It’s been almost two years since I finished my Master’s at the University of New Hampshire. I can still vividly recall my last finals experience in which I had to write four twenty-page papers in one week. Don’t ask me why I left them all until the bitter end – there was definitely a good reason for it. Probably something to do with leading three sunrise New Hampshire Outing Club hikes and planning the English Graduate Organization holiday party the week after Thanksgiving. Regardless, I remember seeing the time on my iPhone tick by as I pounded away on my keyboard and finished the last vestiges of my academic career around 3:00 am, slouched in the wooden chairs of Dimond Library’s second floor.
Now, I still can’t escape the stress-inducing nightmare that is finals week. I feel for my Student Ambassadors, whose texts asking if we can move our meeting are time stamped 2:00 am, or most recently 3:45 Central. My contacts in Residential Life or Student Affairs will attend meetings or join conference calls slightly irritable after dealing with hordes of student zombies for days. A professor friend recently told me about his experience posting grades and receiving emails minutes later asking, “can you just bump my grade up two points so I can keep my 4.0?”
Needless to say, it doesn’t look like I’ll be able to avoid finals anytime soon. So, in lieu of escaping them completely, I’ve developed a strategy with feedback from the OrcaTV team, university partners, and Student Ambassadors to leverage our platform and support university programming efforts to help students de-stress. My work with universities nationwide is proving that schools are supporting students’ mental wellness throughout finals to a higher degree. De-stress programs abound across universities and are planned by student organizations, health services departments, libraries, Residence Life, Student Affairs – or in many cases, partnerships of all these myriad groups. Offerings have blossomed to include expanded hours for school counseling centers. One of my favorites, the therapy dog, is overtaking campuses as a great way for students to take a break from finals, pet fluffy dogs, and instantly feel relaxed. Schools are bringing massage therapists to libraries and hosting coloring and yoga classes. The ever-popular midnight breakfasts and pancake nights allow the students pulling all-nighters to at least scarf down some pancakes as they’re studying for their exams the next day.
For OrcaTV, this feedback about de-stress trends in higher education is essential to ensuring our platform is truly helping drive student success. We’ve partnered with universities to not only increase attendance at these events, but also to provide feedback and act as consultants to universities who are still strategizing best practices. We just finished supporting UNH’s Frazzle Free Finals series of de-stress events for the seventh semester in a row on the Durham flagship campus and expanded for the first time to support UNH Manchester’s Frazzle Free Finals. At UNH, this partnership has included featuring curated Instagram and Twitter posts from the events using #UNHFFF on OrcaTV, the official Frazzle Free Finals hashtag. In this use case, we’re promoting the “celebrity effect” in which engaged students become campus celebrities and encourage their peers to become involved. For Frazzle Free Finals, the social feed also supports the UNH Library and Healthy UNH by driving attendance to events. We’ve worked with the Frazzle Free Finals team to showcase profiles of therapy dogs in the weeks leading up to finals, created slideshows of the cookie and coffee breaks from previous years, and even sponsored Snapchat Geofilters. During my time as the UNH Student Ambassador I attended events at the library to give prizes to students who posted using the hashtag and acted as a liaison between the OrcaTV team, the UNH administrative group, and the UNH students. I actually gave the UNH team feedback about the yoga class schedules that they’ve integrated in the semesters since. Based on the 10,000 views of the Snapchat Geofilter during the Fall 2017 promotion, I can say our efforts have been a success.
At the University of Mary Washington, we ran our first Snapchat Geofilter for their Stress Zone events during Fall 2017 finals. An hour after the Geofilter began running, my Student Ambassador Nancy texted me a photo of our Geofilter proclaiming “this is the third person I’ve seen use this filter on Snapchat so far!”
At Pace Manhattan, Student Ambassador Rachel sent me a screenshot from her contact at the library, Jennifer, who said “I saw the slides with the dog profiles, they look great!” Rachel created the dog profiles herself and submitted features of Blackberry, Twitter, Crispen, and Casper through the Pace OrcaTV portal.
Other universities including Pace Pleasantville and George Mason University featured content submissions and social media feeds celebrating the de-stress events on campus during Fall 2017.
Finally, I can’t forget to mention cartoon panda! This year I expanded our finals offerings by creating a video giving “finals survival tips” to students. Check it out here – it features a completely random (but adorable) cartoon panda giving advice about finals week. For those familiar with the “broccoli and cake” analogy, cartoon panda is intended to be an example of
“broccoli cake”. While on the surface she has nothing to do with academic achievement, she’s intended to engage students and encourage them to watch the study tips video – and conveniently teach them how to survive finals in a healthy and productive way. We offered this video to our university partners as an option to show on their OrcaTV channels and received positive responses from schools including: Central College, Clemson University, the College of Charleston, Georgia Tech University, Manhattan College, Michigan Technological University, North Carolina Central University, St. Thomas Aquinas College, the University of New Hampshire (both Durham and Manchester), Johns Hopkins University (both Baltimore and D.C.), the University of Mary Washington, Pace University (both Manhattan and Pleasantville), Michigan State University (both the College of Natural Sciences and the Mosaic Multicultural Unity Center), SUNY Old Westbury, Delaware Valley University, Southwestern University, and George Mason University.
In summary, I’ve used paradigms generated from conversations with universities to create a robust engagement strategy for finals week. Of course, we’ve been most successful when we’ve been able to support university programming that already exists. For the cases in which our partners have needed advice or additional support, I’ve worked to creatively brainstorm tactics to further engage students while expanding our offerings of Apogee-produced content. The Student Ambassadors have already told me that cartoon panda is “funny” and “not lame,” so the official verdict is that Apogee Operation Finals 2k17 was a roaring success!