The Student Experience: All UM-Flint Employees Should Do It

In nearly every meeting I attend at UM-Flint, the topic of the “student experience” is discussed.  This is a good thing–clearly it is a concern and perspective that is considered at every level of the university.  Lots of time and energy is devoted to this issue.

But, there is a huge chasm between the talk and the experience.  I can say this because I just finished being a student at UM-Flint.

I remember when I was first contemplating pursuing my masters degree at the same place I work.  I had people tell me that it would be a mistake–that I would not be respected by faculty if I was an administrator returning to school.  I was concerned.  I decided to enroll anyway and take my chances.

It wasn’t long before my concerns were alleviated.  At the risk of sounding like the PR flak that I am, the faculty were great.  They didn’t care that I was an administrator.  They treated me like a student, and it was wonderful.  I found myself looking forward to my classes as a great escape.  In the classroom, I could stop and think about theories, different cultures, history.  It was fun.

My masters degree is in Social Sciences.  I’m sure you’re wondering what that has to do with marketing and communication, because I have certainly been asked the question.  My answer is nothing and everything.  No, it is not directly related to my day-to-day job.  However, it is directly connected to the point that we are constantly trying to make about a liberal arts education:  it increased my ability to think critically, to write better, and to have an appreciation and understanding for the world around me.  Most importantly, it strengthened my resolve to listen and learn about views and perspectives that are different from my own.

My recent stint as a student was also important for hearing from the students that are part of the crowd.  These are the students who don’t attend events because of their own busy lives, and who we don’t often hear from on the issues that matter to them.  It was an eye-opening exercise to hear how students feel about many things at UM-Flint, both good and bad.  I was the proverbial “fly on the wall” in discussions as I watched and listened to the exchanges between students and faculty.  I learned quite a bit from those spontaneous, unfiltered moments.

What I learned is that there is no way to generalize the student experience at UM-Flint, and that unless you are a student, it is nearly impossible to fully explain what it is like to attend classes on this campus.  And, as administrators/staff, we sometimes make assumptions about what students are thinking that are just not close to reality.  To get a better understanding, you must ask a student.  To really know, it helps to be a student.

Each experience is unique.  Everyone has their own story and soundtrack that represents their time at UM-Flint.  Being a student has helped me to communicate better with students, to understand the recurring concerns that need to be addressed, and to understand that the individual experience is also the brand experience.  I feel like I have the greatest insider information for communicating with one of my most important target audiences.

I can now officially say to students, “I understand.”  I really do.

So, whenever I hear fellow employees discuss students and their experiences, I can speak with the authority of knowing that same experience.  I think more employees should become UM-Flint students.  There is so much to learn from the other side.

Jen Hogan