Using Communication: Increasing Visibility of Centers' Importance on Campus

This page was developed as a synthesis of lessons learned by participants during an NSEC working meeting and is part of an extended set of toolkits for STEM Education Centers.

Main Themes

  • Demonstrate the importance and utility of the center through compelling data and personal stories aligned with campus constituents and stake holders Read on>>
  • Sustainability - building structures to ensure longevity of these interaction through face to face, personal connections, and network development Read on>>

Demonstrate the importance and utility of the center through compelling data and personal stories aligned with campus constituents and stake holders

Importance and Utility through Compelling Data

Centers can act as knowledge hubs to gather, organize, synthesize and disseminate knowledge (policies are one example of potential knowledge) valuable to many stakeholders (faculty members, dean's, provosts, etc.). By understanding the knowledge and then using it to lead by example will increase the Centers' value and visibility. The ability to successfully translate the knowledge around your goal and communicate so all stakeholders can converse with each other leads to value gained and an enriched network.

Stakeholders will have different viewpoints and highlighting where their interests overlap within the Center's own interests can create a working community of collaborators. The development of the key variables or components of a Center's data system will consider the queries and needs of the key university-level offices (e.g., provost, government relations, budget office, enrollment management services, undergraduate academic affairs, college access, office of research, etc.). The accumulation of insights and stakeholder input requires open dialogue with these offices and keeping the Center visible and accessible to key constituents. A subsequent benefit of open dialogue and consideration of stakeholder needs is they spread the word about the value of a Center as the relationship grows overtime. The nature of your message to each stakeholder depends on the target audience and the desired function or outcome of the message/Center. The following examples focus on faculty and administrators, but similar approaches to using data could be applied towards addressing external partners such as industry, non-profits, K-12, and political organizers.

Communicating a Center's impact with data
UCLA created a document and web resource that describes and visually shows their impact with data. Read more>>

Addressing Faculty in STEM Centers can be centered around demonstrating the value of the Center for supporting faculty research, teaching, funding, and professional development. Visiting a department or faculty meeting is an opportunity to promote your Center and communicate the support it could provide or areas of potential collaboration. Some topics you may consider conveying is that the Center can:

  1. Help with receiving grants if the Center is focused or contains a component of supporting broader impacts efforts.
  2. Help make things easier for faculty and save them time
  3. Add value for junior faculty and enhance their tenure portfolio
  4. Provide resources and active learning materials - new pedagogy/material development
  5. Potential teaching positions focused on STEM Center efforts
  6. Valuing Discipline-based Education Research (e.g., dissemination of articles and materials) (read more>>)
Faculty and Department Meetings
  • Boise State developed a one page handout distributed in faculty and department meetings.
  • The SEIRI team at IUPUI created a Support Form to provide investigators with expectations for working with SEIRI
Recognition Awards One way for Centers to simultaneously bring attention, demonstrate their utility, and recruit new collaborators would be to give awards or recognition for people that collaborate successfully with the Center.

For example, MIT has created a Teaching with Digital Technology Award that demonstrates the value of their Digital Learning Lab that helps increase their visibility. Other options are to have "fellows" (or other honorific) associated with a Center to gain more visibility.

Funding Awards If possible, awards with funding attachments can bring recognition, but also incubate and develop the programs and goals of the Center.

At the University of Colorado - Boulder, Chancellor's Awards were established to reward faculty and graduate student engagement in innovative research on student learning and implementation of research-based STEM education program initiatives. These awards have resulted in significant $$ in extramural funds to the university.

The Center for Science and Math Education at the University of Utah is establishing a faculty consortium for this purpose where recipients will receive a small but substantive funding contribution to a discretionary account for education activities/travel (in some cases, they can request funds on a per year basis to reimburse such expenses). Consortium membership will be at the invitation of the Director and requires at least 2 years of residency at the University and active/current involvement with the CSME.

Addressing Chairs/Deans/Administrators will focus on student success, alignment with institutional focus, and providing support for the needs of different departments, colleges, and across the institution. Administrators typically have limited time available, therefore creating concise but informative communication documents will efficiently convey a Center's story and utility. Linking data to your presentation will provide more impact and data could be in the form of student satisfaction surveys, quotes from former students/participants, grant awards, enrollment and retention numbers, or any other dataset that may be specific to your institution or question. Including data from the Center's home institution may be more powerful if the Center has existed long enough. Alternatively, connecting to the national patterns will also help provide broader context and support STEM Centers early in their development.

Topics to consider:

  • Leverage institutional focus (research, grants, enrollment, and retention)
  • Center programming/work can help students persist and succeed; e.g., Learning Assistant program.
  • Student recruitment: student satisfaction survey data or quotes from former students/participants.
  • Help departments understand what they might need and how you can help them
  • Help develop or obtain better measures of teaching effectiveness
  • Invite administrators to celebrations (e.g., STEM conferences, award announcements, open houses, etc.)

Importance and Utility Through Personal Stories

Digital media can be used to communicate the heart and soul of the work by Centers. Digital media can take many different forms such as websites, social media, videos, and data visualization and may require effort to create, but the diversity in platforms will payoff in getting your message out. Videos are one tool that may require some production, but personal stories about how constituents interact with the Center and its sponsored programs can clearly articulate what can be accomplished. These can have a lasting impression because of human compassion and the motivation to improve student experiences. Faculty want to help make people's lives better. Personal stories of students and other faculty experiences can help them get motivated to engage with outreach, student support, or their professional development.

  • Faculty testimonials - recorded interviews with faculty, posting choice quotes to put on advertisements, emails, fliers, etc.
  • Student profiles that highlight the projects, work of the Center, and their impact on students' lives would be one example to utilize.
Faculty testimonial video vignettes
The Center for Teaching Excellence at the University of Virginia produce videos with faculty on the impact of their Course Design Institute. Read more>>
Recording invited speakers and make publicly available
The SEIRI team at IUPUI has recorded talks by invited speakers and made these recordings publicly available. Read more>>

Sustainability - building structures to ensure longevity of these interactions

The mission of a Center can differ from the perception that others may have of the Center. Clear communication will be important to convey the goals, missions, and accomplishment of the the Center, which can be achieved by a diversified package of communication formats and most importantly, creating a robust network through face-to-face meetings. On some campuses, especially large universities, some constituents (e.g., faculty and students) may not be aware that the Center exists for one reason or another. Learning about your campus culture and how people find resources on campus will help you strategically plan how to best communicate with different interested parties. Based on your understanding of your campus culture context, you can align your Center's goals and initiatives with institutional priorities and needs. By aligning these goals, a Center can develop a strategic plan that builds a structure of support, accessibility, collaboration, creation, and assessment that ensures the longevity of these partnerships. For example, you can help departments and faculty understand what they need and how the Center can support their interests and efforts. Furthermore, ask potential investigators to provide information about where in their teaching and scholarship they would like improvement but do not necessarily know what resources are available and how to go about making change. Using data and testimonials from previous work will help convey what a Center does and the impression it has made for its constituents.

For More on Organizational Structures In building a structure to ensure longevity, you will need your constituents to trust in what you do. You can build that authority with data, testimonials, and accomplishments, but there needs to be a system for future success and inclusion. For example, getting faculty involved in leadership structure will help the faculty view the Center with some sense of ownership and promote its use in their scholarship and teaching. Different layers of participation could also be implemented as new constituents become familiar and grow into greater leadership roles.

How do you learn the cultures in every department?

Work with each department and invest in professional development that is supported by grant work. Faculty that want to improve their teaching will become advocates and demonstrate the utility of your Center. If possible, gaining a seat at on the Dean's leadership council will give you a voice.
Tell student and faculty stories in areas of teaching and learning that reflect your center focus.
  • Respect culture of departments/units and use the appropriate approach and use sensitivity to what they want/need
  • Exit survey with students - what skills they think they need and what have the acquired - bring this survey data to faculty helps to learn culture of department and what they value (case study)
  • Personal skills of directors and communication skills - empathy is critical - Do the faculty believe we understand what their life is like and what their stresses and goals are? Professional development in facilitation may help