From 2011 to 2012, I took a temporary hiatus from having social media interns in my office. Frostburg’s Social Media Group, our campus-wide team of faculty and staff, was doing pretty well, with a couple of projects under our belt. I was adjusting to new responsibilities to support changing university initiatives. Social media was shape shifting so quickly that it felt virtually (ha!) impossible to keep up with it all, let alone pass the knowledge on to someone else.
In January 2013, that all changed. Our university was working on a new marketing campaign celebrating how much we cared about giving students experiences that would lead them to having interesting and meaningful lives and careers. I was starting to look at my daily work and wonder if I was doing enough to work with and support students. And frankly, I was getting busier and busier, and needed help.
At the recommendation of faculty friends, I brought on two student interns this fall – Ashley, a business major interested in measuring marketing success through social media metrics analysis, and Rachel, a mass communication student who loved creating content. They were a breath of fresh air – two bright, young women eager to learn as much as they could from me. And I was eager to learn from them – what they thought of a new feature or campaign, insights they had on how Frostburg students used Facebook, Twitter, etc.
Our working together quickly grew beyond to-do lists to us having regular conversations about professional development. Every Friday, we started setting aside some time to discuss why they both needed LinkedIn profiles and how to build Twitter lists and follow industry leaders and companies where they hoped to find jobs. Once a month, Ashley and Rachel also met with Frostburg’s Social Media Group as our first student members, along with another student employee, Katie, who did social media for FSU’s Student and Community Involvement division. In addition to their participation in FSU’s Social Media Group, eventually, Katie, Ashley and Rachel began meeting on their own, forming a student team to grow cross-promotional support for key events like homecoming, commencement and our #instaFrostburg campaign.
Watching and listening to Ashley and Rachel share ideas, solve problems and provide feedback inspired me to take things a step further. I care deeply about both of them finding employment after graduating from Frostburg and wanted to support this somehow. So I decided to plan an overnight trip to nearby Washington, D.C., where we would meet with some social media professionals I had met through friends there.
In conjunction with these efforts with my interns, Frostburg’s overall approach to students’ work with social media had grown in powerful ways, too. We’re no longer looking at social media as just an internship, or something students learned about anecdotally through career services or a marketing class. We wanted to build it into every student’s educational experience at Frostburg. So we created and launched Frostburg SAID (Students Assessing Identity Development), which featured articles and other resources on unplugging, personal branding, digital literacy, privacy and other social media issues. We issued a call to educators and students alike to help us grow this new community by sharing links with us for new ideas to post there. Our goal: to give students a leadership role in educating each other and our campus community on how to use social media effectively. It’s just getting started, but I think it will grow.
As I look back at these past couple of months, one truth surfaces again and again: everyone who works in higher education—faculty, administrators, alumni—we all need this experience of talking and working with students. When we lose that experience because we don’t think it is necessarily a part of what we do, because we think we’re too busy, or not required to teach classes through our jobs, whatever the reason … we lose sight of our fundamental mission, which is to transform people’s lives through education. Students remind us of our purpose. They open our eyes to the reality of what they need in the here and now. They’re not numbers on a spreadsheet or reports coming across our desks … they’re human beings challenging us to be the best at what we do and to make sure they are, too.
I love it that Frostburg has so much of this happening at our institution. FSU President Jonathan Gibralter mentors students through our President’s Leadership Circle. Our College of Business has a Student Pride College of Business Scholarship Committee, where students learn the value of inspiring their peers to raise funds for their school. And these are just a few examples.
As for me, this semester has convinced me that interns will be a regular part of my daily work at Frostburg, and my dream is to incorporate a networking trip to D.C. every year, perhaps by applying for grants. I’ve been asked to teach a social media marketing class in the fall of 2014, an opportunity that excites me greatly. And most of all, despite all the challenges, budget limitations and cynicism that affects all of us in higher education right now, I feel more determined, inspired and happy to make a difference than ever. I thank Ashley and Rachel for that.