Podcast

How to Use Data to Track and Improve Student Engagement

Julia Vollrath, the Associate Director for Campus Initiatives at the University of Florida, shares how her team is using data to track and improve student engagement.

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Julia Vollrath, the Associate Director for Campus Initiatives at the University of Florida, shares how her team is using data to track and improve student engagement.

In this episode, Julia talks about:

  • What specific data points her team is measuring (and how they measure them)
  • The most interesting things they’ve discovered in their data
  • How they’re using the results to adapt their career services offerings (including the timing of their events)
  • How they create a narrative around their data
  • How they visualize their data
  • How they share their data with other departments and leaders on campus
  • And more  

Specifically, Julia said her team likes to know how students engage with the career center—and in what order. For example, the career team uses their student data to figure out which of their services is a “gateway” service, i.e. a student’s first experience with the career center. Then they measure what students do after each of those gateway services. Do they set up a 1:1 appointment? Do they attend a workshop? Do they reach out to an employer?

From there, the team evaluates those student engagement patterns and pathways to see if students are getting the most out of the career center’s offerings—and if those offerings are scalable. If not, they make adjustments.

Resources from the episode:

Transcript

Meredith Metsker:

Hey everyone. Welcome back to the Career Everywhere Podcast. I’m your host Meredith Metsker, and today I am joined by Julia Vollrath. She’s the associate director for campus initiatives at the University of Florida. Thank you for being here, Julia.

Julia Vollrath:

Yeah, thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, likewise. I’m super glad you’re here, and I’m excited to talk to you today about how your team is using data to measure student engagement and how students interact with your career services office. So we’ll dig into what data you’re measuring and why, what you’ve learned from it, and how you’re using it to inform your strategy. But before I get into my questions, Julia, is there anything else you’d like to add about yourself, your background, or your role there at Florida?

Julia Vollrath:

Yeah, absolutely. Like I said, I’m super excited to be here. I’ve been in career services 13 years, if you count my two years in grad school. So I started off as a grad assistant over at the University of South Florida, which is in Tampa, doing career events. So I helped with all our career fairs and really got excited about career services that way.

After that, I moved up to Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. And I managed their marketing and their career fairs. So I was able to really tap into that creative part of my mind. Have a business major for my bachelor’s degree, so I was able to use some of those marketing skills. I did career events with them. But it snows there, so I immediately was like, I got to get back to Florida. I tried it for two years, and I was just froze.

So I moved back to the University of Florida in Gainesville. I’ve been here for nine years. And I’ve kind of worked my way up and seen different sides of the center. So I’ve worked student facing when I first got here doing different programs and workshops around competencies. And this is actually before NACE had competencies, which dates me a bit. So building those skills for our students. I then moved into working with our embedded liaison, so staff that are working with the colleges specifically. After that, I helped us move into our new center, so I was doing facility management, some tech work as well. I moved into a brand new center.

And then in my new role, which I’ve been in for about four years now, is I oversee our data, our strategic communication and marketing, and then our brand new initiative, which is Career Pathways. So those are staff that are student facing that are working to educate students on all the different industries that are out there for them, and how they get experience and how they can really follow their passion as it relates to career.

Meredith Metsker:

Wow, you’ve had quite the career path so far.

Julia Vollrath:

Yeah. Exciting.

Meredith Metsker:

Great. Well, before I get into the more specific questions about our topic today, I do want to kick us off with a question I ask all of our guests, and that’s what does career everywhere mean to you?

Julia Vollrath:

Absolutely. When I think of career everywhere, I think of the moving of barriers. Barriers for engagement, barriers for access. And so it can look different depending on the stakeholder group you’re talking about. So for example, at the University of Florida, we’re the centralized career hub. So we serve all students. It doesn’t matter you’re in school, your major, college association, even we do some alumni work as well.

And the point of our work is to increase access for students. So making sure that all students have access to career to help them with their career mobility, and really find out what they want to do and follow their passion. But also career everywhere, when you think of removing barriers and access, it could be our faculty and staff, and help them to infuse career into the classroom and what that looks like and making it easier for them to do that.

And then finally with employers, it doesn’t matter if you’re Fortune 100, Fortune 50, or a small local company, how can we ensure that you get the best service that you need, and we’re meeting the needs that you have and helping you get the students that you need. So I got to think of it in those three different buckets.

Meredith Metsker:

I love that. I love that you broke it down by the different stakeholder groups. So now I would love to dig into our topic today, which is again, how your team is using data to track student engagement. So to start off, can you just give me an overview of your data strategy, like what you’re measuring and why?

Julia Vollrath:

Yeah. So here data is the foundation for literally everything that we do. So whenever we’re looking to do anything, it falls back on what data do we have, how do we support that? So in order to do that, we have to track everything. And so we are a Symplicity school, and so everything that a student does, we’re tracking. And so that is from the very beginning of their journey with us, all the way through to we work with our graduation survey, with our Office of Institutional Research and Planning.

And all of those pieces come together and create different stories. And that’s how I like to think of data. A lot of times people think of data as just the number, and we forget that there’s a person attached to it. And so when you look at data, and you track it, and you look at the different ways it kind of flows together to influence either the decisions we’re making or the decisions the student’s making, it’s really powerful.

So we encourage all of our staff to make data decision when they’re doing anything. So if we want to do a new program, does it make sense based on where we know what our students have done in the past? Is it going to be in person? Well, that’s probably where we want to go because we’ve seen a huge leap in our students coming in person when we look at data versus online. If we’re looking to do a new Career Pathways program, how does it make sense with our graduation survey? Do we have a lot of students that indicate that’s a career path that they’re interested in? And so on and so forth.

So we’re using it throughout. And then we have a data calendar that we use. That is the other thing that happens with data is sometimes we get it, and then we sit on it and we just kind of collect it and we hoard it, which also isn’t helpful. So I really make sure that we’re putting it out there. So we use different signature data sharing projects to make sure that our story is being told to different stakeholder groups. And we do that through a calendar of data sharing. So it’s really built into literally every aspect of the center.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, sounds like it. And I love that emphasis on sharing it as well. Because I mean, that’s how your center tells their story, I’m assuming, to leadership, to students, to parents.

Julia Vollrath:

To everyone. Alumni, employers, everyone to help them understand what we’re doing. Absolutely.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, that’s super smart. So what kind of data are you measuring? Specifically what metrics?

Julia Vollrath:

So we look at a variety of things, but one of my favorite things that we have done is our gateway data. So this is something that we wanted to figure out how are students engaging with the center? So this came up in 2020 when things were different, and we had to tell a different story. So we couldn’t just say, these are the number of students that are coming to our workshops. Which in the past, that’s the data that we collect, and that was the data we shared. There’s nothing wrong with that, but in the world of 2020, that looked really different.

So I worked with another associate director in the office to figure out what do we do? How can we tell a different story? So we got with our research team, assessment and research team, in our division, and we came up with the idea of gateway services. So how can we tell the story of where a student first engages with the center, and then the story of where they go next? And what that journey through career looks like for them?

So we were able to use the data we’re already collecting, which is engagement data points. So you’re thinking about career planning, you’re thinking about drop-ins, attending a career fair, things of that nature. But then it’s also looking at our online resource usage. So that’s our Symplicity system. That is what we call CHOMP, because we’re the Gators. But it’s FOCUS 2. And how students are engaging online as well because of the population that we’re serving now.

So basically we dumped all of that data into a Tableau, and we’re able to look at that first point of engagement, that’s their gateway, that point of service. And then what happens next. And that has totally changed the way that we look at our student services. Because we found out that our top three services are really large services. So one is FOCUS 2, which is an online tech. So that’s the number one way that students are engaging, are doing that career assessment. Then we have our Career Showcase, which is our largest career fair, happens in the fall and spring. And then third, we have workshops, which we include both ones that we host and outreaches. So ones that faculty, staff, or student orgs request.

Those are our three top services that students are getting their feet wet, if you will, when it comes to career. Which is exciting because for us that means that it is scalable. Scalable means that it’s not one-on-one. There’s no way that we could have 60,000 students here at the University of Florida and serve them in a one-on-one capacity. So to see that we’re already doing work where they’re getting their needs filled in a scalable way was great news for us. And so we’re able to track that and see where they go next.

And then that next piece was really important for us because we had to think about that story. Because I’ll be honest, that next piece could be they don’t engage with us. That could be just one service, and then they’re done. And in the beginning you’re like, oh no, why didn’t they come back? And we had this panic moment. But then we kind of thought about it. We said, what if that’s what they needed at the time and they were good? We gave them everything they needed, and they were able to either move forward because of the coaching tools that we used, or they’re engaging with other partners throughout campus and kind of having that mindset.

So that is kind of how we’re tracking it. And then we use that dashboard when we talk to our staff about their workshops, the services that they’re providing. But then also really importantly, the marketing and language that we’re using to guide them through where we want them to go, where do we want them to go next after a service? So we’re using it in a variety of different aspects.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. I’m curious, what did you find in terms of their career journeys? What was the common path?

Julia Vollrath:

So really cool things that we found, I would say. For our workshops, we’ll use that one, a lot of times for undergrads, they would go to a workshop and then they’d go to Career Showcase, which is our big career fair. But what we found really interesting is for our grad students, they went to a workshop, a workshop, and a workshop. So that made us think, okay, is it that we weren’t providing industry engagement opportunities for them? And so they didn’t feel like they could go to a career fair, it wasn’t for them? Or was it that the workshops weren’t giving them everything they needed, and they felt like they needed to go to multiple workshops or do they just like workshops, which is fine as well.

So we took that and then we met with people from the graduate school. Said, “Hey, this is what we’re seeing. What have you heard from your students? Does this make sense for you? Is this shocking?” And they said, “Yeah, this is what we’ve heard.” And from that partnership and those conversations we had with them, we’re looking to do an industry engagement networking event just for graduate students. Because they were looking for that specifically. And helping them understand how to move from academia to industry. And so having some programs where we can plug in to the graduate school in their existing things that they’re doing. So that was really exciting for us.

And then we also saw, one of the things that I found really interesting, is when we looked at Career Showcase. I thought for certain, okay, you’re going to go to a career fair, your next thing is going to be an interview. That has to be it. But it was a workshop. And so I was like, oh no, what happened there? So we thought, do they not know that we offer on campus interviews, or do they not know that we offer information sessions with our employers?

So what we did with that is after Career Showcase, and I mean immediately after, so 3:05, we’re sending out an email in Symplicity that tells them about next steps and what you should do after Showcase. So we did that this past year. We looked our new data, and now the second thing for Showcase might still be another Career Showcase or a workshop, but the number has moved when we look at information sessions. So we’re getting more students to know that that’s another option for engagement for them, which is really exciting for us. We’re able to see that movement in just a year. It just speaks volumes to the power of this data.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, That’s a great example of how you can take what you’re learning in the numbers, and apply that in real life. That’s super cool.

Julia Vollrath:

Thanks.

Meredith Metsker:

So I think you kind of touched on it a little bit earlier, but can you just walk me through how you are measuring this data?

Julia Vollrath:

So as far as collecting it or… Oh, collecting it. We collect it everywhere we can. So we use Symplicity, like I mentioned. And so we use the kiosk system with Symplicity. So we do this a variety of ways. One, if it comes to the center, we are having them swipe in at the front desk, and we’re tracking that data there. With outreaches, we’re using QR codes in our presentations, and they’re using the QR code scanning in and signing in through a kiosk there. All of our career fairs that are structured, so not in those breezeway type atmospheres. We track the data there through the kiosk as well.

So then we compile all of that in the Symplicity system, which is connected to the registrar’s data. So we have live data with our registrar, meaning that we can know and pull reports for in the moment because our students will change majors, and we’re able to see that and how that changes. But also we have a lot of students will come in their first year as a freshman, but then by their second year, they’re a sophomore. And so being able to understand that, all that data is really important to us.

So we look at everything from their attendance data. Then we apply that to what does our early engagement look like? So that’s first and second year students because of that switch that they do. We compile those together. We can look at engagement with our transfer students and what that looks like, engagement with our graduate, our professional school students. Each level of student as well. Each college, we do specific reports for each college on what their students are engaging and how they’re engaging. And we share that with the deans. So we’re measuring it, all of that, all of those ways.

And we’re always looking for the story. So I think what’s really important when you have an office that’s so focused on data and data decision making is that we’re never looking at the numbers compared to the previous year in the sense of it’s not higher. So we don’t want to have that culture where it’s like the numbers are the most important thing. So our director always said, “If we do good work, they will come.”

And so when we talk about data decision making, it’s to make sure that the things that we produce is what’s best for our stakeholders. And not with the idea of we got to get 50 more seats built. We got to get that number up by this percentage. So that’s never what we’re measuring. It’s just to show, look at how important career is to our students, and look at all the ways they’re engaging and the different things that they find interesting and that meet their needs. So those are different ways that we’re measuring it and looking at it outside of the traditional, oh, our workshops are 5% lower this year. Well, there could be a reason behind that. And so that’s not really the best way to use your data.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. That’s a really good reminder, I think, that it’s not just about the numbers. That’s it’s about the students behind those numbers.

Julia Vollrath:

Exactly. Yeah. And it’s really easy to fall into that if you are a data driven office. And so remembering who our stakeholder is first, that is the most important thing. And keeping that at the forefront of our staff’s mind is how we do that.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay, I love that. So I am curious, how are you keeping track of all of this data? How do you visualize it so it’s usable?

Julia Vollrath:

Oh my gosh, right? That’s always hard because people ask me that, and I always tell them we don’t have a data warehouse. So we don’t have some fancy system that keeps year over year over year data for us to be able to track that. That’s not the way that our system is built out. So we have spreadsheets in Excel. And I wish it was fancier than that. But we do have Excel spreadsheets year over year that we save. And that’s how we’re able to if we need to do year over year comparison.

The gateway dashboard is fancy in the fact that it’s in Tableau. It’s a super interactive Tableau dashboard that we were so fortunate that our assessment and research department was able to build for us. And then our graduation survey is also in Tableau. So all that data we get from the graduation survey, we’re able to look at that in Tableau as well. And then that visualization comes in the form of reports. So like I mentioned, we have a reporting assessment calendar that tracks our reporting and how we visualize that.

So when we look at that, it’s a variety of different ways. The first thing is obviously what everyone does is the annual report. So our annual report is on our website. It’s a webpage where you can go through and you can learn about it. And then what we’ve added, we do articles attached to that to help the data come alive. So we highlight three to four different initiatives that our office does that year, and we build articles for a narrative around it. And we add that as part of our annual report. So you can either, oh, that sounds interesting, I want to learn more, or you just keep looking at everything that’s on there. So that’s our big one.

We also do what we call career impact reports. Career impact reports are those college specific. And those are given to the dean, associate dean levels. And that just shows them how their students in their college are engaging with the center. And we also break down the graduation survey and share that with them. So they have a really great document to be able to talk about and share with other people in their college. And it allows our director to have really intentional conversations with the dean and the associate deans about career and what that looks like in partnerships. So we do that. And then we also do a specific one for our provost that looks very similar to that, that breaks down our work and the graduation survey and those pieces.

On top of that, we’re using social media a lot to share out our data in different ways. So we post different data points on our social media. We like to share some of our data throughout the center on our digital boards. So folks going around the center can see that, as we’re a part of the Union. So we are in a centralized place on campus, so we can share that.

And then we also like to plug in data points just throughout our website where it makes sense, just to show scope and volume as it relates to some of our services. So this helps anyone that’s going in to see, when I’m talking about career planning appointments, this is how many career planning appointments we had last year, and they just see that as they’re learning about career planning appointments. So those are just some of the different ways that we’re visualizing it.

One of the things I’m excited that we’re going to lean more into with visualization is telling the story of our employer impact. So future, we’re looking at how we can take all of our job postings and create some sort of report around job postings, similar to how NACE does with their job outlook. So that’s something that’s in the works as it relates to showcasing that side of the house data.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. So I’m curious, are a lot of these resources public on your website where folks could go and see?

Julia Vollrath:

So our annual report is public. The career impact reports are given to the deans. So again, we don’t want people comparing others. And so we just print those off and send those to the dean specifically. But the annual report is public. The graduation survey dashboard is also public.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay, great. And I’ll be sure to include a link to those things for those who are watching or listening, because I can guarantee you, folks will want to go and check that out for themselves. Okay. So I mean, that’s just so cool that you share out all of this data to these different stakeholders. I’m curious, what has been the reaction to some of these reports, or the fact that you share them at all?

Julia Vollrath:

Yeah, they’re really receptive. It’s gotten to the point where it’s so traditional that they know when this meeting comes from our senior director, Ja’net Glover, she’s going to be presenting them the career impact report and they’re going to be talking about the year and then what that looks like. So it’s become just a traditional thing that’s included. But I know for a fact that she’s just had a meeting this past summer with one of our deans. And he was so excited, he was like, “This is so great. We could be a blue ribbon example of what partnership can look like.” And we were like, “Absolutely, yeah. Let’s make this happen.” And he’s like, “How can we grow? How can we be more involved in it?” And those pieces.

So they’re really excited about the idea of their students engaged in career services. But then using that data to talk about partnerships for the future as it relates to their college and their work and our work coming together. And the other piece that’s really helpful as we have a brand new president on campus. And one of his big initiatives is world-class career services. And for it to be a university-wide initiative. It doesn’t just fall on our center. Everyone is engaged in career. So this gives those folks some language to use when they’re talking about that in their different spaces as well. So they find it really helpful.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, it’s like the ultimate conversation starter.

Julia Vollrath:

Exactly. Yeah. It has started many partnerships, and led to many different ways that we can support each other.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, And I imagine it just automatically gives your team more credibility when you walk in with this report and say, “Here is exactly how students from your college are interacting with us, and here’s how we can improve and just iterate on that.”

Julia Vollrath:

Exactly. Yeah. This is what we’re seeing. This is what they’re engaging in. And the fact that we put the graduation survey data on there, this is where they’re going. This is what our data says that this is where their paths are. These are the industries that they’re interested in. These are the graduate school programs that they’re most interested in. All of that gives them that knowledge. And they can see if it changes throughout the year because it’s something we’ve done for, gosh, 10 years now, to be able to share that with them.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah. This kind of reminds me of something you said earlier, which was that you write a narrative around the data in your annual report and in these other reports you send to the deans. Can you talk a little bit about why that’s so important, and kind of how you go about producing that narrative?

Julia Vollrath:

Yeah. It’s so, so important. So when you look at data and you’re doing strategic data work, if you just give someone numbers, they’re going to interpret the numbers in their lens, with their history and their knowledge, and all of those pieces. Now we hope for the best and we hope that the way they’re reading it, interpreting it, is how you intended it for it to come across. But sometimes that isn’t how it works out.

And so if we’re able to add that narrative, there’s many different ways that we do that, to show either this is the number, this is an increase. This is the number, and these are some popular workshop titles or topics that students are engaging in. Telling that story of what the data means. And then most importantly is what do you want them to do with the data? So you have the data, you understand the data, now I want you to do something with it.

And I think that’s the part people often forget. And so you have to kind of guide them with an action step just, like we do for our students in career planning appointments. We lead with this is one thing that you can complete within the next week. It’s similar with data. This is the data we’re giving you, and then this is an action step that I want you to do with the data. It could be as easy as, I just want you to share it with your team so they’re well informed as well. Or with our team, with our staff, our student facing staff is, we present them the data and we say, “This is the gateway services dashboard. These are our top resources. I want you to figure out how this impacts your work. And as you’re planning for your academic year programming, how are you using this dashboard to infuse that into what you’re presenting to your students?” So that is really important.

I forgot to mention one other data point that we use with our student programming is we’ve worked with our assessment and research team, and they gave us a dashboard that shows when students are available outside of class. So it tells us that students are taking a class, and then they have a break. That is the best time to engage students in workshops because they’re here. And so that is another great example of how we’ve used data and had our staff take action.

So when they put on programs, I’ll tell you, for some reason, everyone loves a 3:00 program. I don’t know why, but we all love to put 3:00. I think it’s because you do this 3:00, you wrap up, you got an hour, and then you’re good to go home. Are students even available at 3:00 on a Wednesday? I don’t know. Let’s look at the data. And then they’re able to see. And what we found is that we have students available at 9:30. No one ever does a workshop at 9:30. So we said, “Well, let’s give it a try.” And we have 20 students show up to a workshop at 9:30 on a Tuesday. And so that really shows how we had our staff look at the data, use the data, and then in this case, the narrative wasn’t an article, but it was how they used it to plan their programming schedule. Then they could share that with their coworkers about how it worked out, and how I was able to reach more students and how the data is important. So that’s another piece how we’ve used it.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. Yeah. This reminds me of a conversation that actually came up at our Career Everywhere roadshow a couple weeks ago in Boston. We were talking about this exact same thing, where the importance of attaching a narrative to your data. Because if you don’t tell your story, someone else is going to tell it for you.

Julia Vollrath:

Yep. And you might not want the way that they’re telling it is the way you want to tell it,

Meredith Metsker:

Right. Yeah, exactly. It might not be accurate. I’m curious, what’s an example of a narrative that you used recently?

Julia Vollrath:

Yes, I am so excited you asked me that because I’m going to talk about how we had uConnect actually. So one of the ways that we’ve used the data is to get funding for technology. So at the University of Florida, there’s this grant, it’s called the Tech Fee Grant. It’s student tech fees that you’re able to apply, write a proposal about how you would use it, and then get some funding to onboard new technology.

So as I mentioned, one of our top gateway service is FOCUS 2, which is the technology obviously. So in our grant, we were able to write out how students are using online resources for their career development. And if we use uConnect, we’d be able to increase access to all of our other technologies that we have in the center and are offered for students by removing barriers and having it all in one place. So we used our data of how many FOCUS 2 users we have, how many students are engaging with the center on average, how many staff members we have, how that looks like in a one-on-one appointment situation.

So using all of that data, we infuse other different narrative pieces about NACE, the Future of Work, all of these pieces. And put this together into a really great two pager about why uConnect is something that we need at the University of Florida. And surprise, surprise, we were able to get it.

Meredith Metsker:

Yay.

Julia Vollrath:

Yay. So we were able to get that. And the thing that they loved is students decide on who gets the money because it’s through their fees. So there’s a committee. And they told us that they loved all the different data points we put in there. And then they loved the labor market data add-on that we talked about in there because that gives them more data at their fingertips, and it gives them more information. And so both sides, it was very meta. So we’re talking about the data that we have and how we supported it, and then the data that they would have access to, and how they could use that independently to support themselves. And so all of that kind of put together was a really great narrative, a beautiful narrative that students really latched onto, and really excited to be able to have this access and be able to have this resource.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, I love that. It’s a great example of a narrative. And I’m personally happy that it was successful, and that you guys were able to get uConnect.

Julia Vollrath:

Me too.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah. We’re going to have to do a part two to this episode to see how the journey adapts once you have the uConnect platform all up and running.

Julia Vollrath:

Yes. I love that. Let’s do it. Especially with our gateway services, to be able to see that, it’s going to be great.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, I’ll be curious to see if it becomes a gateway. Yeah.

Julia Vollrath:

I’m really excited.

Meredith Metsker:

Cool. That’s super exciting. So I mean, you’ve kind of touched on this throughout our conversation so far, but what exactly are you looking at or are you looking for when you’re analyzing the data in your dashboard?

Julia Vollrath:

In the dashboard specifically, so the gateway dashboard, we’re looking at where are students coming in? What is that initial touch point? Is it scalable, because of the size of our university being over 60,000 students? And then for us, our new thing is where are they going next. And is it continuing to be scalable? So what we don’t want to see, and we have, with our transfer students for example, is we saw them coming in through FOCUS 2, and their next step was a one-on-one appointment. That’s not really scalable. And that was a little scary for us. Does that mean that students who are transfer students felt like that FOCUS 2 maybe had more questions pop up than answers, and they needed that one-on-one time?

So immediately we had to think about how do we change that? And so through different initiatives we spent over the summer, we’re hoping to be able to impact that. But that’s an example of things that we’re looking at. We’re looking at all the levels. We have filters on this dashboard like crazy. So we can look at, not year in school because it changes, it’s throughout, it’s like seven years worth of data. But we can look at first time in college students, transfer students, our online students, as UF has an online division. We can look at our first gen students and our international students. And look at all of that to see how they go through and move through.

One of the things we haven’t done yet that I really want to look into is also the college. So broken down by college, where are they coming in, and how we’re serving those students based on the college? So that’s a future plan that we’re going to look at. But those are just some of the things. So it’s where are they coming in? Is it scalable? Where are they going next? Is it scalable? Is it where we help that they go? Because that impacts our marketing. And if we’re telling that next step story, which is something that we’re going to spend a lot of time this academic year focused on. So it’s like, you did this, then you can do this. You should do this because it seems like you are interested in it. So we’re going to spend some time this year, and grow that narrative and using that data. So we’re hopeful then next year we can see some movement as well in that.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. Yeah, it’s like what you were talking about with how you added that communication after the career fair, trying to drive them to a scalable next step.

Julia Vollrath:

That’s exactly what we’re looking at. So one of the things that we’re going to do is we have this thing called Express Drop-In Plus. We do it the whole week before Career Showcase, and it’s just drop in services. Students can come in and talk about anything related to Career Showcase. And so that’s resume, elevator pitch, how to look at… Anything you can think of.

But a big part of that is resume and then mock interview because we do have interviews right after Showcase. So we’re going to test out to see if we send them an email promoting Clintia as one of our other new tech that we have to get their resume reviewed after they meet with us, is that going to show a movement? So that’s one thing that we’re going to look at. And then we do prepare for Career Showcase workshops that whole week. So we’ll be able to send that to them, and we’re hoping that we’ll be able to see a bit of an increase in those as well, knowing that you are probably going to Career Showcase if you’re coming to the service. These are two other things that you can do to really feel prepared.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. I love that. It’s so many good ideas, and data-driven ideas that you know are probably going to move the needle. It’s nice to be confident in that, for sure.

Julia Vollrath:

Yeah, it is. Very excited to see what happens.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah. Yeah, me too. You’ll have to keep me updated.

Julia Vollrath:

Yeah, absolutely.

Meredith Metsker:

I’m curious, what have been a few of the most surprising or interesting things that you’ve learned from your data?

Julia Vollrath:

Wow. That is a great question. I think for us, when we looked at the gateway dashboard, what was really surprising is our three gateway services, again, that’s workshop, Career Showcase and FOCUS 2, was the same for every population. And it was really like, hmm, I did not think that graduate students, that we would see FOCUS 2 pop up, but it did, and that was really surprising. So that made us think a lot about that population and how we’re best serving them. The other thing that we found really exciting, we knew FOCUS 2, that a lot of students used it. We didn’t know it was at the level when we look at the overall data as a first point. So that was really powerful.

And then what I found really exciting is that workshops, because workshops are so scalable. And you hope that workshops are going to be part of that because staff are putting so much time and energy and thought into building these really creative workshops. But also their time as far as outreaches after hours. And so you just hope, I hope that was one of them. And when it showed up, I was like, okay, good. That is great. This is what we hope to see with our students.

So I don’t know how surprising, more in the fact that it was just so reassuring that a lot of energy that we had spent on marketing outreaches, working with faculty and staff to help them to understand it. We go to faculty and staff orientation. We table there. We send it out to whenever we meet with a faculty member like, “Hey, we do outreaches. Don’t know if you know that.” But then we also table at our big student org fair as a resource for the student orgs. So they come to us, and they’re like, “I didn’t know that I could do and bring you all to one of our general body meetings. I’m the professional development chair.” And so we’re able to do that. So it was just so reassuring that all of this hard work we’ve done into making really good workshops and focusing a lot of effort on outreaches was like, yeah, that is a top gateway service. That feels so good to know that that work is paying off.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, I bet. I’m sure it’s nice to not only know that there are things you can do differently, but it’s nice to have that validation of what you’re already doing and spending a ton of time on.

Julia Vollrath:

Right, exactly. It just felt great. And then that email that I talked about, it was really we’re like, we’re just going to give it a try. We had over 90% open rate for that email, which is unheard of in marketing and emails. And for us to see that that worked, and it was clearly a need that our students didn’t know what to do after Showcase necessarily. And just assuming that they did was not great. So for us to take that action and be able to help them with that, and then for us to see movement in the needle felt really good.

Meredith Metsker:

And to confirm, this is the email you’re talking about is the one that you send after the big career fair?

Julia Vollrath:

Yes.

Meredith Metsker:

That’s guiding them through next steps. Okay.

Julia Vollrath:

That’s the email.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. Cool. Well, you’ve mentioned a few examples already of how you’ve taken what you’ve learned and applied it, but are there any other examples you would like to share?

Julia Vollrath:

Oh, well, like I said, we use it in so many different ways. The last one I would love to share is, for our center, what we do with our student programming is we plan our whole academic year over the summer. So we plan our fall workshops, our spring, and our summer workshops for the next summer over the summer. And that sounds really overwhelming. And when we told our staff we were going to do this, they were like, “What? No. How are we possibly going to know what to do a year from now?” I understand. Well, we have data.

So we put together a presentation at the very beginning of the summer semester for all staff members to see. And it has that student availability data that I talked about. So when they’re free, what that looks like. But then we break down our workshop data and our attendance data into very detailed information. So we look at what are the most popular workshops that we offered? What day were they, what time were they, and what topic category were they? So staff can look at that and how that applies. And then what we do is we overlay the student availability, and to see if that matched to show them that the data is working.

But at the same point, we put up our popular as far as most 3:00 PM on a Wednesday workshops type things that we do, and then overlay that with student availability. And when we first did it, it was like, oops, they don’t match. And so we’re able to really help our staff through that. So we’re looking at, not just student availability, but our own data. And when we’ve seen popular attendance data and engagement with students, and then where we’re seeing our different levels of students engaging in different services. So they have all of that information at their fingertips. We give them the presentation after the meeting so they can use that as they plan out their whole academic year.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. That’s so smart. And I imagine it feels good to just be able to plan out your whole year, and then just focus on execution.

Julia Vollrath:

Oh my gosh. It is a game changer. Because otherwise it would be like, I don’t know, November. And I’d go to my staff, “What are you all doing in January?” And we’d have to stress and get that all together. Now it’s like, oh, we’ve already done it. We’re good. Is there any changes that need to be made? Do we still feel good about this? Okay, check. Let’s make sure it’s on the website and we move forward.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, I love that. It’s easier to be agile when you already have a plan in place.

Julia Vollrath:

Yeah. It’s been good.

Meredith Metsker:

Okay. So I’m curious, what are some more of your future goals for this data strategy? Anything exciting on the horizon?

Julia Vollrath:

Yeah. So we’ve spent a really good amount of time on our student data. And my next goal is to move into industry data. And so we’re looking at the job outlooks, UF, if you will, and how we can make kind of our own version similar to what NACE does. But then I would love to look at how our employers are engaging and make a gateway dashboard for our employers. So we could see is that first point of engagement a job posting? Is their first point of engagement a career fair? What does that look like for companies, and how they’re engaging with us? And how is that scalable as well? And is it where we want them to go in? And then are they taking action continuously? And where are they going afterwards? So that is something that is on my wishlist that I really want to look at, and how we can tell that story of our other side of our center, and how our employers are amazing, and how they’re engaging with us.

Meredith Metsker:

I love that. That’s going to be awesome.

Julia Vollrath:

I’m excited. So hopefully we can have another meeting and I can share all the amazing things we found.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, no kidding. We need a part two and part three.

Julia Vollrath:

I love it.

Meredith Metsker:

There’s just so much we could cover. Well, Julia, what advice do you have for other career services leaders who want to do what you’re doing with data?

Julia Vollrath:

Yeah. And I know I talked about a lot. So you can’t do it all at once. It’s finding what is that thing that makes you curious? When I’m looking at data, to have that curiosity that drives you is a great way to start. So are you curious about your student data as far as even as small as when is the most popular time to have a workshop? Can we bite off that bit and look at that data? Or do we want to go big and redo our whole annual report? Well, if we’re going to do that, what is the story we want to tell? And so I think it’s deciding on our focus, the story, and the outcome. And if you have those things, it should help you be able to get started. And don’t try and do it all at once because it’s not possible.

Meredith Metsker:

Solid advice, for sure. Well, I want to be mindful of our time here, so I’ll probably start wrapping us up. But is there anything else that you would like to add?

Julia Vollrath:

I don’t think so. I think I covered everything.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, we covered a lot. It’s been very productive. Julia, if people would like to connect with you or learn more from you, or ask you questions, where is a good place for them to do that?

Julia Vollrath:

I’m on LinkedIn. Feel free to reach out to me there, connect. Or I’m the only Julia at the UF Career Center, so you can feel free to shoot me an email. It’s juliavollrath@ufl.edu.

Meredith Metsker:

Perfect. And I’ll be sure to include links to that in the show notes as well. And so now I want to finish this up with something I do at the end of every interview, which is an answer a question, leave a question thing. So I’ll ask you a question that our last guest left for you, and then you’ll leave a question for the next guest. So our last guest was Mike Summers of Lafayette College, and he left the following question for you. If you had two wishes, one wish for life and one wish for work, what would they be?

Julia Vollrath:

I love this. I’ll start with work first. I wish that we had an unlimited budget.

Meredith Metsker:

Don’t we all?

Julia Vollrath:

That means we could hire more staff, we could get more technology onboarded, those sort of things. So if we had just unlimited money, I think things would be just a lot easier. So that’d be that number one work wish. And then personal. I don’t know if this kind of fits, but it’d be really cool to be able to travel more. So I don’t know if that means that I have more money, or if I can teleport, or I have access to a private plane. But I wish that I had the ability to travel more. I love to travel. My husband and I are really big travelers. We have many bucket list items, places we want to go. So that is something I wish I could do more of.

Meredith Metsker:

I love that. I’m the same way. I love to travel.

Julia Vollrath:

So much fun. Yeah.

Meredith Metsker:

What’s next on your wishlist? I’m curious.

Julia Vollrath:

So we’re going to London actually next month. So that is next. And then we’re saving up for Japan. I want to go big in Japan. So two weeks, have all these things I want to do. So that’s our next thing that we’re trying to plan out.

Meredith Metsker:

Oh my gosh. That sounds like so much fun.

Julia Vollrath:

Yeah. I can’t wait. It should be exciting.

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah, that sounds amazing. So what question would you like to leave for the next guest?

Julia Vollrath:

Yeah, I love this. So I actually do questions with my team in our meetings. I ask them one question, and then I go around. So this is one that I haven’t had a chance to ask them, but I really like. If you had an extra hour in the day, meaning you had 25 hours, how would you spend that hour?

Meredith Metsker:

Ooh, I like that. Oh man. I’m trying to think of what my answer would be to that. Sleep maybe.

Julia Vollrath:

I know. I feel like that immediate comes to mind. But yeah.

Meredith Metsker:

That’s a good one. Yeah, I’m excited to hear the answers to that one.

Julia Vollrath:

Yeah, thanks. I thought it was good because maybe you want to say sleep, but then you’re like, but I have a whole extra hour. What would I do?

Meredith Metsker:

Yeah. Yeah. Would sleep be too boring of an answer?

Julia Vollrath:

Right, exactly.

Meredith Metsker:

Oh, that’s awesome. All right. Well Julia, thank you so much for taking the time to join me on the podcast today. This was such a fun conversation. And I think our audience is going to get so many tangible takeaways for ways that they can measure data, what they can measure, why they should measure it, how they can measure it. I feel like we covered all of those who, what, when, where, why questions.

Julia Vollrath:

Yeah.

Meredith Metsker:

So yes, thank you so much again.

Julia Vollrath:

Well, thank you so much for having me. I had so much fun, so I really appreciate it.

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