There is a lot that happens behind the scenes of The Office of the Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning (OVPTL). Iain Granger, Director of UCI Media and Communications, leads his team to help support OVPTL communication in a variety of ways. We sat down with him and talk about the future of OVPTL — specifically Goal #4.

So first things first, what is OVPTL’s Goal #4?

Well it mainly centers around getting the word out about all the great work OVPTL has done and can do for students. In other words, we want to increase OVPTL’s visibility and to be recognized for being the campus and nationwide resource for teaching and learning excellence that we are. Goal #4 has three main objectives:

  1. To be recognized as the campus’ primary resource for improving undergraduate education
  2. To tell the story of UCI’s educational impact
  3. To become a global thought leader in education

Well that’s not at all ambitious! Though it all sounds kind of conceptual. What is OVPTL already doing to improve undergraduate education?

People do not really realize it but First Generation, Student Success Initiatives, the DUE — these are all programs underneath the OVPTL. A large part of that is definitely the Division of Undergraduate Education which houses over 27 different individual and customized programs for serving undergraduates. We are especially excited about programs like the Antrepreneur center, where undergraduate students are able to take their big ideas and turn them into companies. Then, there’s UROP and the Campuswide Honors Program. OVPTL coordinates all of these various units and programs, making us the primary source for improving undergraduate education.

But there’s also work going on behind the scenes where the OVPTL collaborates with faculty through the Division of Teaching Excellence and Innovation to inform instructors about the best practices for active, online, and hybrid learning.

Wow, it sounds like OVPTL is pretty central for undergrads, but for a department that does so much, I actually rarely heard of OVPTL as an undergrad. What are some of the challenges you face with visibility on a campus that has so much going on?

To be honest, the main challenge is that our office is so young compared to other more established divisions. That means visibility is an issue simply because we do not have the long history of other departments. So our job at UCI Media is to acquaint campus with who we are and what we do. For example lately we’ve been trying to spread the word that the Division of Summer Session now falls under the umbrella of OVPTL. As you know, Summer Session is very popular with students so we are trying to leverage that into awareness by creating original content.

What kind of original content have you been creating? Anything our readers should definitely check out?

Our Vice Provost Michael Dennin himself has been key — especially his YouTube channel with a ton of cool videos. My personal favorite series is “Conversations with the Vice Provost,” which is one of his most popular series where he talks with other campus leaders about important issues faced by the university. But it comes down to making these videos accessible and marketing them through social media. Michael Dennin is definitely the face of our office and we appreciate that he is so willing and open to our ideas of spreading awareness about the OVPTL through video and social media.

YouTube is certainly a large audience. How is OVPTL becoming a national resource?

I’m glad you asked because it is such an exciting time for OVPTL. We have the American Talent Initiative with the incredibly successful #ActivateTalent campaign, the First Gen Faculty Initiative, and so many new partnerships with local community nonprofits such as Team Kids. UCI was actually one of the founding schools participating in the American Town Initiative, which caters to high-achieving low-income prospective students.

Why this consistent focus on low-income or first-generation students? Is there a particular challenge there?

The challenge of incorporating these underserved populations into higher education is that they rarely get the attention they need. That’s why we’re making a concerted effort to reach out to the community and to our student base to make sure they know that UCI is a place for all students. UCI is meant to be platform for high achievement.  

If you had to pick one prime example of UCI’s effort to engage in a national conversation, what would you pick?

As part of our outreach for the American Talent Initiative #ActivateTalent campaign, we created a website to highlight and showcase our All Stars on a national level. The website, weareuci.uci.edu, has been a huge success because it highlights our students, faculty, staff, and entrepreneurs who exemplify diversity on campus. UCI will continue to emphasize the need to  better support underserved communities on campus, and that is how we will distinguish ourselves as a national resource for helping students achieve social mobility and a clear path to the American dream.

Why is diversity so central to UCI’s social media campaigns? How does this affect the perspectives of new students and freshmen?

Seeing examples of diversity among students, faculty, and alumni sends the message to prospective anteaters that they belong in a big university like UCI and that there are people just like them already here who are succeeding. But the visibility of diversity is really a small part of a larger movement to incorporate peer-to-peer authenticity in all of our social media campaigns. It really helps break down the walls between faculty and students.

How do you ensure this idea of authenticity shows in your social media campaigns? Are there any tricks to it?

Well, when you want people to connect to your content, it is really about telling a story through social media, and making sure that the students are the heroes of that story. All the things we do — highlighting students in videos and articles and using them as examples of what the resources on campus can do — all these things ensure that the students stay front and center and are actually sharing their own individual UCI story. The students are the backbone of UCI’s educational impact and we are proud that we are able to support them from a resource perspective. Vice Provost Dennin has this amazing YouTube series called “Ask the Vice Provost” —  that’s another example of the authenticity we try to achieve. In that series, students have an opportunity to chat directly with the Vice Provost asking him anything they want —  from business to academics to his personal life. This helps him be seen as more than just an administrator or professor.

What kind of stories do you look for? What kinds of stories really resonate with the UCI community?
In order to get the community excited about and involved with the UCI story, we try to highlight individuals and achievements that impact not only the campus but also the greater community. These stories might feature medical research or new scientific discoveries; we just try to make sure they support a strategic vision for the campus. We also publicize events that are happening across campus with the outside community.

Once you’ve found a story worth telling, how do you get the word out?

At UCI Communications, we take a multifaceted approach to social media, using videos and articles in conjunction with traditional medias like print collateral and word of mouth. This kind of approach to marketing, digital and otherwise, ensures that all our programs and websites have high quality, high visibility, and high referral rates. We do this because communication channels on campus are so dynamic. Trying to get the attention of any given student at any time is a tall order. That’s also why make sure that programs within DUE are supporting each other and cross-pollinating students who may need to access multiple programs and resources.

What are some of your favorite ways to share stories around campus?

Definitely video, illustration, graphic design, boothing, the newsletter…I could honestly go on and on, though there’s no substitute for good old-fashioned word of mouth.

You are absolutely right, sometimes old-fashioned is best. So how do you leverage traditional forms of media to get the word out?

We take out ads with New U and cultivate partnerships with StratComm, The LA Times, The OC Register, The OC Business Journal, and The Chronicle of Higher Education. Our office also produces a monthly newsletter that features news stories of successful students and program resources within the division of undergraduate education.

I am aware of the monthly newsletter; it has some great content! How do you balance that vehicle with newer mediums like social media?

From the very beginning of the creation of our office we’ve come to appreciate the value of newer mediums such as social media to spread awareness and visibility. Primarily we use Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

What about video? How important is video to UCI Communication’s game plan?

Video is a key component of our outreach. It really took off when we were fortunate enough to partner with UCI Media to take advantage of their green screen studio, their drone footage capabilities, and their talented illustrators and videographers. So we’re able to create interesting content that showcases the functions that our office puts on, such as conferences and other special events.

What kinds of ideas and best practices is UCI trying to globally distribute? How has UCI distinguished itself as a global thought leader in education?

It’s hard to know where to start what with all of our pioneering work into active and online learning and classrooms of the future, but I guess the most exciting project for OVPTL is the Anteater Learning Pavilion (ALP), opening this fall. ALP’s classrooms are equipped with flexible furniture, multiple writing surfaces, increased space per student, and enhanced technologies such as wireless projection and shared displays. This investment in newer classrooms is a great example of how our office sees the value in investing in improved learning spaces for students.

Thanks to people like Iain and the students who make this campus great, anteaters around the world can look forward to a very bright future indeed. Join us in exploring that future by following us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram where we post regular updates and inspirational stories.

Learn more about the OVPTL by visiting ovptl.uci.edu   

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