Welcome back, Colleagues,
January — the start of a new year and a new semester!
I hope you enjoyed your time with friends and family over the holidays. For me, carrying out some treasured traditions, experiencing a change in routine, and seeing all of this through the eyes of my six-year-old granddaughter was pretty wonderful. By the way, if you haven’t played the latest version of the card game UNO — UNO Attack — I highly recommend it. It provides an exciting twist to an old favorite!
New beginnings offer an opportunity for reflection as well as looking forward to what’s ahead. Ending the year with winter commencement is a powerful reminder of why what we do matters. This ceremony is deeply rooted in traditions of the past, but it is all about the future — because our graduates represent the promise of a brighter tomorrow.
As I present diplomas to our graduates, I see the seal of the University of Colorado on each diploma cover. The seal contains the Greek words that translated say, “Let Your Light Shine.” The degrees our students earn enable them to shape and enhance their lives in ways that are both immediately obvious and that will take time to be revealed.
Have you ever thought of yourself as a lamplighter? Our jobs, whether they involve direct, regular interaction with our students or are behind-the-scenes, help light the paths our students traverse. While our core mission at CU Denver is to produce college graduates prepared to lead productive and purposeful lives, the actual experiences we deliver along their academic journey are also important. The interactions our students have with faculty, staff and classmates influence how they feel about being here and whether they persist in their studies.
As we embark on this new year, I’d like us to proclaim 2019 the year of the “unparalleled student experience” at CU Denver. Over the last few months, the Student Access and Achievement team has taken the lead in reimagining the way we serve our students — from recruitment to graduation — and every human and virtual touch point in between.
I know this challenge may sound daunting as it is an enormous undertaking to reconceptualize the physical and virtual support we provide our students. It will take a commitment from each one of us to make this happen. But the journey of a thousand miles does, in fact, begin with a single step.
My most recent single step was to look in the eyes and shake the hands of our graduates as they crossed the stage at winter commencement. I strive to make my brief moment with each new graduate as meaningful as possible to reinforce how uniquely personal this accomplishment is for every one of them. Doing so is just a small way of contributing to their unparalleled student experience.
In late November, I had the opportunity to visit online retailer Zappos’ headquarters. Zappos is arguably one of the top role models when it comes to outstanding customer service. I found there is much we can learn from a company like this as we look to redefine the experience we provide to our students.
Zappos’ business is selling shoes, but the company believes its “secret sauce” is making a personal emotional connection (what Zappos calls a P.E.C.) with each customer served every day. The results speak for themselves — both in the company’s financial success and in measures of customer satisfaction and return sales. That too is our goal — to create a student experience that replicates this kind of personalized attention and ensures every student feels cared about and supported as they work toward their educational aspirations.
At the State of the Campus in October, I introduced the CU Denver Flywheel. While our strategic priorities remain the pillars for achieving our goals, the flywheel components represent the major levers that will lead CU Denver to long-term, sustainable impact and success. The levers will be moved not by any one of us individually but by all of us, each taking our own single step.
Likewise, it is the seemingly small interactions we have with our students that will make a big difference. Imagine if each of us would do one thing each day that is intended to help our students feel more welcome, valued and supported.
For faculty, perhaps it’s sending an email to your class after the first test. To those students who aced it, congratulate them. To those who did ok, provide an encouraging word. To those who struggled, suggest a resource.
For staff who provide student support services, maybe it’s taking an extra moment to make a transaction feel like a personal connection. Inquire as to how the student is doing. End the conversation by asking, “Is there anything else I can do for you?”.
For those of us who don’t have direct student responsibilities, notice if a student seems lost. Ask if they need assistance. On the elevator or when crossing campus, share a smile and extend a warm greeting.
It will take us working together to evolve our structure and processes to deliver the unparalleled student experience. But ultimately, the flywheel turns on single, simple gestures, applied consistently and compounded when reinforced by each other’s actions. I encourage you to print out the CU Denver flywheel. Pin it to your bulletin board or place it prominently in your workstation. Review it often to consider ways your efforts contribute and gain traction as we make it turn.
And, as we embark on a new year, remember this remarkable reality: when we help others let their light shine, it rekindles our own flame. May 2019 be illuminated with hope and the promise that what each of us does matters. Thank you for all the little — and big! — things you do.
Here’s to a brilliant year!