Carson Cougs for Life
By Sue McMurray
Starting with its renaming in 2013, the college embarked on a journey to establish a new brand as the Carson College of Business, the first choice for students seeking a business education in the Pacific Northwest, a place where transformative student experiences occur, and a model for business education in public universities.
Being named presents a new opportunity to strengthen affinity to the college as a whole, beyond memorable classes and powerful bonds with favorite professors. Recently, the college sparked a new initiative to build a stronger sense of community and help students and alumni develop lifetime identity as Carson Cougs.
“Our goal is not to compete with the WSU Cougar identity but to complement it by helping prospective and current students become more informed about what the Carson College has to offer them and how we can support them after they graduate,” says Dean Chip Hunter. “We need strong alumni advocates for the college—Carson Cougs—who will pay it forward once they are established in their careers by offering the next generation of students internships, mentoring, jobs, or other forms of philanthropy.”
Drawing from feedback from the National Board of Advisors and results of student engagement campaigns, it became obvious the college needed to invest in efforts to increase points of connection among students, faculty, and leadership. As an early step, Hunter created Office Hours with the Dean.
Creating spaces for face-to-face interaction
Because the fifth floor dean’s office is so remote from the hub of student activity, Hunter holds weekly opportunities for students to meet with him in Pullman, in the Carson Center for Student Success. Students are free to make an appointment or drop in during this time to talk about whatever is on their minds. Hunter also posts daily on Twitter (@ChipHunterWSU) to build connectivity with students and other college constituents.
“Students feel better and are more engaged when they have a points of connection within the college,” says Hunter. “They’re telling me they want a person, a face. I’m the face of the college, and it is important to them that I am accessible and they can see me.”
Additionally, a small campaign is running across Todd Hall’s digital media signage encouraging students to vote on new furniture options for spaces around the building where students can gather and work collaboratively. More student input will be sought on facilities and technology through focus groups, social media, and committees as plans for new spaces go forward.
Capitalizing on social media
Hunter and Tony Thompson, Culver hospitality relations manager in the School of Hospitality Business Management, are creating opportunities for peer-to-peer networking, a key part of the Carson Coug experience that can be overshadowed when students rely heavily on social media rather than interpersonal connections. Peer influence can also be very effective in motivating behaviors that lead to student success, says Hunter, such as going to class, engaging in student services and organizations, or other beneficial activities such as advising and career support.
Thompson similarly finds that connecting students leads to more engagement and increases the likelihood they will help each other take advantage of the kinds of connections he builds with employers. Thompson spearheaded three community-building student events this fall, strategically using social media and word of mouth to encourage participation.
“The small amount of discretionary funds we use to support these activities—buying a few pizzas, for example—are the seeds of a much larger investment in developing Carson Cougs who will graduate with a deeply ingrained sense of responsibility and dedication toward their alma mater,” says Hunter.
For Pizza 101, Thompson invited students to a pizza party, but with a catch: students had to follow the Carson College Twitter feed (@CarsonCollege) or Instagram to find out the secret location in Todd Hall where the pizza would be served. Messaging began running on Todd’s digital screens a week before the event. Precisely at 10:50 a.m. the day of the event, Thompson tweeted the location. The result? Seventy students showed up, polished off the pizza in about 15 minutes, and stayed for pictures and socializing with Dean Hunter.
French Toast Friday
French Toast Friday was even more successful. Leading up to the event, Thompson posted custom graphics across all Carson College social media accounts. News of the event spread quickly by word of mouth throughout classes and hallways, as Hunter and Thompson were hoping would happen. Faculty and staff volunteered in the Marriott Hospitality Teaching Kitchen to make and serve French toast to any student in Todd Hall who wanted breakfast. About 330 students participated—the Marriott dining room serving as a welcoming setting for Carson College students to share their experiences and ideas with other majors perhaps contemplating business education.
“I like the mix of people,” said Jackie Madsen, a sophomore who hasn’t yet picked a major. “Everyone here is enjoying the mood, and it’s nice to meet and see business students.”
“It made my morning,” said Malia Burleson, a freshman majoring in sports management with a business minor. “The reason I came to WSU was because of its tight-knit community, and this event combined the student body. Plus, the French toast is the best I’ve ever had.”
Getting into the spirit
Ten days later, the spirit of Halloween inhabited the Carson Center, and students across all campuses were invited to participate in a costume contest. Any Carson College student at the WSU Tri-Cities, Vancouver, or Everett locations could enter by submitting costume photos using the Twitter hashtag #CarsonCougs. Photos with the most “likes” determined the winners, who received free t-shirts, prizes, candy, and treats. Faculty and staff also haunted the building throughout the day, many stopping by the center to take selfies with Dean Hunter, AKA “Captain Crunch.”
“Peer-to-peer influence is a powerful tool, and we need more of it to build community. We want our students leaving here not only with a top-notch education but with a strong understanding of how they have benefited from philanthropy,” says Hunter. “Being a Carson Coug means paying it forward to help others succeed.”