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Tech Corner: Engaging Students in a Whole New Way: Cornell’s College of Agriculture & Life Sciences’ New Technology Has Students Chatting

EACE Blog contribution by Nadia Dovi, Assistant Director, Cornell University’s Engineering Co-op & Career Services

Students receive A LOT of emails, an overwhelming number, really.  I didn’t realize this until I found a lost cellphone on campus and opened the email inbox to try to identify the owner.  I must have scrolled through 20+ messages from various Cornell listservs before finding a personal email.  In a recent survey, 25% of our students reported receiving 10-15 university-related emails on a given day.  And while we’d like to think that students spend considerable time reading our painstakingly crafted, time-sensitive, “high priority” emails, the reality is, they aren’t.  Students don’t read their emails, at least, not all of them.  Recently, one of our students admitted that when he wakes up in the morning, he opens his email and marks all of his messages as read without reading a single one!

We also know that faculty and staff spend significant amounts of time and energy responding to students’ emails and phone calls, often answering the same questions time and time again.  How do I register for classes?  When will I meet with my advisor?  Can I use my AP credit to fulfill “x” requirement?  Sound familiar?

credit: photo by Cornell University Photography

credit: photo by Cornell University Photography

So, the question remains, how do we successfully connect with students, while also using staff time more effectively?  The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) at Cornell University has an answer.  In June of last year, CALS launched a new social media platform, called Chatter, and rolled it out to 950+ incoming first-year and transfer students.  The goals of Chatter were to create a forum to assist with course enrollment, orient students to their major, decompress the Fall experience, and build a sense of community among CALS students, faculty, and staff.  On Chatter, students can ask all of their “coming to college” questions, learn about upcoming events, and familiarize themselves with CALS and University resources.  And the upshot is, on Chatter it’s not just staff communicating with students. CALS students can connect with and help each other, and collaborate around common interests.  If you are trying to imagine what Chatter looks like, think Facebook newsfeed.  When students log in to Chatter, they create a profile, and can then browse general and group newsfeeds to view recent discussions and posts.  All incoming first-year and transfer students at CALS were automatically assigned to a group based on their major, and then had the option of joining and creating other groups of interest.

For the piloting of Chatter, a faculty member or administrator from every major (22) within CALS, along with

credit: photo by Cornell University Photography

staff from the CALS Registrar’s Office and Career Development signed on to help students prepare for life at Cornell.  Additionally, 20 CALS upper-class students from different majors, aptly named Chatterati, assisted with the launch of the new social media platform by facilitating and monitoring discussions on the forum, and ensuring responses were accurate and timely.

So, did Chatter work?  Did students log in?  Did staff see a reduction in emails and phone calls?  While Chatter is still in its infancy, preliminary statistics indicate that it did have positive results.  Over the summer, 98% of first-year and 99% of transfer students logged in, totaling more than 7,300 logins and 2,400 posts and comments (rich and personal discussions that would have been lost in an email world).  Over 80% of students new to CALS reported logging into Chatter more than 3 times over the summer, 8 times on average.  Additionally, 100% of CALS Student Services staff reported a decrease (~48%) in call volume from summer 2013 to summer 2014.

credit: photo by Cornell University Photography

To learn more about Chatter (a product of, please feel free to contact Rebecca Joffrey (, Director of Interactive Services at Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.


Nadia Dovi is the Assistant Director in Cornell University’s Engineering Co-op & Career Services Office where she advises technical students, administers the Peer Advisor Program, and serves on several committees, including co-chairing EACE’s Technology Committee. Prior to working at Cornell, Nadia served as the Assistant Director of Internship Programs at Union College. Nadia received a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Hamilton College, and a Master of Science in Mental Health Counseling from SUNY Albany. You can connect with Nadia via LinkedIn: or Twitter (@NadiaDovi).

One Comment
  1. Reblogged this on hireED4HigherEd.

    January 21, 2015

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