Digital Transformation at UMBC – How the pandemic created an opportunity to reimagine student services

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This post was authored by Damian Doyle, Deputy CIO and Senior Associate VP for the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). 

The University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) is an R1 university located just outside of Baltimore, MD that serves a diverse student body of 14,000 undergraduate and graduate and PhD students. We are a STEM-focused institution with our largest programs in Biology, Psychology, Computer Science and Information Systems. U.S. News and World Report ranks UMBC #6 for both innovation and undergraduate teaching, and we graduate more students of color that go onto earn MDs or PhD’s than any other institution in the United States.

Digital Transformation: Student orientation and advising program

A particular point of pride at UMBC is the student orientation and advising program, which enjoyed a pre-pandemic student satisfaction rate of 85%-90%. It’s the first interaction a new student has with the college experience, so its success is critical to getting students off to a strong start. Orientation is a full day event that takes place throughout the campus, with the advising process occurring in our library to help students register for classes and access a variety of services.

The pandemic forced us to transform this in-person experience in two short months. The good news was that the IT department was already seen as a strategic partner across campus, so we were engaged with other stakeholders early to help build the solution. We also had the good fortune of having made a pre-pandemic investment in Cisco Webex. This enabled us to accelerate our rollout plan as we shifted to remote.  Finally, we collaboratively engaged a broad variety of campus stakeholders that helped build a new model enabling 2700 students to successfully complete the all-virtual orientation in September 2020 and 3,500 students in 2021.  Best of all, our new model yielded a record-breaking student satisfaction rate of 94% while being 100% COVID safe. Moving forward we will implement a hybrid model that blends both the digital and in-person formats for different pieces of the orientation and advising experience.

Lessons learned

Digitizing student orientation and advising did more than allow us to deliver services remotely. It also drove efficiency, improved service delivery and yielded superior student, faculty and staff satisfaction.  For example, use of Cisco Webex enabled faster resolution of student queries and allowed faculty to work from their office or homes while simultaneously being on call to support students.  We plan to leverage these and other benefits to reimagine and redesign other student services across campus.

Keys to success

For IT leaders exploring similar projects, I would like to share a few key success factors for consideration:

  • Build relationships with business leaders across your institution before you look to start a project. If you understand their needs, and there is mutual trust, it allows for more effective collaborations, and ensures hurdles don’t derail the project.
  • Start with the end goal in mind – what you want to achieve, what outcomes, what success looks like – do not start with the technology!
  • Engage all stakeholders early! This will both give them a sense of ownership and improve adoption.
  • Understand that digital transformation is not just a stopgap and that you can do BETTER with hybrid models!
  • Expect to make mistakes, embrace them and learn from them!

Finally, make sure you work with strong partners like Cisco that are committed to your success and have the portfolio and experience to drive digital transformation.

To learn more about UMBC’s digital transformation and partnership with Cisco, listen to the webinar:

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