Innovative student experience web platform wins tech award

An innovative Cornell platform that connects students with hundreds of service and engaged learning opportunities beyond the classroom has won a prestigious tech award.

The Cornell Student Experience Initiative was selected as one of 50 winners of 2019 Digital Edge 50 Awards, given by IDG, a global technology media, data and marketing services company. Winners will be honored at the AGENDA19 conference March 20, 2019, in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

Prior to the initiative’s launch in February 2018, students relied on word-of-mouth or used inefficient web searches to sift through relevant grants and programs to find opportunities to enhance their educational experiences. Now, new technologies provide students with a one-stop-shop clearinghouse for information on high-impact learning experiences. The site makes it easier for students to find and apply for programs while also making it easier for administrators to promote programs, manage applicants and measure impact.

“These new technologies are trying to ensure that Cornell students are able to fully experience what we have to offer,” said Avery August, professor of immunology and vice provost for academic affairs. “Cornell has a depth and breadth of student opportunities but they are not equally accessible by all our students. Adopting technologies that make it easier for students to navigate the many resources available to them enhances their experience and equity in accessing these experiences.”

To that end, more than 570 – with 400 more to be added in coming weeks – local and far-flung opportunities listed on the site span six categories, including Career and Professional Development; Service and Community-Engaged Learning; Fellowships and Funding; Global; Research; and Special Interest. Opportunities may be found by searching for keywords or by clicking on one of the category pages, which lead users to specific programs and fellowships. For example, by clicking on the Career and Professional Development page link, users can find details on more than 90 opportunities, from the Cornell in Washington Summer Program to the New York City Public Service Corps.

Technically speaking, the innovative web interface combines a content management system with constituent-relationship management (CRM) technologies. CRM allows the university to help manage students’ needs throughout their academic journey.

“What is innovative about the experience platform is the way it seeks to create, in essence, a sensory network of the student experience,” August said. “It’s ‘social’ on the front end, and allows analytics on the back end. This combination of tools lets us create personalized experiences for students.” The CRM platform gives advisers the ability to understand the impact that programs and outreach have on students’ success, August added. This helps university administrators provide individual students with the resources they need when they need them.

CRM tools can be set up to follow through with a series of communications and actions based on triggers. For example, when a student registers for a travel program, the system can send an alert to inform a student services advisor that the student will be off-campus next semester. The system also can provide chat groups for students who share similar interests; it can tag resources, people and files; and monitor metrics of student engagement and success.

“This effort has involved the work of hundreds of people at Cornell and across colleges and departments,” August said. The initiative is led by Kevin Hallock, dean of the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, and Ryan Lombardi, vice president for student and campus life, in partnership with the Office of the Provost, the colleges and schools, and Cornell Information Technologies.

The Digital Edge award honors 50 organizations for executing digital transformation initiatives with significant, measurable business impact, according to the IDG web site. Winners are selected by a panel of executive peers who evaluate projects on complexity, scale, outcomes and innovation.

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Lindsey Knewstub