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After ten years in the making, Purdue University’s John Martinson Honors College (JMHC) took its first official steps to implementing their FORGE Your Story program. To capture student engagement, JMHC searched for a student success software that could replace their current tracking software while appealing to all JMHC students. With Suitable, JMHC has been able to increase student engagement in the FORGE Your Story experience, while reinforcing the college’s four pillars through belonging, equity and inclusion, and student growth and development.
In 2022, the John Martinson Honors College (JMHC) at Purdue University was renamed after receiving a $25 million gift from John Martinson. This public land-grant university located in West Lafayette, Indiana is a proud member of the Big Ten Conference for sports and the Big Ten Academic Alliance. Founded in 2013, JMHC remains the university’s only academic residential college with approximately 3,000 undergraduate students. The John Martinson Honors College is designated as one of the Top 20 Honors Colleges in the U.S. in 2021 as ranked by College Transitions. The Purdue Mascot is a Boilermaker.
Before Suitable, JMHC collected data using a variety of softwares, including Qualtrics surveys, swipers, and spreadsheets. Even though the data was collected, the JMHC team had to manually clean and consolidate the data if they wanted to learn about student engagement. Not only was the data in different formats, but it was also stored all over JMHC, including various people’s inboxes and desktops. With the college’s lack of data management, there was no room for data assessment. When asked by the Board of Trustees, the Provost, faculty and others, JMHC’s staff couldn’t answer basic questions about their student engagement.
At the time, JMHC had a student-run application that tracked first-year student engagement for residence hall activities with a maximum capacity of 800 users. Without scalability or the ability to export information from the student-run application, JMHC had to find a better solution. When searching for a solution, JMHC considered a few factors, including price, past experience and ease of integration.
Suitable met all of JMHC’s needs and wants across those factors. Pricing with Suitable is all-inclusive, so any engagement with the Suitable team is not an additional billable hour. Additionally, Purdue University’s Daniels School of Business adopted Suitable about two years prior. This meant the technology and infrastructure necessary for Suitable was already implemented at Purdue University. Finally, JMHC wanted a solution that could integrate with the existing student-run application and those who created it, allowing the old data to be migrated automatically.
Before implementing FORGE (Focusing On Relationships, Growth and Engagement) through Suitable, the JMHC team developed competencies and badges that relate directly back to the four pillars that JMHC was built upon. These pillars include Research, Global and Community Engagement, Leadership development, and Interdisciplinary Academics. Given these pillars and the NACE competencies, JMHC chose the following seven competencies to demonstrate the value-add of the honors education.
With these seven competencies, students are able to articulate the professional value of their JMHC experience. To demonstrate their readiness, there are additional digital credentials that JMHC students can earn. Some of these badges include the following:
JMHC launched FORGE through Suitable in Fall 2022. To encourage awareness and participation in FORGE, the JMHC team created a full implementation plan, including communication to students about the program and how to access Suitable.
JMHC introduced FORGE and Suitable to first-year students during orientation to explain how to use the application and the process behind it. Since orientation occurs before classes begin, these students have the opportunity to download and get started with Suitable before they’re in full swing of the Fall semester. As for students already enrolled at JMHC, the Resident Assistants communicated through the old student-run application about the transition to Suitable. Additionally, JMHC met with students to share how Suitable would help customize their experience in the honors program and build community with other students.
Although Fall 2022 was a great introduction of Suitable to JMHC, the team began to hone in on the true value of Suitable for their Spring 2023 implementation plan. JMHC took feedback from students who used the app in the Fall to improve and communicate the benefits of Suitable across various platforms. From posters to coasters, there were QR codes to download Suitable everywhere on campus. Another part of their plan was email campaigns and Suitable push notifications. JMHC sent targeted emails to upper vision students about the benefits of Suitable because they were not exposed to Suitable in the same way as first-year students. Plus, they could segment and schedule messages to go out to certain students directly on Suitable’s dashboard. All students also received weekly email newsletters that featured information about FORGE and Suitable.
One aspect of JMHC’s traditions that all first-year students participated in before and after the implementation of Suitable is the Historical House Competition. The college itself is divided into different houses by residence hall and floor. JMHC can assign students to a specific house within the Suitable app so that their points earned can go toward their House, which is found on Suitable’s group leaderboard. Students at the top of the leaderboard are easily tracked and provided with congratulations on social media and various prizes (including pizza parties!)
With all this being said, FORGE would not be successful without JMHC’s internal implementation team. Different units, including advisors and department heads, came together to execute the day-to-day operations of Suitable. This includes providing tailored feedback or resources for each submission on Suitable; this can be time consuming, but JMHC finds it extremely valuable for students to see there are people on the other side who are supporting them and care about their development.
The implementation team also developed the messaging and badges that students see on a daily basis, as well as fostered buy-in from the rest of Purdue. For example, Michael Russell, the Student Community Manager at JMHC, hosts office hours and one-on-ones with faculty and staff to explain the benefits of Suitable and generate the support that has been instrumental in making FORGE as successful as it’s been. Without faculty and staff populating Suitable with activities, there is no way for students to do it!
Overall, the student feedback regarding Suitable is positive. JMHC has observed that students enjoy the variety of ways to earn points, whether that be asynchronous activities or acquiring knowledge through experiential learning. Students also love how they can submit multiple submissions for recurring events and activities.
With the help of Suitable, JMHC has been able to track every JMHC program and activity, providing insight into areas of improvement. This led to increased awareness about their volume of programming and duplication of efforts. For instance, JMHC observed that they held four resume events over the course of two weeks. Given that information, JMHC realized they could replace those four events with one, large standardized event.
Since JMHC has only been using Suitable for one year, the JMHC implementation team has a variety of new plans and future goals. For starters, the team hopes to incorporate Suitable as part of the team’s jobs’ descriptions to ensure there is continuous management of FORGE as it scales.
Additionally, the implementation team wants to integrate students into the FORGE Planning Committee to ensure student perspectives on FORGE and Suitable are always considered. This will also assist with JMHC’s goal of refining their student communication strategy. In the coming year, JMHC plans to run a full social media campaign that features student interviews and testimonials in the form of short video clips. Beyond that, JMHC plans to create a website landing page with information relating to FORGE and Suitable so students can learn more about it. By adding student members to the JMHC implementation team and highlighting active students of Suitable, JMHC hopes to encourage more upperclassmen to be engaged with Suitable so that the college can follow them and better serve them throughout their years at Purdue.
Not only does JMHC want to enhance communication among the student body, but the college also wants to develop more incentives and badges that can help JMHC connect with students in a variety of avenues. One simple incentive JMHC wishes to begin is providing professional endorsements on LinkedIn. Another incentive that JMHC hopes to add is a Suitable Award, which would become part of the college’s award ceremony recognizing the top points-earning student. During Summer 2023, JMHC will revamp its badging system. From new badge pathways to mini-badges, there will be a variety of ways for students to choose their own adventure.
Beyond these goals, JMHC is excited to use Suitable’s real-time data to make evidence-based decisions. Understanding where students are spending their time and how JMHC can assist them is key to the success of FORGE and adding value to students.