A few weeks ago I asked my blog readers to participate in a survey about how they would describe us. The survey had 40 adjectives and asked people to tell us how much they agreed or disagreed that the descriptor fit their image of us. The goal of this exercise was to understand how people perceive us. Thirty-eight readers completed the exercise.
They were not the only group we asked to do this task. We also have responses from our faculty, staff, undergraduate students and dean’s advisory board members. All together 609 people have completed the exercise and while there are some differences across groups (a point I will return to in a minute), there is one thing every group agreed on: We are “Diverse”. Every single group picked this adjective as one of the top three things that most come to mind when thinking about the College. When combining the data, it was the top choice. “Accessible” was number 2. This combination makes a lot of sense, in many ways we are “Diverse” because we are “Accessible.”
We are also diverse because we are “big”. We didn’t give our survey participants the chance to tell us they think we are big. We already know. We often talk at UCF about the need to do things at scale and the challenges associated with “scaling intimacy.” But in my mind, our diversity is a much bigger challenge than our size. Our diversity extends well beyond racial, gender and ethic differences to include differences in needs, aspirations, and expectations. Diversity in gender, race, ethnicity is a strength. Satisfying diverse needs, expectations and aspirations is more challenging. It requires different program offerings and experiences, making it even more difficult to scale solutions and manage the portfolio of our offerings effectively.
Why do I think the survey respondents are telling me about more than just demographic diversity? One hint comes from the differences in responses across groups. For example, undergraduates saw us as far less “affordable” than our ambassadors, faculty, staff, or advisory board members. Students also see us as more “prestigious” “sophisticated” and “global” than the other groups we surveyed. Another hint comes from the hundreds of conversations I have had with students over the last five years about why they are here, what they are trying to achieve and what they aspire to in life. Some promised their family they would get a degree. Others hope to be the first person in their family to graduate college. Many experience a surprising jump in academic expectations relative to their last institution, while others see us a place they can effectively manage their home, work and academic life. Some look for opportunities to engage. Others want to be anonymous. A few hope to start their own business. Others want to study abroad and then go to a prestigious graduate school. Some students want to rule the world. Others just want the weekend their parents have never had. The best descriptor for all of this: Diverse.
There are a number of other interesting findings from the survey, but I’m not going to touch on those until we collect a little more data, especially from graduate students. They are the one group we have yet to survey. In the meantime, we, like the great country we live in, will continue to strive to find ways to turn all this diversity into a strength while still being true to our values. Happy 4th of July everyone.