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Our better Grinnellian story

Topics/tags: Grinnell, marketing, language

Last week, I wrote about my frustration with our new marketing campaign, particularly Our Grinnellian Story, the internal guide to our new marketing campaign, and our new the marketing page. I’m particularly frustrated to hear a rumor that we are using the non-grammatical noun phrase on posters at the Des Moines airport.

As I’ve continued to explore our marketing, I’ve noted other things that concerned me. I may report on those in the future. However, it’s not all bad. I have found something that gives me hope that the underlying concept can be applied well in practice. What is that something? Our new Admissions site, particularly the Why Grinnell portion. There, we see the concepts that were so poorly expressed in Our Grinnellian Story expanded upon and described with much more sensible writing.

Let’s look at one example. You may recall that Our Grinnellian Story had the following piece of awkwardly written [1] text.

Academics. Through our academics we support individually advised learning for the intellectually engaged so they can navigate the world’s complexities and contribute with great responsibility. We do this by offering: Liberal arts and mentored research that equips Grinnellians to pursue ideas and knowledge with confidence.

In contrast, this is what we see at Why Grinnell.

Academics. As Grinnellians, we believe in free inquiry and the open exchange of ideas. So here, you’ll think creatively and critically about the world around you. You’ll dive deep into theoretical and scientific research. You’ll work alongside world-class experts, advisers, and mentors who are dedicated to your success.

That’s a statement, I can more readily accept.

More broadly, I’m comfortable with the way they’ve added details to the three facets that they’ve assigned to a Grinnell education. The Academics section has pages for the individually advised curriculum [2], the first-year tutorial, and mentored research. Commitment includes social responsibility and service and career forward [5]. Finally, Community includes advisers at Grinnell [6], global understanding & diversity, and campus culture. I might make slight changes, but that’s a good approach.

Let’s turn to the headings in the Academics section.

  • Grinnellians map their own academic journeys. Yup, that’s a great way to summarize the individually advised curriculum. The accompanying paragraph is good, too, particularly in how it speaks to the others who help them map those journeys.
  • Liberal arts foundation: An education that reflects on its own process. I don’t recall where else we use reflects on its own process, but it’s a phrase I appreciate.
  • Off-campus study: Let your learning take you further. We do have OCS implicitly under global understanding, but I’m okay to see it here, too [7].
  • World-class faculty: They purposefully choose Grinnell, just like you. The accompanying text doesn’t really explain why we choose Grinnell. And not all of us had options. But I do think it’s a reasonable and attractive way to describe the College.
  • An evolving, engaging, empowering education. Ooh! Alliteration. I’m a sucker for alliteration.

However, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t find something to complain about [8,9]. So I’m not sure why the off-campus study section is immediately under a picture of the Spencer Grill, taken through two out-of-focus flags from other countries nor why the world-class faculty section is immediately below a picture of someone other than a faculty member, or why the e-cubed education is immediately under a picture of students working in half-hexagon cubicles. I’d also like to see better alt text on these images [10].

Switching back to a more positive side, we turn to the Mentored research page. The most obvious thing I take from the page is that faculty love mentoring research. We have a grinning Paul Hutchison at the top of the page and an incredibly happy and enthusiastic Gemma Sala at the bottom. Importantly, the page notes that about 50% of Grinnell students complete at least one MAP before graduating, which correctly informs prospective students that not every student should expect a MAP. Perhaps most importantly, they list the topics of some individual MAPs, which meets my goal of having examples for our stories.

There are, of course, some misstatements. It wouldn’t be marketing if there weren’t. For example, At the end of the MAP research opportunity, all students present their results through a formal means. While our goal is that all students develop work that is appropriate for external presentation, not all MAP projects end with such work. It’s research. Sometimes projects don’t turn out as planned. Sometimes they go in different directions than is expected. Sometimes their primary success is in setting the stage for the next project. That’s fine, and that’s been an expectation of the MAP process since day one. I’d also like to see them mention an equally important issue: When students do get a chance to present their work regionally, nationally, or internationally, the College pays the cost of attending.

What to explore next? Can I be uniformly positive about some portion of this site? Probably not. It’s not within my personality. So I’ll just say that I’m unhappy with the return to the drawers of information that used to be a problematic hallmark of the Grinnell site [11]. I’ll note that I’m unhappy that they use the term tutorial for the global-learning program courses [15], but that’s not the fault of admissions. I’m not sure why the menus use a font that is not any of the four basic ones that Communications tells us we must use. I’m not sure what to make of a quotation that begins with an ellipsis and that ends after the speaker’s name. And I really don’t understand why information for the campus on our pay categories belongs on the admissions site, hidden away in a drawer [16].

Did I get the curmudgeon out of my system? I hope so.

In the end, the new admissions site is a thoughtful piece of work that represents Grinnell well. And I really do mean that. There are flaws, but they are comparatively minor. And the whole affording Grinnell part does a reasonably nice job of making attending Grinnell seem possible.

So, thank you to those who worked on this aspect of the new campaign. Let’s hope that the rest of the campaign eventually achieves this quality.

Postscript: You know what’s sad? I started this musing intending it to be exclusively positive. And the site is nice. But I couldn’t just be positive. What’s that they say? You can take the curmudgeon off of the name tag, but …. No, that’s not it. You can dress up a curmudgeon but it’s still a curmudgeon. No, that’s not it either. Sam, chill. Yeah, that’s probably it.

[1] Or, as one reader suggests, computer generated.

[2] Note: That’s individually advised curriculum, not this individually advised learning bullstuff [3].

[3] I’m still waiting for an explanation from Communications on what that they mean by individually advised learning. But I’m also waiting for a variety of responses from Communications [4].

[4] There’s probably a joke in there about how Communications communicates. I’ll let you make it.

[5] I’ll admit that I find Career Forward awkward. I’d much prefer something like Careers, Life, and Service or something else that emphasizes our more holistic view of post-Grinnell life.

[6] As I hinted at recently, they are highlighting the three different advisers each student has. There was a point in my career in which I would have ranted a lot about this decision. These days, I accept that it’s a good idea.

[7] Global engagement of some sort also appears under campus culture. We are clearly pushing the concept of Global Grinnell.

[8] Or should that be about which to complain?

[9] The comment on alliteration was not a complaint. I really do like alliteration.

[10] Image 1: Two students working together on what looks like a wood shop project. The alt text? Liberal Arts. I don’t get it. Image 2: A student studying in the Spencer Grill, as seen through out-of-focus flags. The alt text? Campus Study. I guess that one isn’t so bad. Image 3: A student working with a staff member on what seems to be a cool vacuum chamber experiment. The alt text? Faculty. That one is fascinating, since it doesn’t show any faculty members. (That’s not to say that the staff member isn’t awesome; in fact, they are someone I respect highly and who I know to play important roles in their department.) Image 4: Students working in computer cubicles. The alt text? text. Yeah, that one’s the worst of the four.

[11] What’s a drawer? It’s a collapsible section of text on a page that usually starts out in collapsed form. See, for example, our page on diversity and global understanding [12]. Why don’t I like drawers? Because it makes it hard to find particular pieces of text. Suppose, for example, that I knew that language immersion appeared somewhere on the page. On a traditional Web page, I can just use the browser’s Find. One one of these pages, the normal behavior of Find is to report that it can’t be found. So I have to manually open each of the drawers and look inside [14]. That’s not a convenient user experience. Worse, I might treat the inability to find a phrase as a sign that the text isn’t even there.

[12] Since inclusion is one of our key goals, shouldn’t that also go somewhere in our materials?

[14] Would you look for language immersion under Diversity, Off-Campus Study, Global Learning Program, or Language Learning Center?

[15] Tutorial has a specific meaning at Grinnell and we should not undermine that meaning. The use in multiple contexts might confuse prospective students. Why can’t they just call it a course?

[16] I get that it’s useful information for prospective students. But it’s not just a financial aid issue; putting it there seems strange. Isn’t pay an HR issue?

Version 1.0 of 2018-05-15.