By Ignacio Lobos
Every month, a group of about 30 advisers, academic leaders and many others who care deeply about improving the student experience get together to hash out their ideas.
About a year ago, the group turned their attention to improving the university’s support for graduating students, who are typically juggling multiple demands just as they begin to close the chapter on one phase of their lives and prepare to move on to another.
“It’s just a bunch of us with no egos on the line, and with a single goal of improving the academic journey for our students,” said Helen B Garrett, the University of Washington registrar who helped start the tri-campus gathering with registrars from UW Tacoma and UW Bothell — now called the Enrollment Enhancement Initiatives Stakeholder Group.
“Every day we are thinking about how we can leverage technology to ease their journey and provide them with the tools they need to succeed at the UW,” Garrett said.
The things students needed to do toward graduation were not streamlined into a clear path nor was the information they needed easily accessible for them online, and there were gaps that needed to be filled across several areas, Garrett said.
The COVID pandemic also forced administrators to expand their thinking about how to best serve students. Because the pandemic made face-to-face meetings with students more challenging, improving online sources became key to serving them better, Garrett said.
In 2022, the UW had its largest graduating class in six years, but thankfully, coordination across the UW meant most online resources had been prepared for students just in time and students knew what to do to graduate. And these new resources can be used again and again to benefit future students too. After all, the UW’s most diverse and largest first-year class in the school’s 161-year history got started in autumn 2022.
UW administrators untangle complex student transition
Information technology and IT tools play a major role in students’ lives, and that means various members of UW Information Technology (UW-IT) have become an ubiquitous presence at Garrett’s gatherings. They were also agents of change as proposals rolled in to provide coordinated support for graduating students.
One of these representatives from the IT world is Jason Civjan, with UW-IT’s Academic Services division. He helps reduce frustration and stress in the UW student experience and improve academic business operations and continuity by working with campus partners on solutions.
For students, graduation is a highlight of their lives, but it’s also a very complex transition,” Civjan said. “As they get ready to graduate, they’re juggling multiple demands, from staying on track for graduation to planning for commencement to retaining their UW work and relationships through changing circumstances.”
In true collaborative partnership, Civjan said, various UW departments, including the registrar and the Office of Ceremonies, and multiple UW-IT units, coordinated their efforts to provide critical value to graduating students, starting with the spring 2022 class.
Not all information pertaining to graduation resides in a single place, so the group analyzed and revised existing resources and created new ones. Among them:
- The registrar revisited its Graduation and Diplomas page to make it easier to read and more student friendly.
- The registrar partnered with Civjan and his team to create a new Undergraduate Checklist for Graduation page to guide students through the steps to graduation.
- To ensure that students understand the why and how of transitioning their important UW work, data and accounts to their post-UW world, UW-IT created a new guide to help graduating students preserve their UW work.
- The Office of Ceremonies revised and updated its After Graduation page content.
“Nudging” students to graduation
Technology can be configured to help users when they need it most. That’s where MyUW shines. MyUW is an app for students, faculty and staff that provides access to online resources at the UW, and it also allows the University to send personalized messages to targeted students.
“We know students use MyUW, and they pay attention to the messages we send them via the app,” said Karin Roberts, a UW-IT technology manager who oversees MyUW operations.
In an average week, analytics show that almost 65,000 users open the MyUW app, and the typical student looks at MyUW several times per week, she added.
To help graduating students, the MyUW team created messages — “nudges” meant to incite action — at appropriate times to coincide with where a student is on their journey at the UW.
Messages nudge students with senior standing to apply for graduation and provide links to resources to assist them. Another nudge displays application status and guides students toward resources to help them complete the key steps, such as confirm they are on track to graduate, participate in commencement, save a portfolio of their work and move on to their future career.
Like other content in MyUW, Roberts said, resources displayed for students are personalized based on their affiliation, such as application status, expected degree date, international student status and campus.
Bridging the information gap
Garrett’s group is now setting its sights on other challenges. Creating a comprehensive guide for students who are contemplating changing their major is a high priority.
“Changing your major is not an easy decision, and it can be quite a challenge for our students,” Garrett said. “It’s a major pivot, and we need to ensure that we’re filling in all the blanks to help them with that transition.”
Changing your major is not an easy decision. We need to ensure that we’re filling in all the blanks to help students with the transition.
Ultimately, Garrett and fellow campus partners, including UW-IT, have the same goals in mind: improving the student experience and helping students get to the finish line with a degree in hand.
“We’re super committed to dropping barriers and helping students navigate their journeys more respectfully,” she said.