Episode 39: Amplifying Student Voices and Equitable Community Design with Robert Andrews

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Shiro Hatori
Hello everyone. Welcome to the higher ed demand gen podcast hosted by concept 3d. On this podcast we discuss marketing topics around creating and capturing demand in higher ed. Before we jump in, we do have a quick message from our sponsors over at concept 3d. Concept 3d Its purpose is to foster communications and connections through technology, elevating the way businesses connect with their community by leveraging the power of events and location. If your school needs an updated interactive map, virtual tour or a centralized events calendar, please reach out to concept 3d dot com. Thank you so much. Alright, so let me introduce myself. My name is Shiro and I will be your host today. And today I’m super, super excited to have our guest speaker Robert Andrews. Join us. Robert is currently serving as the EVP of admissions and financial aid at Duquesne. Thanks for joining us today.

Robert Andrews
Thanks for having me. Sure. We’re excited for the conversation.

Shiro Hatori
Fantastic. And I love to open up with his icebreaker to help everyone understand why we’re in higher ed. And so what do you love about higher ed?

Robert Andrews
Sure, I think it’s twofold for me, right? There’s the wanting to help people, I think education was really impactful in my life and helping me kind of move from where my my first generation students, so So having a little different trajectory of my life than my parents had. And so there’s that part, which is, I feel like I need to give back, I want to be a part of this and transforming other people’s lives, whether they’re first generation or fulfilling the fifth generation of their family to go to college or university, I think that’s really satisfying and drives me on a daily basis. And just naturally, I love learning things. And so what better place than to be surrounded by a lot of people that are much smarter than you that are usually more than willing to tell you something new and teach you things. So I get that opportunity on a daily basis to be around young people who teach me so much when they’re coming and looking at the school. But then my colleagues and friends around campus or you know, it’s every day, I get to learn something new, whether I want to or not, and I think it fills me up each day kind of satisfies multiple parts of my life. So it’s a fun thing to be able to come into each day and be a part of.

Shiro Hatori
That’s amazing. Thank you so much for sharing that. And I know, just with your LinkedIn history, like you’ve been lifelong in higher ed. So I think it shows on your on your career path as well.

Robert Andrews
I spent a couple of years outside of it desperately wanting to get back into it. It was I think I needed the break to be like, Okay, I know exactly what I want to do. And I want to get back in and do this.

Shiro Hatori
Got it. It’s kind of like leaving on a trip and wanting to go back home. Yep. Gotcha. Great. Well, you know, before we jump in, I’d love to hear a little bit history about Duquesne, you know, as a university, you know, what are its values? And what makes it unique? Because I think that’ll help kind of set the stage for what we’re going to talk about afterwards.

Robert Andrews
Sure. So Duquesne University, I think has a for me, we really strive to live our mission on a daily basis. I think you can walk around our campus and everyone knows it. President Gormley does a tremendous job of reiterating that every opportunity he gets with us on campus with new people who are visiting or off campus. You know, we are a spirits in university, the only one in the United States. So it’s a part of the Catholic Church, but it’s an incredibly ecumenical community. We were founded here in Pittsburgh, right right in the downtown area, to serve immigrant families who didn’t have an opportunity to have their children educated. So our whole basis for creation was to serve those who were not have getting that opportunity traditionally. And so that permeates out through our mission as an institution. We serve God by serving others so they can go out and serve the world. So that that right for people that are very religious, they can obviously tie directly into that. But for someone that maybe that’s not a priority in their lives or not a part of their lives, they still see the value in serving others so that they can go out and positively impact the world. So that’s how we started off as a professional school. We, we grew very quickly in the downtown area. And as Pittsburgh grew as a tremendous city, and industries at that time, obviously, steel and coal were very industrial. We continued to grow in that proliferation of the professional studies, whether it’s a business school in the health sciences, the natural environmental sciences, nursing and pharmacy, music education. So we’re, you know, a medium sized institution, just a little under 10,000 students, undergraduate and graduate. But we we place a lot of emphasis on educating students but also preparing them through that education and our proximity to be able to go out and impact the world, professionally and personally, and I think we’re so very uniquely situated physically, that an ally allows us to maybe a little more easily live out that mission as an institution.

Shiro Hatori
And, you know, I love that you can repeat back the values and what Duquesne stands for so easily, it really shows that, you know, you have a strong message, you have a unique selling point. And, you know, I think that’s something a lot of school needs schools need in the industry right now. And I know from our previous introduction and our conversation, you have kind of a very strong view on like, what’s going on in higher ed right now. And there’s a little bit of a crisis going on right now. Right. And I’d love for you to explain kind of just for your thought leadership on what you believe is going on right now in higher ed today.

Robert Andrews
Sure. So I’ll keep it brief. And it could go on for a while. But you know, I think we are in a crisis. And I think we’re in a number of different crisis, right. So it’s the view of higher education, and its utility to the to the students that come here, and the alumni that have come here, or will will grace our doors and leave into the world. But also, you know, I think, just broadly, how society views higher education. So I think the crisis itself, right, is that it? In the around the Great Recession, it was the ever constant conversation of the commoditization of higher education. And I think we have as institutions, and as an industry struggled with the fact that we are frankly, I think we are now a commodity like it’s not in the process of it has become one. And how do we stay true to the educational mission of our institution and deliver an education, that is not explicitly a good, it is actually it’s part it’s a service, but it is, it is something that we have to engage with our students and our families with, and our communities so that people can understand what it is we’re trying to provide our students and what what those that’s going to help benefit our students and help benefit the world that we’re in, kind of in a greater perspective, once they leave our campus. But while they’re on our campus, right, there’s an expectation of engagement that our students want from us, whether it’s internships, and practicums, and co ops and other programs like that, or just while they’re on campus, they are not going to be explicitly a student studying biology. I am a biology student, but I’m also an entrepreneur and I started this business and I, you know, I’ve got four side hustles? And how are you going to help me continue that while making me the best possible biologist and prepare me for graduate school or to go off into the working world? And so I think we’ve struggled as an industry, and I see it every day, you know, here and externally? I, you know, I think it’s a natural struggle. But I think calling it a commodity and helping people understand we have to market higher education to students, whether we want to or not, that doesn’t and shouldn’t be perceived as cheapening the value of the education or what we are rooted in. The very reality is, people aren’t doing it. And so if we’re not really focusing on what it is, we are as an industry and what we stand for as institutions, then the message is going to be lost, I don’t think we have that same reciprocal value that like, oh, well, because three generations of a family came here, it doesn’t mean that the fourth generation is going to see the same inherent value that the previous ones did. And to not feel like we have to clearly articulate and kind of put a fine edge on what it is we will or won’t provide to a student or their family. And this experience is a crisis that we I think we all face at our own institutions, and then more broadly in some of the organizations that help articulate the value of education on a more national scale. So I, like I said, I could go on for quite a bit. I’ll try to spare everyone’s time.

Shiro Hatori
That was great. Well, you know, we, we talked about an issue in your vision right now. And I’d love to kind of tie the tie the DOD to what are some of the successes Duquesne has seen in the 10 years past? And how, you know, you told me there’s a resurgence in applications. I’d love for you to explain what’s been going on at Duquesne and kind of time adapt to the crisis that’s going on right now.

Robert Andrews
Sure. So, you know, I’m still fairly new here to Duquesne. So some of these things were obviously put in place long before I got here onto campus. But you know, it comes from the top. So our president, President Gormley, our provost, Dr. David Tao See, they they have taken the incredible foundation that Duquesne had. And as the market has gotten more competitive, they have really focused our efforts as an institution on how are we delivering on our mission? And how are we making sure our curriculum does what we say it’ll do and how we will prepare students for that life after campus here to be able to go back and be more impactful. So, right, whether it’s, we are in the phases now in the pre accredit The Nation process of launching our own college of osteopathic medicine, which is wed directly to our mission as an institution, right? Our goal with the College of Osteopathic Medicine, and why you know why it’s so important for us to be able to become accredited and have this in the next couple of years is because the whole focus is to be able to provide doctors to serve communities that are underserved. And so that is the explicit reason for that college of osteopathic medicine and why we’re so excited for it to come online and why we’re working so hard to make sure all of our T’s are crossed and i’s are dotted. And that’s just one example. Right? That’s a significant investment, time, money resources of an institution. But it goes across the institution, whether it’s in the college, or either in the College of Music, the School of Pharmacy, the School of Health Sciences, that the bare School of Natural Environmental Sciences, the College of Arts and Science of the liberal arts, the School of Business Administration, all of these things are focused on what are we doing from a curricular standpoint, that is important and vital, and is not gimmicky, it’s not something trivial, that we’re just trying to capture a piece of the market, we are truly trying to focus on what we can do. And resource the things we know we’re going to need to do, since we are committed to the professional liberal arts that our students and our faculty are resource empowered to help think of new ways in the curriculum that are again, don’t don’t just appeal to a marketing gimmick, or, you know, we’ll we’ll try to carve off a little bit in this market. It’s like, okay, where are these industries going, and let’s align our curriculum so that we are selling, so to speak, right? A service that is actually going to be able to deliver what it says, and isn’t just us holding on to traditions in ways that we think we should do, because they worked 20 years ago, right, that’s where the shift in higher education, a lot of people are so reticent to engage with just in continuous improvement, right? Like, we can espouse that to our students when we teach it, but we won’t do that ourselves. And so I think that’s where Duquesne has been really fortunate to have leadership that is encouraged and supported that continuous personal improvement from our faculty, and trying to make sure we’re doing and setting up the institution to continue to deliver in the future and not have to play catch up for our students, but to be able to help them go at the speed, they’re trying to achieve their dreams. And it’s worked pretty well in helped facilitate our our enrollment growth, especially in the last few years where we’ve had a record number of applications and inquiries. And a lot of that has just been putting again, like I said a little earlier, putting a little finer edge on what we’re talking about, and not trying to just be everything to everyone. We are a big school, and we’ve got a great number of opportunities with nine schools in the college and soon to be 10. Hopefully, accreditation, I want to make sure that disclaimers out there. But you know, that’s not trying to be everything to everyone, because we could still find probably 50 More majors to add, that would appeal to some subset somewhere. But really trying to make sure we are good at what we say we do. And then being able to tell that story.

Shiro Hatori
So they can one word that comes to mind with you know, that whole person you just spoke about is community. Like I remember looking back to our intro call that there’s a community of the school, but then there’s a strong community within within each college right that you said you can feel when you walk in on campus. Right. And I feel like you’re messaging from what you’re starting up from the top down that values is really permeating through into campus as well. Could you go into a little more detail about that as well?

Robert Andrews
Yeah, so I think, like I said earlier a little bit, our physical proximity benefits us in a lot of ways on when it comes to the engagement with the community. But we also sit in a very interesting physical place as a campus where almost a perfect rectangle. We’re right in the middle of the city. But we sit I don’t know the exact geometric number. It’s got to be about 150 200 feet up. We’re on a bluff, right smack in the middle of a downtown big commercial, surrounded by Fortune 500 companies nestled along the river, one of the one of the three rivers here in Pittsburgh, in the Hill District, which is such a vibrant community right next to us. And so there’s some forced continuity that we are physically located in what is a sprawling city but you have to go down a hill to get it to go off our campus. So whether you’re in Rockwell Hall at the business school or you’re, you’re in the Mary Peppard School of Music there, it just naturally creates this like physical cohesion. And while it’s really large in its scope, it’s not large and physical footprint. So it causes it does not necessarily cause it It lends itself to us being kind of omnipresent with each other, even if you’re in the business school, or you’re in the rango School of Health Sciences, you’re always crossing with each other, you don’t get an opportunity to isolate, even though you do get to go specialize in your building. But at the same time you want to go eat, you have to like walk by this other group. So there’s always this kind of ebb and flow of a mingling group of students that are wildly disparate academic disciplines. But they’re all sitting at Chick fil A on campus, or waiting in line at Starbucks, or in the dining hall together, like they’re always near each other. So I think it does this really nice kind of isolation between the university and then the smaller subsets. That doesn’t take a lot of actual like, prodding, it doesn’t need to be facilitated, it happens organically because of our physical location, which is, I think, is still such a having come from the last, you know, five, six years in the Midwest, to be in a very hilly area. And then to be like perched up here, but not disconnected. I think it’s just very fun. You still hear the city all around you constantly, but you’re walking around in this really like idyllic setting.

Shiro Hatori
I remember you told me this on our first call and Castle is the wrong word, because Castle isolates itself from its surroundings, which is not what Cain does. But the elevated campus was just like, Wow, you guys sit in a castle, above Pittsburgher?

Robert Andrews
does. I think it actually has the right the the inverse real reaction here, maybe because it’s been so intentional, to not do that as a campus. But also, because of this, like slight perch, we get to see everything we realize, right? It’s not just our walls, we’re not just confined to us, like, I’m looking through that window, right, I’m looking to the south side, and I can see all the homes and the communities right across the river from me, like, you know, five minutes away, downtown out the window to my left over here. Like it’s it’s actually a really poignant reminder of how surrounded we are by other people that are not on a college campus. So it’s like a forced, even if you don’t want to, it’s there. It’s in your face that this we’re not, we’re not the center of the world.

Shiro Hatori
Gotcha. And, you know, let’s talk about admissions a little bit. I know, you’re obviously in the city. What are admissions? Like? Are you mostly targeting people from Pittsburgh? Or are you targeting out of state? What is one of the shifts been in the over the last 10 years to see the increases or decreases in enrollment?

Robert Andrews
Yeah, so I think over the last 10 years, if you go back 10 years working forward to now, we have always served grater, pretty much the whole state of Pennsylvania and a lot of Western New York, New Jersey, in some of eastern Ohio, but it was still pretty kind of became homogenous and who was coming here we always being in the NCAA, Pittsburgh, you get a great amount of diversity just inherently with all the schools around here, directly in the city and just the kind of periphery of suburbs. So that always gave us kind of a good tapestry as a campus. But we’ve had to focus, right, the demographic cliff, all those things will Pennsylvania, Ohio, especially New York, like all these places, we all hit the demographic Cliff already, right? It’s if it’s come, if anything’s coming. It’s not much, right. It’s a low plateau and the trough, we’re in the trough to some extent. So we’ve we’ve really focused our efforts to, again, make sure we’re taking care of Pennsylvania take taking care of the markets. When you look at Pennsylvania, we’re so far to the western portions of Pennsylvania, I can be in Ohio, and just a matter of a few minutes. So Pittsburgh, Philadelphia is a is hours away from us might as well be treated like a second state. Right, right. It’s a it’s a whole different market for us. We do well there. And we’ve continued to really spread out understanding one our mission. So you know, we’re able to go out and feel comfortable, I think, naturally as a Catholic University, being able to go to any Catholic high school in the country, and in recruit students that aren’t necessarily Catholic, but understand kind of the dynamics at play in our educational system here. But also with that breadth of academic portfolio, being able to kind of comfortably go in and try to develop new markets that are still you know, we will always be fairly regional centric, but we’re trying to expand our efforts. And we have for last few years to really bring more geographic diversity, and we’ve been pretty successful at it. But that’s also, I think, part and parcel to the diversification of Pittsburgh, in that our industries have shifted so greatly from being a heavy industrial city, to now, you know, our largest employers and industries are biotechnology and finance and pharmacy and the sciences, and tech, that we are, you know, we’re seeing families move into this area, that were never going to be in Pittsburgh in decades past that are now moving here from all over the country. So we’re starting to see some of those pipelines where we can kind of reverse recruit back and say, Oh, well, you know, there’s greater familiarity in Chicago. In some of those areas. There’s greater familiarity in California and down south and to Texas and Florida and Georgia. origin where it’s, it’s, I wouldn’t say it’s easier, but we’re starting to get some more continuity. When we’re going back in, it’s like, oh, my cousin lives in Philly in Pittsburgh, or my uncle just moved up there for their jobs. So you know, it’s trying to connect those dots together. And obviously, we’re not with limitless resources, but we try to connect those things where we start seeing demographic changes in our city and realize, okay, well, these are going to be some natural corridors to familiarity. And we’d benefit, I think, also, kind of going into the footprint of our athletic department being a division one institution being the Atlantic 10 conference for most of our sports, that opens a lot on the mid, you know, the Mid Atlantic and the Northeast for some of our recruitment efforts. So I think, multifaceted, looking at how we can continue to diversify, but we’ve got some great things that are working in our favor. And

Shiro Hatori
what I’m hearing is there haven’t really been fundamentally a lot of shifts and like, we’re doubling down on reaching or, or we’re doubling down on out of state, it really seems like, kind of tying back to our first point here is, you know, you really solidified your messaging, stay true to your own values and what you communicate, understanding that what you the service you provide education to provide is a commodity and looking to how can we better that has really, it sounds like that’s been the main reason why a lot of these shifts in resurgence enrollment have happened, because it doesn’t sound like a lot of these recruitment tactics have fundamentally changed. It’s just that the value in the messaging has been formulated, and strengthened in my hearing this, right.

Robert Andrews
Yep, I believe so. I mean, we’ve we’ve obviously deployed as tried to modernize with as much as we possibly can, especially like marketing efforts and things like that. But yeah, it’s not trying to not trying to grab on to every single thing we possibly can and go after every, you know, oh, there was an article about this, let’s, let’s, let’s switch quickly to do change and do that. It’s trying to be a little more thoughtful and pragmatic, but also, you know, bring kind of a fresh perspective, to take these the great work that people have done for so long here, and help amplify that in ways that I think maybe we have become a little more comfortable. In our ways in if we go back a decade ago, deservedly so I think if you looked at the results, deservedly so, but obviously at a time of hyper competition in the market. You know, I think just making sure we are aware and in making sure we’re not letting ourselves become too comfortable with a success or a few successes. But you got to keep keep pushing, otherwise, people are not going to get the opportunity to have this education. And that’s the most important part of this right is to make sure they’re having the education and the promise that we say we’re going to deliver on in making sure we’re, we’re still staying true to that.

Shiro Hatori
Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, I’m working at ad tech vendor, but higher ed, or when I went to universities, where I made all my connections. Without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today. So I completely agree and echo that. Thank you so much, Robert, I was wondering for our audience and our guests, if they’d love to connect with you and figure out you know, what you’re up to? Or what to Keynes up to? What’s a great way to connect or to follow?

Robert Andrews
Yeah, so I’m a pretty, I’ve got a pretty Spartan social media presence. I think I’m on LinkedIn, and that, that’s primarily what I use, I had been on all the other platforms, but a few years back, much, I’m starting to see a lot of people post on LinkedIn now like the purging themselves of someone, but it’s always incredibly valuable, I think. But So LinkedIn is probably my primary source of where I would engage outside of work. But here at Duquesne, you know, d u q.edu. And then on here, you’ll, you’ll see there are a lot of what we’re doing here. Follow us on social media, I think we, you know, tried to do a really good job both on an admission side, but just institutionally wide on Instagram, and Facebook. And those are kind of our primary places. And some of the other stuff. I know, It all exists. And I worked a lot with my team. I’m not old enough to not be with it too much. But you know, I think, for me, I wanted to really focus on some of the, you know, the personal connections I can make here on campus and do that. So I’m pretty plain, then if it’s not there, you know, email me, that’s fine, too.

Shiro Hatori
That’s great. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining us today. It’s been awesome. And to our listeners. Thanks for tuning in. And please check us out on the next episode. Thank you so much. Thank you. Right, I hit the pause.

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