May 13, 2022

Student-first approach earns 4 awards for Continuing Education

UCalgary Cont Ed continues to be a front-runner thanks to initiatives in internal communications, marketing and design, and innovation
UCalgary Continuing Education
Continuing Education

For the fourth year in a row, University of Calgary Continuing Education has been honoured by two major organizations for excellence in best practices and design and marketing. 

Cont Ed recently nabbed three honours at this year’s Design and Marketing Awards presented by the Canadian Association for University Continuing Education (CAUCE). 

“It’s nice to be recognized by people in similar positions across the country,” says Ryan Lawrence, BA’00, digital marketing specialist with Continuing Education. “We don’t seek the spotlight, but it means something when you get the recognition.”

Personalizing the digital experience

It is no secret that the world has changed over the last couple of years due to COVID-19, but the community that has been built between Continuing Education’s employees over the years was the driving point for the internal ContEd Express newsletter, which was honoured in the Internal Communications category at the CAUCE awards.

UCalgary Continuing Education

Continuing Education

“Before COVID, we would all sit together for lunch and catch up with each other, see what was new in people’s lives,” says Gabriela Santamaria, MBA’10, associate director of marketing communications. “We wanted to keep that sense of community, so that, even at home, we can still connect. People could submit for the (newsletter); we wanted to have a little of everything for everyone.” 

It is this very sense of community that also won Cont Ed the Marketing Campaign (No Budget/Unpaid) category for its Virtual Graduation Ceremony. Even though the event itself was pre-recorded, it premiered as a live event on YouTube. This setup allowed for much more tangible interaction for those graduating and their families. 

“This was a collaborative effort because we all played a role in it,” says Santamaria. “Because all our graduation events before had been in person, there was a lot of thought into replicating the live experience for the students.” 

Having not only a live countdown to the premiere, but also a live-chat feature to go along with the video, the event allowed students to interact with not only one another, but also with Continuing Education employees, including the director and instructors. 

“Just to have that feeling of being life, that we are actually with you at this moment,” says Santamaria. “You matter; even though this is virtual, we still want you to experience that.” 

The virtual graduation turned out to be very successful, with around 100 students attending online and reaching close to 600 views for the video itself after the ceremony was completed.

Building up from last year

Last year, Cont Ed won the Email Marketing category for its Personalized Certificate Campaign. Inspired by this success, this year the team worked on tackling their program publications design, intending to make students the centre focus of their revamp. These efforts were successful, with the team taking home the Publications Award in the Design Stream at the CAUCE awards.

UCalgary Continuing Education

Continuing Education

The design plan was simple: Cont Ed wanted its students to know they can design their futures and know exactly what steps to take. 

“The content we decided to do for the guide was all about what would the student want to see and what would they need,” says graphic designer Jody Edwards, BA’00, BFA’00.

“It was an evolution of being focused on the student and trying to personalize the content for them, versus just telling them what we have to offer.”

There is no denying Continuing Education has worked extremely hard to evolve, adapt and create the environment that has garnered the academic unit such an innovative reputation. Within the past few years, it has grown to offer 1,500 courses and average 700 to 900 graduates a year. Much of that growth is thanks to non-local and international students. 

Evolution drives innovation

“We have an amazing team filled with diverse talented people that have embraced our role as a responsive educational unit,” Dr. Sheila LeBlanc, associate vice-president for Continuing Education and president of CAUCE, wrote in an email to staff. 

LeBlanc said the Continuing Education team has targeted several key areas that they are actively evolving, including identifying needs, and developing, marketing and delivering targeted workforce-development programs. 

Expanding support access to the university for Indigenous and other marginalized groups to professional Continuing Education programs is also important, she said. 

With these types of targets, it’s no wonder that Cont Ed came in first-place award for Operations Revolutionary Practice from the U.S.-based Learning Resources Network (LERN), which recognizes innovative ways and cutting-edge practices to impact and support students and staff. 

“I have so many hopes and dreams for the future of our team and the impact we can have inside the institution and in contribution to the external talent ecosystem,” LeBlanc wrote. “All of this work and these hopes depend upon us continuing to build deep partnerships and honouring collaborative effort.”