The Year In Review

Some of you may recall the list of goals I published about a year ago. I thought now might be a good time for a status update. What a busy year it has been.

Some reflection:

Goal #1: Support and advise the President's vision.

President Krislov hasn't fired me yet, so hopefully this goal is on track.

Goal #2: Develop personal relationships with the entire community: students, faculty, alums, other administrators, trustees. Know more than simply names and faces. Make time to drop in on people and see how things are going, what they might need, how we might help them.

I've had more breakfasts, lunches, and dinners with faculty, staff, students, alums, and Oberlin residents in the last year than I can possibly count. I try to spend as much time as possible with students - with the bloggers, with Senate, randomly at TGIF, the Feve, Decafe, etc. I speak with trustees and alums on a regular basis to brainstorm ideas and answer questions. At this point I am confident that most people know who I am and are comfortable approaching me.

Goal #3: Engage community in defining Fearless. Transition into a site that is stripped of marketing and spin and simply explores the concept of Fearless via personal narratives from alums and current students. Ultimate goal: 1000 stories.

This didn't happen exactly as I had planned (see discussion in this thread), but it all worked out in the end and gave us the more neutral Oberlin Stories Project, which almost everyone seems to love. On that front, we've accomplished what we set out to do: include the community in defining Oberlin for the world.

But my goal of reaching 1000 stories by November '09 is not on track. If anyone can help with this, I'd really appreciate it.

Goal #4: Launch new Work to make path to launch as seamless and smooth as possible. After launch, develop procedures to make Oberlin more self-sufficient so that we will not be so dependent on external vendors. Never stop thinking about how to evolve the website... think of launch as the beginning, not the end.

An entirely new web presence was launched in mid-November, restoring Oberlin's position as an online leader. With a gorgeous new user interface, a variety of robust entry points for all of our core audiences, and the use of dissemination technologies such as RSS and Twitter feeds, Oberlin now leads the pack. Compared to the same time period in previous years, traffic to the homepage from unique visitors has increased by approximately 200,000, and average visit time to the homepage has increased from 81 seconds to 203 seconds, a 151% increase.

My focus on the use of social media has paid off; the Global Language Monitor has ranked liberal arts colleges according to their appearance on the Internet, throughout the blogosphere, and in global print and electronic media. Oberlin was ranked 5th.

I am pleased with our progress towards technological self-sufficiency. We are making excellent progress towards that goal.

But we are still struggling with CMS issues, which have delayed the buildout of most non-academic department sites. We hope to remedy this by mid-fall.

Goal #5: Take admissions blogging program to the next level in content, technology, and procedures.

The site was established last fall to connect fifteen student bloggers, five faculty members, and a handful of admissions staff to prospective students on their turf. Traffic to the blogs averages ~1000 hits per day and our bloggers are quoted across the web. We are also developing a strong presence on third party websites that prospective students frequent, including Facebook, College Confidential, and Twitter.

This was a rather easy accomplishment, as my work at MIT had prepared me well for the challenge. Many prospective students have since cited the blogs as being helpful in their decision-making process. We expect the program to capitalize on our good start and really blossom in its second year.

While I am pleased with our progress in the first year, I feel that the blogs could be so much more than they currently are. We have some very talented writers, but many of them post infrequently, if at all. I'm excited for Aries, a former student blogger and one of our new Communications Fellows, to whip the program into better shape. I'm also excited to hire some additional (and hopefully wildly-prolific!) bloggers in the fall, to replace our senior bloggers who have just graduated.

Goal #6: Systemically transform current "black box" reputation of Communications office into one that is more public, celebrated, and transparent.

From the admitted student t-shirt contest to the recent online forums (one, two) around the new logo design to my regular presence on facebook, twitter, and the blogosphere, we have committed to transparency and inclusion in the operation of our office. The community has responded very favorably, and I look forward to building on these practices significantly in my second year.

Goal #7: Establish better communications with alums. Develop a Source-like e-newsletter for those members of the Oberlin community who don't live on campus.

Around The Square launched a few months ago and we have received hundreds of compliments from pleased alumni. Of the 20,000 alumni for whom we have working email addresses, only 31 of them have unsubscribed.

But there remains much work to be done with alumni communications. We have a lot of ideas on the table, and I look forward to bringing many of them to fruition in the coming year.

Goal #8: Develop micro-giving site for young alums, with focus on participation over dollar amount.

This is still a goal of mine, but I did not have the time or resources this year to be able to build it.

Goal #9: Establish personal blog to engage current students and alums in a non- traditional way.

I launched soon after arriving on campus, but unfortunately didn't write in it as often as I would have liked due to the time constraints of an overwhelming first year. This was the shortcoming of my first year that upset me the most, given my history with blogging at MIT.

But this site ( launched a few weeks ago, and it is meant to be a fresh start. I intend to prioritize blogging in my second year, as I know how much the community values this window into our office; I've also come to realize how much I need this as a personal outlet.

Goal #10: Begin overhaul of internal communications.

In the last year we have assembled multiple internal communications committees, supported and advised the creation of the How Oberlin Works website, spearheaded the Digital Signage Project, and commissioned a brand new internal homepage for the campus community. The next year should be a banner year for the flow of information on campus.

Goal #11: Explore the idea of One Oberlin. Resolve identity issues. Celebrate bridges between conservatory and college more than we have in the past. Establish much-needed consistency in brand/identity.

We have successfully designed a new logo and identity package for Oberlin that will celebrate the synergy between the College and the Conservatory. The first version was released to faculty, students, and alums a few months ago, and the online forum was soon abuzz with thoughtful and intelligent feedback, which we implemented in the final version. We have begun implementing the new logo campus-wide.

Goal #12: Raise alumni giving participation to 50% through creative communications and education.

The 50% goal was apparently too ambitious for the first year, but remains a top priority of mine. I still believe strongly that a college with so many dedicated and passionate alumni should have a much higher giving rate. Any relevant ideas would be very much appreciated.

On a positive note, I am very pleased with the relationship that has developed between the offices of Communications and Development. I have really enjoyed working closely with VP for Development Bill Barlow on a variety of initiatives; my staff has also temporarily absorbed the responsibilities of his open communications position in order to create vacancy savings for the college.

I am particularly interested in raising the giving percentage of young alums, and in converting semi-regular donors to annual donors (I am told that if each semi-regular donor would simply commit to giving every year, our overall participation would rise to 60%). I am looking forward to working on both of these issues with Bill and his staff this year.

Goal #13: Investigate the creation of an operation like MIT's Publishing Services Bureau to better aid Oberlin community with publicity and web/print needs.

We were unable to secure the budget for this, but we've tried to implement a smaller version of it using existing staff and resources. Through this program we have already redesigned a variety of publications and newsletters for various departments.

Goal #14: Launch and maintain an events calendar that really works for all subsets of the community.

The new online events calendar has worked well for us this year; we intend to make it even better when we upgrade Oberlin's content management system.

Goal #15: Establish a campus-wide print strategy in an effort to cut costs and improve our green initiatives.

We have worked closely with many folks across campus on this initiative. Moving forward, the budgets for all print projects in excess of $1000 will be consolidated and overseen by the Office of Communications. We expect to reduce print expenditures by at least $500,000 in the coming year through a combination of new efficiency initiatives and migration to the web.

Goal #16: Improve media placements for Oberlin.

The media relations team deserves a lot of credit for a terrific year. Director of Media Relations Scott Wargo and I have been meeting briefly almost every day to brainstorm, review hits, misses and opportunities, and strategize. To borrow language from a recent email:

"I am delighted to share with you the sustained positive publicity Oberlin College has received over the past two weeks in several major media outlets... Of particular note, Director of Financial Aid Rob Reddy was profiled in Time magazine, Crain's Cleveland Business wrote about the College's construction and renovation projects, and Inside Higher Ed discussed changes to this year's commencement program. A photograph taken inside the College's Science Center was featured on the front page of the May 1 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education. Toni Morrison's visit was reported across the country including coverage in USA Today, Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune and Cleveland Plain Dealer among others. Video of her visit also appears on the Plain Dealer Website and a 14-minute interview with Ms. Morrison can be found on the web site of Cleveland NPR station WCPN. In addition, Cleveland PBS station WVIZ aired a story on urban gardens that included a 10-minute segment featuring the College's efforts to use local foods, a visit to Jones Farm, and comments from Michael Pollan during his campus visit earlier this year. Additional Plain Dealer coverage included comments from Robert Lemle in an article about Cleveland State University's presidential search process and senior Michael Fry's selection as a Creativity and Leadership Fellow."

Goal #17: Get the President to rap.

This one wasn't officially on my original list, but I still pulled it off.

So there you have it. Not terrible for the first year, but lots more work to be done.

And so - onward to this year's goals.

Responses To This Entry:

Re:the stories project. One thing I was surprised I didn't see more evidence of was utilizing reunion/commencement weekend for stories. Alum are here to relish in their memories of Oberlin for the weekend, so why not ask them to bring a picture and related story with them to reunion? Maybe encourage this for alumni council? I think that could give you a substantial boost. Sure, they aren't current students but just having larger numbers would boost current student involvement with the project, IMO.

But all in all a great start to everything else!

Posted by: Matt on July 14, 2009 12:14 AM

That's a great idea, Matt, and one that we'd hoped to implement for this year's Commencement but just couldn't get it together in time with everything else going on.

Great idea for Alumni Council weekend... I'll talk with Danielle about putting something together!

Posted by: Ben on July 14, 2009 1:50 PM