Margaret Yoder, Student Communications Coordinator, College of Education and Human Development. Photo by Creative Services/George Mason University

Many of us have heard the quote, “Some people dream of success, while others get up every morning and make it happen.”  No one who has worked in higher education for any length of time thinks that students sail effortlessly and independently from the acceptance letter to the diploma, particularly as we recruit more nontraditional students and expand college access.  It can be a bumpy road. Student success and perseverance to graduation demand specialized student support. My job is all about nurturing students to wake up and make it happen every day. It’s exciting and creative work, and to be honest, it’s often a little maddening, too.

For the past two years, I have been the Student Communications Coordinator for the College of Education and Human Development at George Mason University. As part of the Office of Student and Academic Affairs’ Student Success Team, I support student retention by communicating with students through newsletters, email campaigns, a blog, social media, and signature events.  Our message to students: Be Informed; Be Engaged; Be Present.  That means that on any given day we are encouraging students to participate in a research symposium, join a club, re-enroll for the next semester, prepare for an internship, understand a policy change, and a host of other honey-do’s – SIMULTANEOUSLY. The joy of being a part of such a robust university as Mason is all that we can offer to our students.  The frustration is finding just the right way to communicate each policy and opportunity in a way that reaches a student on their unique path, enhances their student experience, and builds trust and affinity with the College that will last a lifetime. That’s a big ask, but I do love a challenge.

The scope of the work and the chance to collaborate with a such a dedicated team is what drew me to higher education communications. I love the idea of helping people who are making an investment in their future through learning. I adored my own undergraduate experience at the University of Notre Dame (“Go Irish!”), and after years of building communications skills through volunteer work as a military spouse (“Go Navy!”), my current role at George Mason (“Go Patriots!”) seemed like a natural fit.  My position was a new creation for the College, and our Student Success Team, at the time, was unique at the University. As I approached my new role, I was a “communications team of one,” and searching online, I found plenty of information available on harnessing technology to recruit students, but very little on how to best use digital communication to retain them and promote their success.  Of necessity, our communications with current students have involved a good amount of trial and error, not in the message, but in the medium.

For me, the EduWeb Summit represents an exciting chance to meet fellow retention communicators and ask lots of questions.  I’m not alone out here, am I?  I hope to hear about how other institutions are communicating with their enrolled students.  The constantly changing wealth of communication tools available is as varied as our students’ preferred communication styles.  What’s working at other schools? What’s not? This summer, my college is in the midst of a website redesign.  What’s the best way to build a beautiful website that serves as both a recruitment tool and a resource for current students, faculty, alumni, and guests? How do I use all those available communications analytics to design more effective messaging? How do we keep our student communications current, useful, and engaging?  I could go on and on.  Thankfully, EduWeb is just a few days away.  I’m looking forward to meeting you all.  It will be easy to spot me.  I’ll be the one with all the questions.