I’m fortunate to have a guest blogger and former study abroad student, Ron Southwood, to lend his voice to my site! Enjoy his message that was inspired by a blog I wrote for the higher education community, especially for the global students I teach. It’s a lesson from a student who has invested in Baruch College with his heart and soul.
Recently, Trish has been encouraging colleges to “educate the heart”. As I come to the end of my year of graduate study in New York City, I’ve been musing over what that really looks like. Did my college effectively create an emotional connection with its prospective students? Or does it need to “overhaul its brand experience” if it wants to engage students with an extraordinary call to action?
The events that led me to Baruch College actually began while I was living in Spain. For three years I taught English as a foreign language. It was an amazing position and I felt so proud of my students as they discovered their potential and went on to study abroad and work in companies around the world. Yet the lifestyle was all a bit too sleepy for my liking.
I knew what I wanted; a completely different experience that would push me out of my comfort zone. One that’d make me learn and grow. Coincidentally, around this time, I also met a girl. I liked her and was looking for adventure anyway, so I decided to give it a shot and move to New York to live with her. If I’m being honest, studying was the easiest way to get here while doing something to develop myself personally. All I needed was to find a college that’d help me achieve this. Baruch’s Contemporary American Business Practices program was there at the right place at the right time. I applied and before I knew it I was on a plane to my new life in Brooklyn.
As Trish says, everyone has a story, and as I soon found out there’d be many students from successful backgrounds in their own countries whose stories would become a part of mine. Feelings of homesickness quickly disappeared as we all got connected on social media. It was only day one, and we already had a community that would be our strength throughout the year. Not only did they add value as friends, but their past professional experience revealed fresh perspectives. Karla, a Peruvian lawyer, taught me that it’s never too late to change your career trajectory. Ayako, a Japanese HR manager, showed me that effective networking can open up doors most people don’t even see.
As someone that’d been out of school for a while, I was apprehensive at the thought of having to take exams and get grades again. I was pleasantly surprised to find that though there was traditional assessment, professors focused mostly on raising up new voices and mentoring their students. Assignments would only be handed out with a clear outcome in mind. So while we had more than enough material to write a twenty page paper, instead the focus was on experiential learning; not only connecting us with successful businesses, but getting us involved, hands-on, with what they created. Trish connected my group to the amazing Cross Culture Coach, who I’d continue to work with long after the class project finished. We were able to begin a working relationship with non-profit Pajama Program that’s making an impact on at risk youth throughout the city. Our cohort also benefitted from intimate conversations with managers from Yelp, Google, and cultural insight and advertising agency Sparks & Honey. Any of our professors could have decided to assign a paper, but instead, they saw the benefit of us working on real projects, and did the leg work to set it up for us.
In addition to the experiences professors set up for us off-campus, often the professors themselves had an impact on me. Jon Harari, CEO of WindowsWear, turns a class on public relations into something personal. He teaches his students how to apply PR tactics to their own lives, particularly in the arena of networking and job searching. Something I’ve noticed about Jon is that he’s always actively writing his story. I knew that every week he´d come in and talk to us about what he accomplished since we’ve last seen him. It made me realize that there are a multitude of small actions that lead up to achieving a big goal, and I can, and should, be doing something everyday to drive me forward.
Baruch recently invited my classmate, Karla, and I to present to the new intake of students. I remember sitting in those seats having little idea what to expect, and was so happy to be able to share my enthusiasm for what I consider a wonderful program. Reflecting on the past year and being able to pass on our advice and experience made me feel that the program had come full circle.
When Trish talks about educating the heart, she’s talking about learning from real-world experiences, not just textbooks. Does Baruch do that? Absolutely. However, you wouldn’t necessarily know it if you don’t enroll in their program. For me, CAPB was my ticket to New York City. If I hadn’t been set on that goal, the information on the website wouldn’t have drawn me in. However, after completing the program, I know that Baruch’s story is providing incredible resources and experiences to passionate and successful young professionals from all over the world that want to reinvent themselves in America’s biggest city. Despite their success in this area, they aren’t effectively communicating this to prospective applicants.
If I worked for Baruch, using the knowledge I’ve gained this year, here’s what I would do. Baruch’s Contemporary American Business Practices program is made up of entirely of students based overseas. Students are investing a lot of time and money to move across the world, and since most of them will come to Baruch without ever visiting it, digitally available information is crucial. Practical information is great, but in addition, I’d highly recommend they capture and communicate the student experience.
How? Through channels that prospective students care about. First and foremost, their web presence. Communicating a narrative via social media will help build an emotional connection. They’ve made a positive first step by adding a video to their website featuring students and instructors, but they can expand on this. This could include videos of classes, student testimonies, and highlighting student involvement with local businesses. I’d encourage them to focus on the successes of students that have completed the CABP program and went on to advance their career. These alumni profiles provide real and tangible evidence of the course’s true value as a means to developing their skill-set with the aim of securing better opportunities post-study.
Several times a year, in the run up to enrollment, the college could host online chat sessions connecting prospective students with current students and professors. Not only would it allow applicants to understand the Baruch student experience, it would allow the CABP program insight as to what prospective students are curious about which they can then use to inform development of future marketing materials. This holistic approach would set Baruch apart in its competitors.
This year has been instrumental in my professional development and I’m thrilled with the very positive experience I have had with Baruch College. They successfully educated the heart. A year ago I felt frustrated by the lack of information on their website, but that was it, it stopped at frustration. Now, with the skills and strategies I’ve learned in this program, I can take any frustrating problem and turn it into an opportunity for positive growth. I have no doubt this newfound skill set and perspective will serve me well as I go forward to relaunch my career.