Last week we held our annual Academic convocation – the celebration of our past academic achievements and the beginning of a new academic year. It’s a DePaul tradition - the processional of college banners and robed faculty solemnly marching down the tree-lined streets of our Lincoln Park campus to St. Vincent’s Church is a sight to behold. Although masked and socially distanced, this year’s event was indeed a celebration – it was the first official public gathering at DePaul in in over a year and a half.
Our Fall Convocation is a perfect time to celebrate our accomplishments: faculty promoted to tenure, staff recognition awards, and speeches from the President and Provost promised hope for the upcoming year. It’s good as an institution to take stock of where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re heading, so we all can move forward together as one cohesive unit.
We’ve made numerous strides in the past year – we’ve updated classrooms with technology to create Zoom rooms and added recording technologies to others to offer a tri-modal (synchronous/asynchronous) educational experience for students, just to name a few. All this takes communicating with and training faculty on the use of the equipment, as well as understanding the pedagogical opportunities presented by these new technologies. The pandemic has forced us to re-imagine the delivery of education in so many ways.
We’ve also made improvement in our communications to staff, students and parents – through the initial campus closure announcements to the return to in-person learning, we’re quite adept at crafting and delivering our messaging, as situations evolve. COVID vaccines are mandatory here (with exemptions of course). Creating compliance plans, and weekly testing requirements for exemptions has been a challenge. The common wisdom of designing processes using the 99% rule does not apply here, when it’s those 1% or fewer exceptions that you really have to worry about.
Following the ceremony, a picnic was held on out on our Quad - a lovely green space in the middle of a busy city, surrounded by dorms and classroom buildings. Small groups of new students walked around campus, taking in the sight of so many faculty and staff together. It occurred to me that in addition to our first year students and transfers, we’ve got an entire class of Sophomores coming onto campus for the first time as well -- a large percentage of our student population! It was exciting to see these fresh, young faces, as well as seeing so many co-workers I have not seen for over a year.
I watched as a staff member greeted a student and their parents to welcome them personally to campus – she called over some of our grounds keeping colleagues and told the student: “If you can’t find a classroom, get lost, or need anything at all, just ask these folks – they know everything and are always happy to help you!”
This is the #Constituent Experience at its finest - even the best planned, most elegantly crafted email, text message or glossy brochure pales in comparison to a solid face-to-face personal connection. It takes everyone at our institution putting their best foot forward, to engage genuinely with the people we serve. And, regardless of the uncertainties the upcoming academic term will bring, it is more important than ever to provide that personal and human touch.