Student Affairs: Innovation Meets Experience

Recently, my colleague Haider Ali shared an insightful piece on why missions matter for businesses of all shapes and sizes. As a mission driven student affairs professional, this was clearly something that sat close to his heart and mind.

It got me thinking about what’s close to mine. Firstly, I would like to preface this piece by saying that I don’t have all the answers, rather I wish simply to contribute to the fascinating, diverse, and often complex conversations that take place in the world of student affairs.

I wish simply to contribute to the fascinating, diverse, and often complex conversations that take place in the world of student affairs.

Working at OOHLALA is my first job. Graduating last summer aged 21 armed with a shiny new B.A, I felt ready to take on the world and leave a mark. I entered the world of student affairs with an admittedly presumptuous attitude. A mobile app specifically for student life, and a small piece on a student’s phone to accompany arguably the most important four years of their life? Of course every school should have one! All my friends and I spend so much time on our phones; apps are how we digest information and engage with our surroundings. An easy sell, right?

Well, not so much. Despite thinking it would be a relatively intuitive task to demonstrate to student affairs professionals that a mobile app is a crucial piece of the engagement pie, the reality is much more complex.

Starting out, I felt uniquely placed to bring value to the space, taking a first foray into the world of student affairs administration with the experience of being a recent full-time student fresh in the mind. An ‘expert’ in one thing, and a novice in another. How then to communicate my generation’s reality to the hearts and minds of those whose do not instinctively think that an app represents an undeniable strategic and tactical opportunity?

An ‘expert’ in one thing, and a novice in another.

We have a responsibility to the world of student affairs to always present technology as a complement to the student affairs mission, not simply as disruptive innovation solely for the sake of disruption.

While tech does and should play a greater role in simplifying the lives of student affairs professionals, we must not discount tried and true best practices and very real expertise. This valuable knowledge must not get left behind or discounted in a relentless push for innovation.

If we cannot communicate to someone who has 25+ years of extraordinary achievement in making a difference to students, why and how a little app on a phone makes their lives easier than juggling emails, 12 social media pages and ignored posters and flyers, then we have failed. If the message that technology can empower them to spend more time and energy on what they do best does not resonate, we must first analyse our shortcomings as storytellers before assigning frustration to a perceived lack of understanding of Gen Z engagement habits.

So no, I don’t have all the answers, but neither does anyone, and that’s the point. Only by true collaboration between young and old, experienced and exuberant, early and late adopters can we ever hope to achieve effective solutions that truly serve both students and administrators.

We’re all in this together, so let’s continue to collaborate and we might just end up doing something great.