We recently held an informal focus group session with about a dozen undergraduate students who are members of the Mendoza Student Leadership Advisory (MSLA).
It was a Friday afternoon. Midterm exams loomed the following week. There was a lot to occupy their minds. But they dutifully turned up — in an even bigger number than we expected — at a time that was surely inconvenient.
We essentially wanted to know one thing: How (on earth) do we communicate with you?
We’ve conducted similar sessions with student groups in the past, and I’ve written about the frustration of trying to reach a generation of students besieged with messaging via an exponentially increasing number of apps, emails, digital ads and so on (see Spring 2014 Editor’s Letter). So much so, that the most successful apps these days are ones that ensure a message disappears in mere seconds. Unlike their predecessors — who place a huge value on archiving information through carefully maintained filing systems, both digital and physical — young people nowadays place a premium on leaving no trails.
Except this time, an interesting answer to our original question did emerge.
If we want to make sure they receive a certain message, they said, have Laura Glassford send it to them.
Who is this Laura Glassford and what kind of voo-doo magic does she possess?
The short answer is that Laura is the administrative assistant in Mendoza’s Department of Undergraduate Studies. Her desk is the first stop in the office, where students go for academic counseling, to drop courses, and sometimes for, let’s just say, firm suggestions from administrators when certain unfortunate scenarios have been encountered.
But that’s not the real answer.
Yes, Laura is a naturally warm person, and even on a Monday morning enters a room with more enthusiasm and positive energy than Up With People. She’s fun to be around. But more importantly, Laura is a person who fully recognizes her most crucial role at Mendoza isn’t part of her formal job description per se, but one that presents itself every time a student walks in the office.
She simply cares.
You can read more about Laura on page 48. But the larger point of her story is straightforward and yet stunning at the same time: Students value someone who cares. Someone who takes the time to learn names (remember, we’re talking 2,047 students), and remember details of their lives, and gives hugs — even to these college-aged, adult children when they’ve just bottomed out on an accountancy final. Students will open that person’s email.
So, while information technology is busily inventing more and more ways for us to “build deep, enduring relationships with our customers at an individual, personalized level” (which is why that ad for those shoes you Googled creepily crawls after you across the Internet), someone like Laura reminds us: There is no substitute for authentic, human caring, however humbly expressed.
The students had one more suggestion: It would be awesome if Laura could make some videos. They would watch those.