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Episode #26
Filling Seats Podcast | December 20, 2022

Recruiting public health students through organic connection

In this episode:

You’ll hear from Claire Lawrence who is the Academic and Admissions Advisor at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Public Health.

You'll hear her discuss:

  • How organic social content plays a role in their digital strategy
  • Their grassroots approach to recruiting public health students
  • The challenges they face with increased competition
Claire Lawrence

Claire Lawrence

Academic and Admissions Advisor

Podcast Inst Logos-26

Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Host: You're listening to filling seats, the state of enrollment, marketing, and higher ed. Hosted by StudentBridge. In this podcast. You'll learn, what's working to grow shape and sustain enrollment. At colleges and universities directly for marketers thought leaders and ed tech innovators, because anyone can design a brochure, but not anyone can fill seats.

[00:00:27] Host: Welcome to episode 26 of filling seats. In this episode, you'll hear from Claire Lawrence, who is the academic and admissions advisor at the university of Texas health science center at Houston school of public health. You'll hear her discuss how organic social content plays a role in their digital strategy.

[00:00:51] Host: Their grassroots approach to recruiting public health students and the challenges they face with increased competition. Let's meet Claire.

[00:00:59] Claire Lawrence: I was. Sophomore at lsu and I wanted to get a job. I, saw an advertisement for . Walking the campus with prospective students and, getting them to apply,

[00:01:10] Claire Lawrence: and so I started working there. And, I really liked it. I liked talking to prospective students. I liked being able to persuade people. And then I moved into financial aid. I was looking for more of like a, a desk job and so I graduated college with , over three years of some form of higher ed experience, and I wanted to.

[00:01:30] Claire Lawrence: Do more. I wasn't really sure what more looked like at that point. but I got a job out of college, working at Our Lady of the Lake University doing recruitment and admissions processing for their office. So I did all of their undergraduate nursing programs and their graduate programs as well. I was there for about a year and I realized I was ready to move back to Texas.

[00:01:50] Claire Lawrence: So I moved back to Houston, which is my hometown and one of the largest universities in the city is University of Houston. So I worked there. I was the biology and biochemistry advisor, and I. Advise them. I didn't really do any recruitment, but I did a lot of retention. so helping students that were on academic probation, academic suspension, students that were looking to change majors.

[00:02:15] Claire Lawrence: So I learned a lot about retention there. worked there for about three years, when I found the position that I'm currently in at UT Health School of Public Health, and there I serve as academic advisor too for the Department of Health promotion and behavioral. So I do all of the advising, all of the admissions,we hired a, social media person, but I was doing social media. I was doing like the purchasing of all the swag items to take to conferences. I was attending recruitment events.

[00:02:44] Claire Lawrence: So I, I do everything that is academic. I also plan. Student events. I help with graduation, so I really am the go-to subject matter expert, for the admissions and academic side of my department.

[00:02:57] Claire Lawrence: and something I wanted to mention was that, while I do work at UT Health and I am a representative of the program, I work for all of the opinions that I'm stating today are my own. And,, none of this should be construed as being, official UT health, knowledge.

[00:03:10] Host: So tell me a little bit about UT Health and the types of students that you're working with.

[00:03:15] UT Health is a, Public institution in the state of Texas, we focus primarily on those health type programs. So we have the School of Medicine, the School of Dental, the school of nursing. We have the School of Biomedical Informatics, we've got the School of Public Health where I'm located.

[00:03:33] Claire Lawrence: And then we also have, the MD Anderson graduate school for biomedical sciences. so any type of health program that you could think of? we have it, and our main campus is located in Houston, in the heart of the Texas Medical Center.

[00:03:46] Claire Lawrence: So we have not only these fantastic. Robust health programs, but we also are down the street from Texas Children's, MD Anderson Memorial Herman. we're down the street from Shriners Hospital, so if you come to us and you're like, I'm really interested in this very narrow field of cancer research, for example,it's here, it's in Houston with us.

[00:04:10] Claire Lawrence: And I really love that. But the other great part about the program I work for is that we have five other. So if Houston is not for you, or you live in another city in Texas, we have campuses in Houston, Austin, Dallas, Brownsville, El Paso, and San Antonio. So you could live. In any of the major cities in Texas and still get a degree from us.

[00:04:33] Claire Lawrence: And we have online options now. we have an online and pH program that, I was able to help pilot. So it's a really exciting time to be in UT Health and to be a student here. we have students that live in Austin that work with the Michael and Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living that do nutrition research. I work with dietetic intern students who come through our program and then take . The exam to become a registered dietician. we have students who work with, border health in El Paso and Brownsville focusing on those communities.

[00:05:02] Claire Lawrence: So it's a lot of really important research and we saw a huge boom in our research and funding, during C because we had all these populations that our researchers were studying, so it's been an incredible time.

[00:05:17] is it just a Master's in public health or are there any other degrees that you

[00:05:22] Host: offer?

[00:05:23] Claire Lawrence: We have certificates. So those are gonna be for our continuing education students or maybe for students who are wanting to dip their toe into public health and see, is this for me? Is this something I want to. Pursue full time.

[00:05:36] beyond that, we have the regular MPH program, which we offer in person and online. We have the MPH d i program for dietetic interns. and then we have. The D R P H, the doctor in public health, and we have a PhD program, so it's a full graduate program. and within each of those degrees, you have the ability to personalize the degree to whatever you're looking for.

[00:05:57] Claire Lawrence: So if you want to study, maternal child health or policy and law, we have a ways that you can take just, a master's degree or an MPH in health promotion and health education and make it really.

[00:06:08] Host: Let's talk about enrollment goals. do you have specified enrollment goals that you're held to meeting or do you have a steady stream of students

[00:06:20] Claire Lawrence: we don't go into a cycle saying, okay, we're gonna admit 15 students this year. Once we've admitted 15, we're moving on. We keep it open. and we do complete rolling in missions so that, that makes things a. Easier in terms of on my end and on the student's end because it's not you waiting, six months to hear from me and I can get those decisions out the door and start preparing you for enrollment.

[00:06:45] Claire Lawrence: So, I don't ever wanna turn away a qualified applicant and say, oh, well,you just missed that last spot.

[00:06:51] Claire Lawrence: I'm so sorry. it really gives us the ability to admit who we believe will be successful in our program and who we believe are the strongest candidates.

[00:06:58] Host: What technology is making the biggest impact for your school in marketing to prospective students?

[00:07:06] Claire Lawrence: so I will be honest with you, we are just getting our start.

[00:07:10] Claire Lawrence: and so I would say it's not necessarily a piece of technology, but two things that we did. we hired someone to do marketing at the department level, and she is able to focus on that, meet with other marketing members.

[00:07:25] Claire Lawrence: So for example, if we have a project team, that has a grant, They have their own marketing team. So she's able to reach out to them and say,I'm thinking about running this ad. What do you think? What technology do y'all use? what should we do? What do you think about this?

[00:07:37] we also, we went as far as hiring an external team to help us get social media toolkits together. Help us just re not even rebrand just brand period. our. Program and what we have available to us. previously our marketing was very limited. very limited. Not for lack of trying, or lack of funding.

[00:08:00] Claire Lawrence: We just did not have someone that could take over it. so I was doing some marketing with the help of, one of my other staff members, but it was really limited. So being able to say, We have these beautiful ads, we have these beautiful print materials. We have a team where we can say, Hey, we see that you made this flyer.

[00:08:22] Claire Lawrence: This looks great. We want to change these things. Makes our lives and our faculty's lives so much easier because our faculty play a huge role in these ads and the ad runs. the other piece of technology that, it's again, not really technology, but. Facebook still a big deal in marketing to students.

[00:08:40] Claire Lawrence: That's where we primarily spend most of our money through, Facebook and Instagram. But, we also, we've had a really great success with asking our faculty like, Hey, here's a picture and a blurb. Post this on your page, let people know you're at a conference coming up, or we're hiring for this position.

[00:09:00] Claire Lawrence: Post about it on your LinkedIn so it feels. More authentic than an ad. It's more targeted than an ad would be, and it's coming from someone that you have a connection with on LinkedIn. So that has really helped us get the word out about our programs, about our certificate programs, especially for those continuing ed students and to, to help fill open positions, especially during Covid

[00:09:24] Claire Lawrence: When we first started, it was me and my coworker. We had no experience in Facebook marketing and we were like, okay, here we go. Let's do this. And so we ran ads for all of our cities, all of our six cities in Texas that we have campuses on. And then we just kind of like, Selected others.

[00:09:40] it was great because our clicks were really high, but the yield from those ads was low. So now we've figured out how to run more specific ads that don't just apply to every single person within the 25 mile radius you're setting on Facebook.

[00:09:56] Host: What other channels do y'all rely on for marketing?,

[00:10:00] Claire Lawrence: So right now, we are working on developing an email campaign in which we utilize . Faculty contacts.

[00:10:07] the other thing that we've had a lot of success with is . Public health has so many conferences, . And so what we said to students is, we are happy to cover your conference travel or your conference fees or, whatever it may be that you need covered. But in turn, we would like you to show this PowerPoint slide as a marketing piece at the end of your presentation and encourage students or faculty, whoever may be in attendance at the conference to come talk to you and share your experience with our program.

[00:10:35] and that has. Really great because if you're already at a conference and you're already at someone's poster presentation or speech or presentation, whatever it may be, you're obviously interested in what they're doing. And it's great to be able to not only make that connection person to person, but to connect that person with a potential program that they could apply to.

[00:10:55] Claire Lawrence: We've seen a lot of success with that.

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[00:12:32] Host: Learn

[00:12:35] where do you place the importance of visit? in person and or virtual in your overall recruitment strategy?

[00:12:44] Claire Lawrence: One on one meetings is like my bread butter. I would say I probably spend, oh gosh, at least five hours a week, meeting with prospective students

[00:12:54] we've really been able to expand our ability to meet with students and kind of meeting people where they're at instead of having them come to us. so that's been really nice. The other thing we did as a result of Covid was just more virtual events and having to figure out how do we show during virtual open house what our campus is?

[00:13:13] Claire Lawrence: That's really hard for a campus that's mostly in person as is, how do we show that off? So learning how to tell someone about our campus without being able to show them, is definitely a skill I developed. tell me a little bit about the competition within this public health space. competition within the public health space right now is crazy because we have a lot of other big schools in the southeast that we compete with. But what we're seeing now in the public health space is that, especially in Texas, the per capita rate for schools of public health is something we look at a lot and we. Now going to be competing with , a new School of public health in Dallas.

[00:13:57] Claire Lawrence: And I believe they're opening one in San Antonio too. And so we suddenly have these new programs that haven't been opened yet, but are coming and are making a lot of noise in the industry.

[00:14:08] Claire Lawrence: And so we are trying to figure out what that looks like. Because up until now, really we have some competition in the state of Texas and some competition in the south, but. We are one of the main players in the public health space, and so suddenly we're gonna have two siblings, next to us, competing with us, and that.

[00:14:27] Claire Lawrence: Something we're figuring out. So I don't know what the future looks like, but there is no doubt in my mind that there are a lot of students that prefer a more established program over a new program. Of course, being in a new program is great and provides a lot of opportunity, but I think there is something to be said for the UT Health name and of.

[00:14:45] Claire Lawrence: Coming to a program that has the faculty that we have, that has the, the programs and the degree setup that we have. So the other thing I think that we're doing that's really important and will keep us competitive in the public health space is the faculty that we are hiring and bringing on. We are constantly recruiting for faculty and,even just when, within the past couple years, I think we've hired eight faculty in our department alone.

[00:15:12] Claire Lawrence: So it's really cool to get to see, the research they're doing and to see it on a national scale. and I,think that draws a lot of interests from a lot of people to be able to say like, oh yeah, this professor works at UT Health and I wanna go work under them. and what is something that your team or your school is doing differently to compete?

[00:15:31] Claire Lawrence: I would say our cost of attendance. , one of the lowest, in the entire country. And the cost of living in our cities in Houston and in, maybe not always Austin, but in El Paso and Brownsville and San Antonio, the cost of living is.

[00:15:46] Claire Lawrence: Considerably different. So what I hear a lot is students will say,I had an offer from UT Health and I had an offer from Boston and it was great. Boston was gonna cover this much of my tuition and all of those things. , but then when I looked at how much rent and the cost of living was going to be, I was going to end up spending more than I would've if I had come to UT Health.

[00:16:07] Claire Lawrence: So , we have that leg up on, on other. With the cost of attendance and with the cost of living in our cities. and that's, more obtainable . To come here and to get a degree and experience public health, especially again, having the Texas Medical Center be in your backyard is another great advantage.

[00:16:28] With, having such affordable degrees, would you say that you're essentially providing greater access to this field than other schools.

[00:16:39] I think so. I don't know that my student body is different, but I will say we get a lot of international applicants and a lot of international students because they see, oh yeah, this degree is the same thing. I'm going to be able to do the same job, but. I can pay way less than another school. we have a lot of international students and that has opened my eyes to the possibilities of international recruitment.

[00:17:03] and of course, international recruitment is incredibly difficult, but it has shown me that if I recruit one student from one place in Africa, I then the next year and the next year and the next year see an influx of people from that same area. And so it is, it has really shown me that while I may not be able to physically travel to these countries to recruit students, that my efforts and my kindness and my willingness to meet with students and explain our program to them, that is recruitment because you're making a great impression , of the school and of yourself, and those students feel supported before they even open the application. it's been really interesting.

[00:17:44] Claire Lawrence: We get a lot of private school undergrad students, and I think they've realized, okay, yeah, that was a really expensive undergraduate degree. Let me see if I can do my MPH for a little less. I think that there is something to be said for affordable education, especially in the public health space.

[00:18:00] and that, that's something else too that I've really had to learn how to do in terms of marketing is. Public health is everything, right? someone joked with me the other day that public health has a marketing problem and marketing has a public health problem because it's really hard to market public health and it's hard for people to really understand what health promotion is. that's something we've struggled with even in designing ads. What is health promotion? It's wash your hands, it's wear your seatbelt. It's don't smoke. So we're struggling in that to figure out what does that mean?

[00:18:29] Claire Lawrence: How do I tell someone and somehow make an ad about health promotion, all encompassing of everything that we do. but, I think especially with Covid, we've. People be more understanding of what health promotion is and there's a lot more interest in it.

[00:18:44] students will come to me and say, what can I do with this degree? And I'm like, you can do anything. And they're like, that's. That's not an answer. I'm like, you can do anything. do you wanna work at a school doing health promotion and do you wanna work for a private company?

[00:19:00] Claire Lawrence: Do you wanna work for a public industry? Do you wanna work in employee health? Do you wanna work in vaccine uptake? Do you wanna work in the cancer industry? Do you want to, and I'll even tell my students, I'll say, there are people that work at Major C. Shell Chevron, especially being in Texas, we have a large oil and gas, population here and all of those companies have people that are hired to keep employees healthy and active during their workday.

[00:19:26] Claire Lawrence: So like doing yoga, that's health promotion,getting up and filling up your water bottle and drinking water while you're at work, that's. That's promoting health and we have a lot of students that focus in employee health and, it's becoming a massive industry because I think with more and more people working and more and more people working from home, that kind of health aspect in the workplace has started to slip because the workplace is now your house sometimes in some cases.

[00:19:53] Claire Lawrence: And we're seeing a really big increase in employee health interest.

[00:19:58] Host: Do students who have interest in public health. Is that always their first preference, or is it maybe a fallback and do students always even understand what it is?

[00:20:12] Claire Lawrence: I would say most of my students that come through the door are here because this is what they wanted to do. Not because it was like, well, I could do this, but I could also go and get a , psych masters or the students that come through the store have established research interests and a lot of them start.

[00:20:27] Claire Lawrence: Start the program with, employment already in place. So they're already, working on, research teams, doing research on different types of cancers or different types of vaccines or different types of whatever it may be. and I think that speaks pretty loudly to our program, right? Because we've been able to attract a bulk of students who know that this is what they want to do and that, they're here.

[00:20:51] Claire Lawrence: For a reason. A lot of them, especially my doctoral students, even are already working in the field and in the job that they will likely either stay in or move up from. So it's really cool to get to see people doing what they want to do instead of just. Saying, this is what my mom and dad wanted me to do, so that's why I'm here.

[00:21:10] and that's really one reason why I left the undergrad space was because so many of my students were like, I don't really wanna major in bio, but my parents want me to, and they think I'm gonna go to med school. And it's nice to work with adults who are here because they want to be and are making choices about their education for themselves.

[00:21:29] who do you follow or learn from in the higher ed space?

[00:21:33] Claire Lawrence: One of the podcasts that I really enjoy is the Adventures and Advising podcast.

[00:21:38] Claire Lawrence: It's just nice to hear perspectives on advising from someone else. The other thing that I do,, we have this, women's learning seminar that,the topics for that have been really great. it's things like, Burnout in the workplace and imposter syndrome and it keeps me in a good space mentally and puts me on the right track to help my students and, do my job as best as I can.

[00:22:02] Host: . What is an app or a marketing tool that you could not live?

[00:22:06] Claire Lawrence: Calendly that has truly, changed how I do my job because if you wanna meet with me, you can meet with me, you can schedule a meeting with me at 2:00 AM not to meet at 2:00 AM you can set the meeting at 2:00 AM But,

[00:22:17] Claire Lawrence: It just gives people the freedom. Meet with me whenever they need to. And sometimes I have students that book appointments two months in advance because they know registration's coming up and they wanna meet with me. and sometimes,I will have a prospective student say, okay, I'm gonna meet with you today.

[00:22:32] Claire Lawrence: We're gonna go over this, but then I know in two weeks I will have submitted my application. So I wanna meet with you again just to go over and make sure I've got everything correct. so that has been, It has been life changing, for me to have Calendly and I've gotten a lot of my faculty and the staff I work with to get on board with that because it's so much easier.

[00:22:51] other thing that we have had a lot of, Success with is just, and I know this sounds so silly cuz it's so basic, but just using teams in a collaborative way.

[00:23:02] Claire Lawrence: setting meetings with students, allowing students to message us through teams. and not just having it as like, Hey, let me message my coworker,we are actively working right now to get teams groups up. So where I could set a group of my MPH students and be able to message them and say, Hey guys, tomorrow's the last day to drop a class.

[00:23:20] Claire Lawrence: Don't forget if you're gonna do that, you need to submit that form soon.

[00:23:23] Host: And if you could go back five or 10 years and give yourself advice, what would it be?

[00:23:29] Claire Lawrence: Ooh, that's tough. I would say myself 10 years ago,I did not want to be in higher ed. I thought it was great. I worked as a student worker, but I did not see myself being in higher ed, and I wish I could tell myself like, stop fighting it. You're gonna love it. You just need to find your place. I think too, I would tell myself that you are capable.

[00:23:50] Claire Lawrence: it's your silly mind telling you that you can't do this, but that you are capable speak knowledgeably, but speak with passion and If you don't know something, say you don't know, and that's okay.

[00:24:00] Claire Lawrence: It's not, you're not expected to be, the number one answer giver, or the best person who's giving answers the fastest. Just say, you know what? I don't know. Let me get back with you. I think too, I would probably tell myself that working in this industry, A person who is the same age as their students can be tricky because you have to make sure you're maintaining a professional relationship with them and that they don't believe that they're your friend.

[00:24:25] and that's hard because, you're like, oh, you're the same age as me. Like we went to the same school. When I was working at U of H I got mistaken for a student pretty frequently. And, just being able to be like, no, I'm actually, I actually work here. Thank you. I think too, the other thing that I would tell myself, I was not prepared in higher ed to work.

[00:24:42] Claire Lawrence: Students with mental health concerns and that I wish I had done more, and I've done better about it now, but when I first started, in 20 14, 20 15, when I started working as a full-time staff member, mental health was not something we talked about. I mean, it was, but it was still very like, hush hush.

[00:25:03] Claire Lawrence: No one talked about it. And so I've gotten. More training on it now. but back then we didn't really know. And I think back to so many students where I'm like, oh, okay, now I understand why that student was acting out, or now I understand why that student can couldn't complete our program. and we just, we didn't, we weren't given as much information as we needed.

[00:25:22] Definitely something I wish I could go back and say like, oh, I need to focus on like mental health classes and psychology classes more. I also think too, if I could go back even further than 10 years, I probably would've gone and gotten my undergraduate degree in higher ed.

[00:25:36] Claire Lawrence: I would've gone to like the University of Kansas and gotten an advising degree. Something, something to prepare me to really prepare me for this job because so far everything I've done. Either self-taught or taught on the job. It's not something I learned in undergrad.

[00:25:49] so how can someone connect with you if they would like to?

[00:25:52] Claire Lawrence: I am on LinkedIn. You can find me under Claire Lawrence. I'm also available. you can email me. My email is claire dot lawrence ut You can check out all of our degree programs at s p h dot, ut, and. , I hope that if you're interested in learning more about our program or how we run things, that you reach out to me.

[00:26:17] Host: . thank you so much for interviewing with me today.

[00:26:19] Claire Lawrence: Yeah. Thank you.


[00:26:23] Host: This is the Filling Seats podcast, hosted by StudentBridge, your one stop shop for easy and engaging enrollment solutions. If you're tired of snory-telling, and ready to start storytelling your way to better visits and better enrollment, visit

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