What We Learned from the JW Marriott Hotel about Student Success Efforts

min read

Ana: Last month, I attended the SXSWedu conference. A fantastic and motivating event that was buzzing with educators, technology start-up talent, students, and just about everyone passionate about education. Several great sessions focused on the iPASS work and results our grantees are already witnessing, and I appreciated the chance to connect with some grantees during the event.

Many of us stayed at the JW Marriott hotel, and I must say the experience was special. Why? Well, it started with being greeted by my name as I approached the registration desk. Then that same person came out from behind the counter to show me where the elevators were and wished me a great stay. They were on top of everything, anticipating my needs and surprising me as they went over and above. For example, greeting you with a towel and a bottle of water when you return from jogging in muggy, rainy Austin, Texas. Everyone you encountered had a smile on their face and was ready to assist with anything you might need. So as John Grant, dean of student development at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (NWTC), and I were returning from dinner one evening we launched into this hypothetical discussion:

Could we do the same for our students?
Is that even possible?

I will let John respond to that in the second half of this blog post. John, what do you think?

John: Thanks Ana – Over the past 18 months, we have redesigned our Student Services Welcome Center at NWTC. This remodel involved the creation of a new customer service concept for students based on how we hoped they would feel in our space.

Our giant desk where our staff waited on students was removed and replaced with triage stations where we greet and welcome every new visitor to our center. We created a hands-on learning station where students can apply for programs, register for classes, fill out their FAFSA, or create a payment plan with the support of staff who are assigned to the location every hour of operation. Glass “train car” rooms were created for private or group conversations with staff and help desk stations were designed for transactional experiences and needs. Large engagement rooms were developed to orient students to the college, begin tours, and host events. Color, technology, furniture, and lighting all played a major role in this new venture.

However, it was a new commitment to customer service that has re-invented the space.

No longer do students wait in line for service. They are greeted the moment they enter our Welcome Center and are delivered to the appropriate service immediately for support.

Staff from multiple teams collaborate and learn from each other as they simultaneously operate the hands-on lab and assist multiple students at once.

Students learn to use the tools required for self-advocacy rather than move through our system without empowerment.

Advisors and other staff work to anticipate the needs of every guest and provide them a sense of comfort and belonging.

Lastly, the space becomes an extension of learning for students who benefit from the ability to engage in student service outcomes.

The JW Marriott was a shining example of customer service and reminded me of why the work we are doing at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College is so important. Often, it is not necessarily what we do for students, but how we make them feel. A student who is more engaged in our services, and who feels more welcome at our college, is more likely to persist and complete.

Ana Borray is the director of iPASS implementation services at EDUCAUSE. Follow her on Twitter @ABorray.

John Grant is dean of student development at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College. Follow him on Twitter @JDGrant1970 and LinkedIn.