Engaging Students in Programs and Services Through Dynamic Multimedia Marketing

with Shawn Ahearn

About This Course

Today's college students are bombarded with information, and want to receive communications quickly and visually. This program will provide an overview of successful multimedia strategies used by the communications team in the Division of Student Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh to effectively drive students to programs and services. Plenty of time will be spent discussing what works well, and how to overcome common communications challenges that Student Affairs professionals face at various levels, from the Office of the Dean, to program managers, to working with student organizations.


When a new Vice Provost and Dean of Students arrived at the University of Pittsburgh in 2006, there were already some quality programs and services in place within Student Affairs, while other areas needed development if the division was to achieve its vision of “providing students with the best collegiate experience in the world.”

University administrators valued the concept of providing a holistic education for students that would have a positive impact on retention rates, matriculation to graduation, and placement rates, yet few really understood what programs and services Student Affairs provided to help achieve these goals.  Likewise, students didn’t fully appreciate the importance of engaging in a range of co-curricular activities to support their academic programs, personal and professional development.

It quickly became clear that while Student Affairs did indeed offer a wonderful array of beneficial programs and services, consistent promotion of those programs and services in on-campus media, and through emerging technology such as social media, was imperative. Some units did okay with marketing and had little trouble attracting students to their programs, while other departments and programs struggled. Printed materials and presentations lacked a cohesive divisional brand, and many were labeled as “amateurish.” The marketing materials certainly did not reflect the quality of the programs and did not help the credibility of the program or division. Therefore, a strategic decision was made to reallocate funds to create a centralized Director of Marketing and Communications position within Student Affairs in 2008. 

During the past eight years, the position has evolved into a department that provides a full range of multimedia marketing services for the many programs and services within the division (and beyond). Staff and students engaged in a robust internship program, provide services to support branding and strategic messaging campaigns, video production, graphic design, Web site development, media placement, executive communications for the Dean, and strategic social media.

Today, Student Affairs is a well-respected division within the University and is seen as a vital partner in providing a holistic education for students, and as a positive contributor to retention, graduation, and placement rates. Students are engaging in programs and services more than ever before, setting attendance records for reoccurring programs, and often times filling rooms to capacity.

Alexander Austin’s 1985 theory of Student Involvement argues that an investment in student involvement has direct parallels to a student’s success academically and socially. Researchers Kuh and Pike had similar findings in 2005 when they linked students’ co-curricular activities with retention and academic achievement.

Based on these findings, if Student Affairs professionals can better connect students to the co-curricular activities at their institution, they will more likely retain and have more academic success. Therefore, it stands to reason that by developing and sustaining an effective marketing and communications program, that can help persuade more students to engage in the quality programs and services offered, then student affairs operations will be more successful in achieving institutional goals and students will have a positive experience.

Attendees will learn about the development and evolution of the Marketing and Communications Office within the Division of Student Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh during the past decade, as well as some theory about the 3M's of marketing, and why it's important to "start with why" when crafting messages, determining mediums to communicate those messages, and how to spark a call to action by stakeholders in target markets.

This program is especially designed to provide an opportunity for student affairs practitioners at all levels, serving in just about any capacity, to learn about impactful practices in marketing and communications, and participate in candid conversation about marketing and communications challenges they and others face in their daily work.  

Content is designed to assist Deans of Students, department chairs, program managers, advisors of student organizations, and of course, communications professionals, to utilize a full range of multimedia resources to be successful in driving students to their programs and services, and tell stories of the important work being performed by Student Affairs staff and how it impacts the student experience, retention, graduation and placement.  Hopefully, through good audience engagement, participants will also learn from each other.

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