The student affairs technology sphere or #satech for short, is made up of a variety of SA professionals. Starting today, I'm going to be profiling members of the community. Who are they? Where do they work? What do they do? I think it's important to let folks know that there are quite a few #satech professionals in higher education. My first interview is with one of my favorite #satech community members.
Todd Sanders (@tsand on Twitter) is the Senior Information Processing Consultant (a.k.a. the Student Affairs web guy) at the University of Wisconsin - Green Bay. Todd has been at UWGB for more than 8 years. Reporting directly to the Dean of Students, his job description has included social media responsibilities since 2007. One of the unique aspects of his position is an emphasis on exploration and discovery. It's part of his job to "play" and bring the latest/greatest aspects of the web to student affairs at UWGB.
I asked Todd some questions about students affairs, #satech, and his role at UWGB:
What was your major in college?(I'm always curious where #satech folks "come from.")
Communication Arts with an emphasis in Advertising (started college in 1991, the web was only available in Al Gore's basement at the time).
How did you end up in student affairs?
I worked at ad agencies and an interactive shop prior to higher ed. Our son was born with a heart defect, I took off two years to be a stay at home dad. He had open heart surgery, I was ready to go back to work and took great interest in the job at UW-Green Bay. Really liked that I'd have a variety of clients (Residence Life, Student Life, Admissions, Advising, Counseling and Health, etc) and a primary target audience of college students.
How is your role different from other student affairs professionals?
The Web is constantly evolving. My job changes every year. While the cycle of a school year remains the same, the problems remain the same, the challenges remain the same... the Web offers up new solutions constantly. I've yet to hit a rut, which amazes me. I have bad days, but they never roll into a bad week. Higher ed can feel stale, but the web is constantly refreshing.
Where do you go for professional development as an SA techie?
As far away from Student Affairs as possible. And I don't mean for this to sound like a slam, it's just a blunt truth. I want to know what is going to happen, not what is happening. In 2007 I attended the first Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco, it opened my eyes to the future possibilities of the web. Taking that outside knowledge and bringing it back to campus, back to Student Affairs, and making it work for us is the fun part.
Are you a member of any of the SA associations? Why/why not?
I've tried a few, NASPA being the most recent. So far the most bang for the buck has come from CASE and UCDA, although these aren't exclusively SA associations, they seem to be the most evolved when it comes to the web/design. The NASPA Tech Knowledge Community interests me, but I have twitter, and don't really require a walled community to discover, learn, share and grow. Any association that requires a membership fee better offer more than I can get for free online, or it's a waste of money and the only real benefit is listing acronyms on your resume.
Do you identify as a student affairs professional or as something else?
Students are my number one focus in everything I do. I am a Student Affairs professional who embraces the web and all of it's magic to better serve, recruit and connect with students.
What conferences will you be attending this year?
Hopefully SXSW in Austin this spring. I enjoy conferences that have zero to do with higher ed, yet everything to do with higher ed... if that makes sense. Cutting edge doesn't live on campus, but you can bring it to campus and watch it flourish. HighEdWeb will also be in Austin this year, wasn't able to attend last year, so think it's about time I mingled with the crowd I consider to be my best friends. HighEdWeb is a great community not just a conference, the folks who run the professional SA associations could learn a lot from watching them.
How has social media played a role in your work life?
Without a doubt it is the single most awesome thing to ever happen. As I've heard you point out before, I'm a tad unique in having a focus on web and Student Affairs. Social media has let me discover others who share my passion, not just in the UW System, but from across the country, across the world. I'm an office of one, twitter is my water cooler. Higher ed is wicked fun to work in, but at times there can be pains... having a community that listens and shares provides motivation to make the world a better place.
What do you do directly with social media in your role at the university?
I run the twitter and facebook accounts. Play with YouTube and flickr. But most importantly, I listen. I've preached the power of social media to the SA departments for over three years, but it is finally beginning to resonate.
[Student Affairs and the New Web, August 2008]
The main reason is that the students have finally arrived. The departments are beginning to see the value of the conversation now that there are students to engage.
Three years ago I had to describe scenarios that didn't exist but that I felt would someday be commonplace. Now those scenarios are playing out weekly. There are so many win stories over the past year. I act as the go-between. Relaying the information collected on twitter/fb to the departments that can provide the solutions. In a perfect world I'd be out of the mix and the departments would be able to monitor and respond on their own. However, baby steps, and so far things are working extremely well. Real wins, for real students. Letting them know that we care and want to help. Making their college experience the best we can make it.
I'm extremely excited to see how higher education evolves over the next 5 years. And how social media will help create and inspire that change.
Feel free to follow Todd on Twitter: @tsand. He's currently a contestant in a nation-wide contest, so his tweets are super focused around that right now. I kind of like the idea of a student affairs celebrity!
Do you tweet? Let's connect. Follow me on Twitter.