Delivering messages in a timely manner is only part of the challenge for Texas Tech; making sure they reach students matters just as much.
Today's incoming students at Texas Tech University have never known a time without mobile phones. As a result, they've always been well-acquainted with information overload – even if they didn't realize it.
Understanding those intertwined realities is part of what drives Todd Chambers, the assistant vice provost for academic and career advising. It's also why he isn't only thinking about how to serve students right now. He's also thinking about those students who will show up on campus in 18 years.
“We've had to rethink a lot of things,” he said, referring to higher education in general. “We've had an opportunity to rethink what education is, and we're having conversations about this all across campus. We should be thinking about them right here in 2023 because 18 years from now, it will be 2041, and what will that student look like and what will their needs be when they get here?”
Anticipating those eventualities right now will better prepare the Texas Tech community to meet students where they are in the future.
“We have to be clever, especially in these post-COVID days,” Chambers said. “The notion of being distracted because of whatever else might be going on, that's gone. We have to figure out how to make sure we are collaborating with each other.”
At Texas Tech, that meant eliminating operational silos that had been necessary in previous years and pulling people together with a collective compass pointing toward examining the student experience and improving it every way possible.
For Chambers, the push started a little more than a year ago during a meeting at the International Cultural Center for a retreat hosted by Provost Ronald Hendrick. The assembled group included deans and associate deans from across campus.
“The purpose was to make sure everyone was aligned on the vision of what was going to take place in terms of academic innovation and the student success perspective under (vice provost) Mitzi (Lauderdale),” he recalled. “Part of it was related to what Tara Miller oversees in the student engagement piece, but it also included retention issues and figuring out how to make sure students are getting plugged into the resources they need.”
The process took on more breadth, depth and scope than ever before. It would be built on an intentional foundation of communicating, collaborating and connecting. Maybe most important, though, it represented a paradigm shift. The student experience would no longer be defined primarily by academic success. Instead, Texas Tech would now focus on a holistic approach, concluding students need more than academic support on the journey to the workforce and important rewards on the other side of a diploma.
“We have all these resources, but they were packaged in different areas and different ways,” Chambers said. “We brainstormed and worked to create this new thing that was going to include academic and career advising while maintaining the integrity and academic freedom of individual colleges and departments.”
That was part of the vision. There was also the need to create what Chambers called common language for academic and career advising.
“We wanted everyone working from the same playbook,” he said. “We met so many times after that retreat, jotting down ideas, brainstorming, going to conferences and trying to integrate all of this in a way that students can use.
“At the same time, we had to make sure that we were communicating with them in an effective way. We live in this age of social media, and we are basically into our second generation of digital natives. It's a new era.”
Everything starts with clear, concise communication to students and among the scores of people who are now part of what has become the Raider Success Hub, an application designed to assist students on multiple fronts throughout their time at Texas Tech.
“We make sure we're communicating with each other and also communicating with students that we are building a multilayered communication channel for all of us to participate in,” Chambers said. “It's collaboration, a piece that's crucial for us to succeed and for all of this to work.”
A significant advantage to the hub is its emphasis on proactivity.
“We have had intervention mechanisms and technologies in the past, and they were wonderful,” Chambers said. “But now, when someone says, ‘This student hasn't attended in a few days,' that raises a flag and someone will address that.”
In the case where a student is struggling with class attendance, the issue won't be left to chance.
“Our people are now plugged in, and they will realize they have a student who may be in need of resources,” Chambers said. “They may need tutoring resources. They may need to know about the learning center. They may need to learn about our supplemental instruction program.
“Where can we be intentional and proactive in providing a point of connection and do it like we have never been able to do in the past?”
That is not to criticize previous practices and protocols, but instead to take full advantage of Texas Tech's people and resources and turn them into force multipliers for student engagement.
“We exist in a world of information overload,” Chambers said. “We are in this universe where there are so many channels of information that it can be useless and inefficient unless you are curating your content. That's what the Raider Success Hub does. It is curating a place that packages these resources in a way that is accessible, easy to use and easy to understand.”
Chambers doesn't think students were unaware of the full portfolio of campus resources available to them. He believes they may have just been overwhelmed by a cascade of expectations ranging from classes to residence halls to meal plans to finding friends and settling in.
“It's not necessarily capturing their attention and doing a better job marketing,” he said. “That's part of it, but I think we have to be more intentional about the way we curate the information, and that's the idea behind it.”
The collaborative emphasis has not only given Texas Tech students a new tool, but it also has provided the university with improved ways and means of checking on students.
“We have had to figure out how to integrate the silos,” he said. “Previously, some of our mechanisms may not have talked to each other, but now I think we have a system that will allow us to talk to each other, sharing information and resources without having to go here or go there to try and find something.”
Chambers sees dramatic progress has been made since that retreat last summer, but at the same time he knows the future, and that 2041 student, loom on the horizon.
“We have systematized advocacy,” he said. “We are intentionally thinking about the future and about what ifs, and universities are wonderful places to be for thought sharing.”