When you land on the website for the University of Wisconsin-Stout, you're met with a bold, single-word headline: "Ready." That word encapsulates UW-Stout's guiding mission. As Wisconsin's premier polytechnic university, UW-Stout proudly offers career-focused educational programs that give students hands-on experience for success in their chosen career fields—and, in practice, some of the most important and impactful experiences take place outside the classroom.
Jennifer Lee serves as Associate Director for the Memorial Student Center (MSC) at UW-Stout. Her team works closely with all major programming bodies on campus—including each of the nearly 160 student-led organizations—to support a wide range of extracurricular events and opportunities. In addition to traditional institutions like student government and the school's newspaper, Jennifer's team promotes programming in civic engagement, volunteerism, and diversity, as well as group activities like class trips and trivia nights. As Jennifer says, "I supervise the team that does all the fun stuff."
Jennifer is also responsible for overseeing the implementation of UW-Stout's new CampusGroups platform, which features a custom design and unique app name: Connect. Through the many features and tools built into Connect, Jennifer and her team are exploring new ways to engage students, improve efficiency for on-campus processes, and establish a robust assessment program to make sure each student graduates feeling "ready."
As she reflects on the process of introducing the Connect platform on campus, Jennifer sees ever-expanding possibilities for incoming generations of UW-Stout students. "Every day I feel like there's something new and exciting we can do," she says.
Customizing to Create the Ideal Platform
From the earliest days of working on Connect with CampusGroups Founder and CEO Yorick Ser, Jennifer knew she needed an engagement solution that felt unique to UW-Stout's campus community. "We wanted to have something that was our own," says Jennifer.
One of the defining qualities of UW-Stout's student population is its talent in the arts. "UW-Stout has the largest arts school in the state of Wisconsin, and our graphic design program is incredibly competitive," Jennifer explains. When it came time to design the look and feel of the Connect app, Jennifer's team looked to the experts right in front of her. "It's all done by student designers," she says. "We're lucky to have such amazing designers here."
Jennifer and her team continued to seek student feedback as they worked with CampusGroups to develop the features and user experience within the app. "We work in a student center where students gather, so I was always asking them, 'Which design do you like better for the app?'" says Jennifer. "It was really fun. We learned a lot from them."
Jennifer and her team sought to make Connect as easy to use as possible, with direct links to some of the most commonly used campus websites. From Connect's main menu, students can access essential online resources like the bus tracker, dining options, and the the school's system for clocking in and out of campus jobs.
"The fact that we have some of this customization is really helpful," says Jennifer. In many areas, that customization has served not just students but administrators as well. Citing one memorable example, Jennifer says, "We have a very unique budgeting process, and one of the things we needed was a way to manage budgeting by event." With some help from the CampusGroups team, that feature was built and added to Connect's platform.
Jennifer says the creation of Connect has been a true collaboration. She credits the CampusGroups team for taking action on her feedback, saying, "They've been incredibly responsive and helpful for all of our questions."
Once the Connect app was up and running, Jennifer's team turned their attention to the next challenge: getting students to actually use it.
Starting with Student Leaders
Jennifer and her team knew that in order to get students to start using Connect, they'd need it to be filled up with all of UW-Stout's existing events and organizations. They also wanted to spend time training student leaders who'd be able to take advantage of the app's functions. In the end, Jennifer and her team brought these two ideas together and launched a series of early adopter workshops for student leaders to start learning and working in Connect—and the results were pleasantly surprising.
"The workshops were wildly popular!" says Jennifer, citing approximately 175 attendees across the series of training sessions. "We starting by loading in some of the events hosted by our office, then asked our student leaders to put in their weekly meetings and any of their own upcoming events." Before long, there were over 400 events on the calendar in Connect.
Jennifer's team plans to introduce Connect to UW-Stout's new students by using it as the central source of information for their upcoming Orientation week. Since all of the school's groups and events will be accessible from the app, Jennifer and her team will be able to analyze how new students engage with the opportunities available to them—which groups they join, what events they register for, and more. "We'll get a lot of good data from that, and hopefully a lot of good adoption of the app, given that we'll be asking students to use it as their scheduler for orientation activities," says Jennifer.
Overall, UW-Stout's campus community has found it enjoyable to dive deep into Connect's many features and discover new ways to apply them. "It's been really fun to watch students go into the platform and ask us questions about features we haven't even tried yet," says Jennifer. "The user-friendliness of the system really is showing us how easy it is for our students to explore, do the things they want to do, and customize things the way they want."
Assessment with Long-Term Benefits
As Jennifer's team looks to the future of engagement at UW-Stout through Connect, their first goal is to get more departmental processes built into the app. "We have a number of processes that support student organizations, so we're looking forward to using the Surveys and Forms feature," says Jennifer. "That's how students submit to our campus communications, request posters to be printed, rent locker space, and more."
In addition to her own team, many other offices on campus have expressed interest in integrating their processes with Connect. Departments like Housing and Residence Life, Recreation, Career Services, and others have reached out to Jennifer to get involved—including the school's sports teams. "Athletics wants to have all of their games in Connect as events," Jennifer says.
As a standard benefit of the CampusGroups platform that powers Connect, all student activity and participation is recorded and can be analyzed via customizable data reports. "I'm excited that students will be able to log their service and participation in an easy way that doesn't require staff management, but is visible for us for assessment," says Jennifer. "We'll get some nice pictures of how students are being engaged in a way we haven't been able to see before."
As an example, her office sends an email to students each day, and with Connect, she'll be able to assess how well that email is performing. "I really look forward to being able to track the interest of students when we're using that feature," says Jennifer. "We'll be be able to look more thoroughly at what students are looking at and how we can get the right information to people who need it most."
To Jennifer, one of the hallmark rewards of a thorough assessment program is the ability to offer extra support to students who are struggling. For instance, Connect will allow Jennifer's office to easily see which students are not joining groups or attending events, then send those students a targeted email to help them get started. "I love that we have the capacity to reach out to students who may not be part of an organization," she says.
Since Connect will automatically maintain detailed records of extracurricular participation, Jennifer believes the end result will be valuable for UW-Stout's students far beyond their years on campus. "I'm hopeful that it's going to be a good tool not only for us to see how students are experiencing our programs and events, but also for them to be able to look back and reflect on all of their participation—and spend some time practicing for those interview questions."
In the end, campus engagement at UW-Stout is all about making sure students are prepared, empowered, and "Ready" for the world after graduation. With Connect, both students and administrators have the tools they need to do their best work, with measurable results.
Jennifer and her team want to see all of UW-Stout's students carry the momentum of their educational journey into the post-graduation world. "I'd hope that wherever they're going next, their experience as a student helps them articulate some of the skills they've built to be more successful in the future," she says.
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