actually just spoke at our welcome week. And then, who else was in there? [Amber Hurt 00:49:45], Amber is at Hofstra right now. And a couple of other folks who we did as features in it.
And NAFSA in 2015, in New Orleans, in N’Olreans y’all, was crazy. I said, “Well, I want to do a picture.” And so, we were going to do this group picture and Craig Bitterman came to the group picture wearing a t-shirt for … he’s now in the UFC, but a wrestler at the time in WWE named CM Punk. I’m a huge CM Punk, real name Phil Burns, he’s amazing. Great wrestler. He doesn’t wrestle in the WWE anymore. But I’m a CM Punk fan, so when Craig walks up in his shirt, and I’m like, “What? Whoa, you’re rocking the CM Punk shirt? Let’s talk. You like wrestling?” So right there in the lobby of NAFSA, the SA Kliq, S-A-K-L-I-Q, the Kliq was borne.
And so Craig says, “Yeah, there’s this guy named [Steve Kirkwright 00:50:43] in South Carolina and Steve loves wrestling and there’s another guy named Dave Foster and his hashtag is [#heelDave 00:50:48], and in wrestling heel is the bad guy. The good guy is the baby face. Now with the women’s division, it’s not just men. It’s not just about the good guys and the bad guy. You know, heel women and baby face, you have these face turns and heel turns.” So Dave’s Twitter handle was #heelDave.
We all had this meet up in the lobby of NAFSA. And we’re like, “We ought to get together,” like everything happens at NAFSA, right? We’re like, “We ought to have a meet up and watch wrestling together.” And Craig’s like, “Well why don’t we do it on Facebook?” So he created this Facebook page called the SA Kliqs, so we call him Craig the Creator. We’re the founders of the Kliq, like me and Craig and Dave and Steve and a couple of other folks. We’re the founders and we’re like admins …
So on Monday nights and Tuesday nights, there’s a big pay-per-view in Australia in a couple of days and we’re going to watch … well, by the time this airs it’ll have been a few days ago but this pay-per-view in Australia, we’re going to watch that. We go on Facebook and we have live chats and we have a lot of fun just talking about wrestling. They’re literally 500 people in the group.
We just hired a new area coordinator on my campus, and I didn’t know him. His name is Joseph. He came from a school in New Jersey. He just happened to mention that kind of corny interview question, what are some things you like when you’re not a work. Joseph says, “I like wrestling.” My whole team is like, “Oh my god, our Vice President is a huge wrestling fan. You’re going to get the job.” … Anyway, he got it ’cause he’s awesome.
But anyway, so then the housing director she brings him to meet me. And I totally abscond her interview because Joseph and I start talking about wrestling. The housing director’s just looking like, “What have I gotten myself into?” Even with him, I’m like, “Well, you got to join that Kliq.” So he’s on the Facebook group. There’s about 500 people. And we’re all across the country, different walks of life, different places in the career. But the commonality for us is wrestling. And it’s kind of cool to just be in there and to interact and to just do that. That’s our Facebook group.
The other thing with Facebook too, I post usually daily content. Some people say I’m like the alarm clock because I read every morning. I try to post quality and informative content in the black student affairs professionals page or the admin page or the student affairs professionals page, the authority page as we call it in the Kliq, and sometimes the college admissions counselor page, and different groups that I’m a part of.
I try to post relevant content about what’s actually happening in the field. What are the deans and faculty and vice presidents and presidents and board members talking about? What are trend things that are happening in higher education on a national scale that are important?
I try to stay out of the … because sometimes that stuff can be contentious, and I stay out of that. I post my stuff and get out, and then let the conversations flow. But my job is to post content. And that’s a lot of fun.
Two years ago, I had an SA pro who’s in Saudi Arabia email me and say, “Yo, thank you for posting this content in the morning because that’s how I keep up with what’s going on in the US through this Facebook page.” I cannot tell how humbling that was, in wrestling terms I marked out. That was kind of cool, to do that.
And the other thing is behind The Chronicle post paid wall content that a lot of young professionals can’t get too if they don’t have a paid subscription to The Chronicle, so since I have one I try to share some of that too.
Josie: Yeah. You’re a constant contributor and interpreter I think from your view, in your executive role, but even bringing folks in students affairs that love wrestling that you can find each other in that digital community that also carries over into the work that we do in higher education, I think is super fun. I have one more question to ask …
Jason: Sure thing, digital sis.
Josie: It’s how I end all my interviews. You’re on all these different platforms posting all kinds of different content that’s being meaningful to all kinds of different audiences but if you knew you’re next post on any of those platforms was going to be your last, what would you want it you be about?
Jason: My family. Yeah, all day. I would want it to be something to honor my family. If you want me to give you a professional answer I can give you one, but in reality for all the things in the world that we do, one of my value things is just is the time with the kids.
That’s the other thing. You got to shift through the videos of like, my son scoring touch downs, or … I’m fortunate because the kids are good athletes. My 10 year old daughter … we were at her national competition for dance for four straight days. That was the Twitter takeover … on her dance stuff.
So the stuff that my daughter’s doing and the stuff that my sons are doing … But it would be something to them, so if my page stayed active they will look at it and be like, “Yeah, my daddy was thinking about me.”
From a professional standpoint, definitely something about the brand of my college. Something that sends a message about both the college and about elevating learning, encouraging students to complete, so be it an article be it an infographic, be it some cool story about a student who’s able to be successful. I would want it to be something like that, that someone would look at the post and be motivated to continue pursuing education and going to toward a degree themselves.
Josie: Awesome. Thank you so much for sharing. It has been a blast having you on my podcast. It’s been way overdue. Finally get you in to season three. And just want to be able to take an opportunity again to publicly thank you. Because I have millions of people, Jason, that listen to this podcast … Actually I do have a good listener base but anyway, you-
Jason: You have an amazing listening base.
Josie: … Yeah. No, it’s fun. I really, honestly … you’re in the book. I attribute properly, but I just want to attribute here that your support of what I did in the early days and directing me, both in direction with my speaking and not … to really make it legitimate, and even your encouragement for me to come to your campus, those small things you do for so many folks really was the fuel that has brought me to where I am today.
We may not get to talk to each other as often or see each other as often, we live on different coasts, but you’re just one of those people that are high up on my list of significant people that made what I’m doing today not what it is, so I wan totally thank you.
Jason: [crosstalk 00:57:49].
Josie: And your family … You have adopted me a couple of times into your family, getting to hang out with them. They are really …
Jason: Yeah, you went trick or treating with us-
Josie: I know.
Jason: … Do you remember that?
Josie: They are amazing people. You create really amazing humans … and your wife. Just good people.
Jason: That’s all my wife.
Josie: Well …
Jason: They get the better genes from her.
Josie: It takes a team. So I’m loving what you’re doing from just having recognition of gamers on your campus to data to your social presence and seeing the power of LinkedIn. All those things, so cool to be able to bring up right in this podcast.
Jason: Yo, thank you, Josie. You’re my digital sis and you know that. It’s been an honor to connect with you and know you and support you. Keep doing big things. Your digital brother’s just always a tweet away. Keep doing what you’re doing to make this conversation relevant and important and the work you’re doing with executives and all that, I can’t wait to read the book.
Actually I think our books should be out right around the same time, different contexts. This was not digital. They’re going to be out and so I make you a deal: you sign a copy for me and I’ll sign a copy of mine for you, and everybody wins.
Jason: All right, thanks digital sis.
Josie: Jason is one of a kind. And yes, as you learned my digital bro. I remember clearly the message higher education sent, which be brought up in the episode, which I received while my mom was undergoing a double mastectomy after being diagnosed with breast cancer.
While it was a very challenging day and weeks to come, it’s why I love social, the Internet and text so much, as a simple DM on Facebook that he sent letting me know he was praying for me and my family, and all the dozens of other messages we received when my mom recovered, it filled our family’s spirits.
Well now, I can thankfully report my mom is 100% breast cancer free. Talking about family, Jason is the dedicated family man. It’s the backbone of his leadership, on his social media feed. And honestly, I think it’s how he leads on his campus and within higher ed.
What’s fun in this episode is you get to see what else he geeks out about, like being an unabashedly proud wrestling fan, and Star Wars fanatic. In addition to family and wrestling, when it comes to his leadership something else very noticeable about our discussion is data. It’s in everything that he does. The way he highlights using his budget to address concerns based on trends rather than just gut feelings or antidotes, it’s not only refreshing but kind of required.
Combine this with his years of experience in the field, and his commitment to his campus makes him a great role model for higher ed pros everywhere.
And digital tools, which we talked last about, play a big role in this. And I hope the examples that he gave you will be immediately helpful.
Authenticity was a big theme for Jason. Obviously it’s apparent from him being forthcoming about his hobbies and interests, but also informs his philosophy about just showing up on social media. He shares social media has to amplify who you are not falsify it.
But don’t get confused, authenticity doesn’t mean a play by play, sharing everything, but you get to make those choices of how you’re presenting yourself out into the world. That person you are on social shouldn’t be completely different from the person that you would meet offline.
With this engaging digital mindset, the campus community is very fluid for Jason. It happens on social, in a game room, at in-person events or at a conference. And it’s facilitated by all these activities.
I loved how Jason made it a mission to create dedicated gaming lounges, as this becomes even more pervasive on campus and I can’t wait to see that eSports stadium coming potentially to his campus. Students can play together with gaming, in-person or online, to have fun and build bonds and as an executive, he’s embracing this type of student engagement and not running from it.
Jason and I nerded out about data for the intent of digital student engagement, whether that it is eSports or an on campus gaming lounge, or connecting through Instagram, Facebook, or LinkedIn. I really appreciate how he makes it his mission to connect all those dots across campus, online, and even making choices within his budget and priorities.
So if you digital nay of the work that I do, well you have this very podcast guest to thank for it. One of my early supporters, encouragers and sponsors to get my speaking off of there the ground. I’m so glad we could make the time to chat and honestly just catch up. Thank you again Jason of your wisdom, nerding out on data and amplifying authenticity.
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If you’re interested in learning more about my speaking, coaching or consulting work on digital leadership and higher ed, or my researcher publishing, check me out at Josie Ahlquist dot com. Find me on Twitter or Instagram at Josie Ahlquist. You can also connect with me on Facebook and LinkedIn, just search my name.
Sending digital hugs, loves, and waves to whatever corner of the world you’re listening in from, this has been Josie at the podcast.