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Why We Created Includifi

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In June 2006 I founded Diversity Abroad, which has transformed into the leading organization advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in international education. In many ways, the passion that drove me to create Diversity Abroad laid the groundwork for the development of Includifi. Founded by professionals with collectively more than four decades of experience in higher education, Includifi for higher education is an all-in-one engagement system that centralizes, automates, and increases accessibility to institution-wide resources and opportunities that drive belonging, retention, and inclusive success. We define inclusive success as ensuring all students are equitably positioned to succeed academically, socially, and professionally. Our goal is for students to know that their interest and life experience matter, have confidence in navigating on & off campus high impact opportunities, and feel supported as they work to achieve their academic, interpersonal and post-degree goals.

Like the decision to create Diversity Abroad, my decision to develop Includifi was driven by a belief in the value of education and an appreciation for the challenges too many students face in navigating the complexities of the college experience and knowing how to take advantage of the various programs, resources, and support systems available to them. These challenges aren’t new. But, out of all of the approaches we could have pursued to improve the higher education experience, why Includifi? To answer this I will highlight three salient lessons I’ve learned over the past decade and a half working at the intersection of technology, student success, DEI, and global engagement and how these lessons led to Includifi.

The Structure of Higher Education Creates Barriers for Today’s Students

Lesson #1 The siloed structure of higher education creates barriers to academic achievement, well-being, and success of all students but particularly for students from historically marginalized backgrounds.

The siloed structure of higher education creates a labyrinth that is challenging for many students to navigate. These challenges are amplified for students who are first generation or who are otherwise less familiar with higher education’s structures, hidden curriculum, and on-/off-campus opportunities. Colleges and universities invest financial resources and staff time into developing targeted programs to support the success of students, particularly those to whom institutions have historically struggled to holistically support and retain. However, the siloed nature of higher education creates barriers for students to access the very targeted support and resources that institutions have curated for them. While ownership of one’s college experience is important, too often the onus is placed on the student to know what opportunities and resources are available to help them succeed. This by no means discounts the dedication and tireless efforts of faculty, staff, and administrators who diligently work to connect their students to targeted programming and resources. Rather, regardless of institution type, the common challenge is that office/unit, department, and institutional level inclusion & belonging initiatives are rarely centralized. Students and professionals alike are left to identify disconnected and disparte resources across campus. This creates a rift between the intent of these good efforts and their ultimate impact on student belonging, well-being, retention, and academic achievement.

“Our goal is for students to know that their interest and life experience matter, have confidence in navigating on & off campus high impact opportunities, and feel supported as they work to achieve their academic, interpersonal and post-degree goals ”

More Programs & Resources Are Important, But Not the Answer

Lesson #2 Innovative programming and targeted resources are essential to cultivating a campus culture where all students feel they belong and are positioned for success. However, when programs and resources exist in silos, their impact on the very students they’re designed to support is limited.

Inclusive campus communities require intentional programming and resources. One of the exciting aspects of any campus visit is the opportunity to sit down with professionals who are administering or developing creative programs to support the success of their students. Whether it’s a program geared toward retaining first-generation/low-income students, career development for students of color, or helping international students feel a sense of belonging, it’s inspiring to see the innovative program models for supporting student success. But what’s become clear is that no one program or high impact practice can support inclusive student success. After all, students’ identities and experiences are intersectional, as are their needs and interests. For example, a female first-generation engineering student who is a veteran and is interested in an internship abroad most likely won’t find any one program or office that is positioned to adequately support all of her identities and interests. While several offices may have creative programs and targeted resources to support her, the journey to accessing this support can be convoluted. First, she will need to be aware the offices exist, their locations, and how and when to visit them. She may also have to retell her story and needs for certain support, which may be unnecessarily uncomfortable. It’s not a lack of programming or resources that is the challenge for her, it’s the structural maze she has to navigate that creates barriers to accessing the resources currently in place.

New and targeted programs are an important element of the ecosystem of support needed to achieve holistic student success. However, targeted programming and resources must also be visible and accessible to have the greatest impact on student belonging, well-being, retention, and academic achievement.

Collaboration is Essential to Achieve Inclusive Student Success

Lesson #3 Collaboration is essential to achieve inclusive student success, but collaboration is not sustainable when it is driven by good interpersonal relationships or the commitment of individual professionals.

Collaboration is essential for colleges and universities to create an environment where every student feels they belong and are positioned for academic achievement and post-degree success. Whether it’s within one’s office or across departments or divisions, higher education professionals embrace the need to collaborate, coordinate efforts, share resources, and deliver an equitable university experience. However, too often collaboration is driven by individual relationships and personalities instead of being codified into the ways offices and divisions structurally engage and coordinate efforts. This creates an environment where the collaboration needed to deliver holistic support falls on the shoulders of a few professionals. This can lead to burnout and make loose partnerships vulnerable to disruption. For example, office X has a staff member who manages all conversations with office Y. How does collaboration continue when one of the staff members inevitably leaves their role to pursue a new opportunity? Similarly, changes to support and service offerings across campus happen regularly, and staff may not have the capacity to keep up with changes across multiple offices. How are these changes and new resources consistently communicated to students?

Strong relationships underpin student retention and success initiatives at many colleges and universities. That said, collaboration driven by individual team members instead of being institutionalized is not sustainable. Structural partnerships between key offices and divisions is essential to achieve an operational environment where the collaboration needed to deliver an equitable student experience continues regardless of who is in a particular role.

The What & Why of Includifi

Higher education faces a challenging and yet promising future. To achieve success - both for students and the institution - colleges and universities will have to double down on efforts to increase belonging, well-being, retention, and inclusive student success. Talented, passionate, and dedicated professionals have always been a key ingredient to increasing student success. However, to achieve sustainable and ongoing success, campuses need the right infrastructure to complement individual efforts and scale and increase the impact of programs, support, and resources that drive inclusive success.

So why Includifi? I’m a firm believer that both people and technology are required to achieve inclusive success. Institutions can leverage technology to increase cross-departmental collaboration, streamline accessibility to targeted services and support, and provide a personalized digital experience that drives student belonging, well-being, and success. This is why we created Includifi.

Our goal is to equip higher education institutions with the digital infrastructure to provide a cohesive and inclusive experience where all students feel they belong and are positioned for success.

Get in touch with us and learn how your campus can leverage our innovative system and approach to achieve your vision for inclusive and holistic success.
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