Pathify Customer Story
Where’d the Water Cooler Go?
Ask higher ed professionals where they received the most benefit the past two years and they often respond with their appreciation for remote or hybrid work opportunities. Many staff working at colleges and universities had the option to work from home, creating more flexibility previously unknown for most pursuing a career in higher ed. And what’s become clear — despite the convenience — remote work still has drawbacks.
With fewer in-person interactions, the opportunity to bond around the water cooler becomes far less frequent. Yet this interaction remains a crucial part of building camaraderie and community among employees. This need spurred Indian Hills Community College (IHCC) to pursue an intranet solution serving as a virtual water cooler, while centralizing documents across the school’s digital universe.
About Indian Hills Community College
Located in Ottumwa, Iowa, Indian Hills Community College aims to provide students what they need to succeed in transitioning to either a four-year program — or straight into an exciting career. It’s ranked among the top 500 community colleges in the country, and takes pride in putting students on a fast track to in-demand and high-paying jobs.
In addition to over 70 academic programs, Indian Hills draws an expansive online student population with over 250 courses available to attend asynchronously. The institution includes three campuses and several premier junior college athletic programs — with a number of alumni making it to the NBA, NFL and MLB.
Setting the Stage
Prior to engaging with Pathify, IHCC faced similar challenges to other institutions employing a large workforce. Most communications involved massive group emails and a completely disjointed file sharing process. Most files “lived” on the website as PDFs — leading to deteriorating performance of the website for all users.
Dr. Bianca Myers, Executive Dean of Advancement at Indian Hills, discovered this drop in performance, in addition to a drop in organic search traffic. As a result, the site had less visibility for prospective students searching for community colleges in Iowa.
“We knew hosting so many PDFs on our site hurt us,” Myers said. “We had had some outside companies analyze our dip in traffic and they kept telling us we need to get the PDFs off our site.”
Aside from hurting overall web performance, storing the documents on the website made them difficult to find. Employees struggled to find what they needed quickly and often created redundant documents due to a lack of overall knowledge sharing between departments.
The website also lacked true security with a single password shared widely between departments. Given the nature of some of the documents uploaded on the website, Myers knew IHCC faced risk, leading to further conversations on a go forward plan.
“We had a pretend locked down portal because it was easy to access, and knowing most coders, anybody could figure it out based on breadcrumbs throughout our website,” Myers said. “It became a bit of a concern.”
In 2019, IHCC hired Cory Lamb as Chief Technology Officer, who quickly rolled up his sleeves to improve employee collaboration and security. One of Lamb’s first initiatives — find a portal with dual functionality for both employees and students. In addition to plans to remove PDFs from the website and improve collaboration, IHCC also wanted technology to improve communication with students.
Searching for the Water Cooler
IHCC engaged Pathify in the Fall of 2020 after hearing success stories from a number of CIOs on a popular IT listserv. This was followed by a formal recommendation from the CIO of Northern Iowa Community College, an early adopter of Pathify who played a strong role on the company’s Product Advisory Group.
Although a social media-like experience was not originally part of the project scope, the ability to create a virtual community between employees across campus — in addition to students — intrigued Myers during the search process.
“Pathify had a social media feel that people are used to,” Myers said. “It gives you everything you need to know by scrolling through the feed like many of the other apps we’ve become accustomed to.”
Search functionality also became a key feature for IHCC for a variety of reasons. Given the institution’s history with emailing PDFs back-and-forth, Myers instantly saw the potential benefit of storing every document in a single, easily searchable and secure location.
When Myers compared Pathify search capabilities to other student portals and mobile apps in-market, it quickly became clear this was a major differentiator.
“You can search for almost anything if you have an idea what the post is about,” Myers said of the search functionality included in the Engagement Hub. “I search for everything and that’s probably the best thing about Pathify. You don’t have to know the document’s name.”
Like schools across the world in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, IHCC had adopted several point solutions to facilitate remote learning rapidly. Myers admitted technology burnout factored in her team needing a strategy to slowly implement Pathify for both staff and students in order to maximize buy-in.
Indian Hills launched the Engagement Hub for employees in Summer of 2021. This allowed Myers and her team the opportunity to troubleshoot any processes and ensure it worked smoothly by the time faculty came back to campus. By the time Fall Semester began, Myers’s team aligned on messaging around the importance of the Engagement Hub, and how life would be considerably easier if employees centralized communication and document management moving forward.
“Our staff responded better than I anticipated because people didn’t have an option to say they can’t find what they’re looking for,” Myers said. “They had a search bar that works and takes you to everything and that really sold people on it.”
In the initial rollout over 80% of IHCC staff adopted Pathify for communication — appreciating a sudden drop in emails. Rather than waking up to an inundated inbox, employees gained the ability to easily digest information when they wanted it — easily finding important documents.
As an added benefit, the virtual water cooler talk Indian Hills employees sought became a reality. Pathify provides a digital point of connection to build camaraderie — driving employee engagement past pre-pandemic levels.
Pathify had a social media feel that people are used to. It gives you everything you need to know by scrolling through the feed like many of the other apps we’ve become accustomed to.
DR. BIANCA MYERS
EXECUTIVE DEAN OF ADVANCEMENT
Lessons Learned for the Future
Based on success rolling out the Engagement Hub to employees, IHCC is now working to ramp up adoption among students.
So far, students have found it easy to navigate, enabling them to locate content that in many cases they didn’t know existed. Students have also reacted positively to the social aspect of Groups and Events, finding it easy to connect with other peers and faculty — further strengthening their sense of community.
Over the next year, Myers is also working toward greater adoption from IHCC’s athletic teams. As a top junior college athletic program, Indian Hills believes Pathify will help facilitate students feel more connected to campus.
Looking back, Myers believes much of the wait between launching for staff and launching for students came from initial hesitancy. She now advises institutions looking to make a similar decision to move quickly — iterating as time progresses.
“I think we were slow and nervous to roll it out and we probably waited longer because we wanted to get it right,” Myers said. “You’re not ever going to get it right, so don’t overthink it. Do what you think is going to work.”