Pathify Customer Story
Creating a Vibrant Student Experience
Founded in 1888, Utah State University is Utah’s only land grant institution, offering 168 undergraduate degrees, 143 graduate degrees and serving over 28,000 students in Logan and around the state at Distance Education campuses and learning centers, as well as at USU Eastern. Known for its robust and cutting edge research, Utah State challenges students to pursue academic opportunities that will change the world.
Creating a Modern Student Engagement Portal
In Fall 2021, Utah State University (USU) sent this message to its students, faculty and staff:
“While the current student portal was effective at enabling students to carry out their university-related business, it was not the ideal tool for creating community and enhancing a vibrant student experience,” said James Morales, USU’s vice president for student affairs. “Students requested a platform that could provide targeted, timely, and personalized communications, and a way for users to connect with each other and organizations across the university.”
The launch of MyUSU 2.0 in August 2021 was the culmination of a six month process where USU sought to update and expand from a student portal to a true student engagement platform. The original portal was a static, link-based webpage that lacked personalization and communication capabilities, according to Rene Eborn, Associate Vice President of Academic and Instructional Services at Utah State University.
“Our goal was to improve the student experiences and improve their engagement, especially within our digital ecosystem,” she said.
The need for an expanded platform that supported student engagement and interaction became even more pronounced when COVID-19 forced all classes to go remote.
“The old portal need updating and there was need for a collaboration platform to be able to encourage that engagement that our students were looking for,” Rene explained. “Especially during the pandemic this has been important because we had to rapidly migrate face-to face-learning into remote learning”
While USU had contemplated updating the student portal experience before, the 2021 upgrade was largely driven by a dedicated student body president, said Tessa Evans, Student Affairs Marketing and Communications Director at Utah State University.
“Our Student Body President was president for two years in a row and one of his big pushes was connecting students with services and making services more accessible to students,” Tessa explained. “He approached Student Affairs and our Academic Instructional Services (AIS) with the need that students want a better online experience to connect them to services.”
Our goal was to improve the student experiences and improve their engagement, especially within our digital ecosystem.”
Associate Vice President of Academic and Instructional Services
Provide students with a personalized platform for strategic messages, services, and resources.
Organize and present personalized university services respective to an individual’s role and status.
Provide online spaces with the ability to manage governance with user permissions and access controls.
Working toward that goal, they identified 10 key challenges they specifically wanted to address with a new student engagement platform.
With more than 27,000 students spread across 30 statewide campuses, offering a cohesive online experience is an important way for students to feel connected and access the resources they need to be successful, Rene said.
“We really wanted to humanize the online experience.”
Download USU’s Top 10 Student Engagement Challenges
A Personalized, Interactive Solution
Before settling on a vendor, USU involved many stakeholders to ensure the solution met a variety of wants and needs.
“We formed a committee of 10 people. There were representatives from all across campus — we had statewide representation, three student representatives, faculty involvement, academics, everything was pretty covered,” Tessa explained. “Then we invited a large audience from the university to attend vendor demos and give us feedback.”
Because of this deep level of involvement, many departments at Utah State University were comfortable with selecting Pathify to provide the university’s new student engagement portal.
“They thought Pathify’s services and the platform were more put together than the competitors. It looked like the platform actually had the capabilities built out to meet USU’s solution requirements,” Tessa said.
Some of those requirements included a way for students to engage with health and wellness-focused services, Rene commented.
“The anxiety and depression and suicide rates on college campuses have increased and we wanted students to have a place to go. For example, links to our wellness center where students have access to counseling and psychological services.”
Another important factor to USU was ensuring it provided students across all campuses a cohesive, unifying experience that still provided localized resources.
“We have 30 statewide campuses all over the state of Utah and they all went live with the new MyUSU. They all have their own space as well and each local campus has their own local resources highlighted,” Rene explained. “At the same time, people down in Monument Valley [at the opposite side of the state from our main campus] are on the same platform. They can be an Aggie even though they’re not here on the main Logan campus. It makes them feel like they’re part of the Aggie family, and that’s what we were hoping for.”
The Student Portal Launch
USU started the RFP process in March with the aggressive timeline of launching a new platform in time for the start of the Fall semester. Through having a clear understanding of their needs and goals, selecting the right provider and having a robust project management team, they were able to meet that timeline.
Rene attributes the project’s quick success to four factors:
- Having strong sponsorship and project governance
- Conducting stakeholder planning
- Having appropriate project management rigor
- Having a strong communication plan
Once the platform was in place, it came down to promotion and driving engagement — something that USU also took an in-depth approach to.
Just like with the vendor vetting phase, the platform launch marketing team was a robust group made up of several representatives spanning several different marketing specialties, including representatives from statewide campuses, digital marketing professionals, social media specialists and more. USU took a three-phase approach to introducing the new platform:
We made sure all the stakeholders were involved in the stakeholder planning part of it. That’s something that I usually always do. It’s very important with initiatives like this that are going to touch everyone, because this not only touches our students it also touches our faculty and our staff.“
Inform audiences of the new MyUSU coming at the start of the Fall semester, why and how it will benefit them. This included social media campaigns, emails, digital on-campus advertisements and a MyUSU information landing page that explained the benefits of this new platform versus the old platform and included a promotional video and explanations of how students and faculty can use the new platform.
A press release, social media, email announcements and a “Getting Started” video letting everyone know the new platform was live. Tessa also coached faculty on how to help their students use MyUSU.
Phase 3 was intended to drive user adoption and engagement. USU got creative to educate students about the new platform and get them to engage, Tessa explained.
Utah State’s Early Results
The new MyUSU launched on August 16, just in time for the Fall semester.
Within the first month, the platform saw more than 26,000 unique visitors and over half a million sessions.
Now available on both web and mobile, users are taking advantage of using their device of choice, with more than 50% of users accessing the platform from both web and mobile.
Users are clearly excited about the online engagement aspect of the new MyUSU, with more than 12,000 users utilizing the Groups Discovery feature to find groups they’d like to join within the first semester. Other popular features include the platform dashboard, activity view, personalized tools and announcements.
Launching an entirely new student engagement platform is a large undertaking, but with the right approach and dedication, it can also be a seamless process. By going through the process, USU feels they can share a few key takeaways that led to their quick and successful launch.
Have Strong Project Management
Both Rene and Tessa credit having strong stakeholder buy-in and a robust project management process with making the MyUSU implementation run smoothly.
“We implemented some strong project management methodologies to help us get the project complete in a timely manner,” Rene explained. “We were able to get this done very fast. We launched this project in summer and were able to have it ready for fall. It was really, really quick.”
Stay Engaged with Stakeholders
Broad stakeholder involvement was a key part of USU’s successful platform update. It made sure the chosen solution solved issues real students actually care about and ultimately led to strong multi-departmental support.
“One of the reasons we were able to move so fast is because we have really good support from the IT workstream,” Rene explained. “The reason we had that buy-in from them is that we involved them early on in the stakeholder planning. Since they felt like they came along with us they were happy.”
But stakeholder engagement doesn’t stop with launch. The university is convening a MyUSU Advisory Council at the end of the semester to look at platform analytics and gather user feedback. This process will help Utah State University ensure they stay on the right path when implementing new platform features and continue to meet user needs.
Take a Phased Approach
You can do something completely or you can do it quickly, but trying to do both will make everyone miserable. USU understood that they were up against a tight timeline, so they made strategic decisions about what was required for launch and what could be added later.
“We launched with some groups, some pages and all of our tools built out,” Tessa explained. “We made sure all of the functionality of the old portal was possible within this new portal for the August 16 launch, with some of those additional social features built out with Groups the Pages.”
USU is working with Pathify to add additional functionality, which Rene sees as a continuous draw for the platform.
“We’re going to be adding a few things come next spring. I think it helps keep the students coming back because there’s always something new”