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Left to Right, Allie Dirks and Andrea Garcia-Portillo, in front of the student-designed and -painted mural in the Student Success Building. Photo/Mark Stahl

Entrepreneurs in enrollment

At MSU Denver, innovation comes standard. These two students are improving the process of going to college from the ground up.

April 16, 2018

By Cory Phare

Andrea Garcia-Portillo, front-desk representative in Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Department of Admissions, had a realization about the prospective student experience.

“Most people who spoke Spanish would come to me, so I’d translate for them” said the elementary education major; she has been leading tours and welcoming students to the University since starting her departmental role last September.

“When I was walking around campus with people,” she said, “I was switching back and forth (between English and Spanish) – that’s when I realized it could be better.

“I thought, ‘We should offer a specific tour in Spanish for students and their families.’”

Andrea Garcia-Portillo in the newly constructed Admissions tour room, where student-led tours are launched. Photo/Mark Stahl

Admissions has that now – thanks to Garcia-Portillo.

Hers is a story you’ll find every day among Roadrunners looking to better the student experience at MSU Denver, the impacts of which are felt today and tomorrow.

Central to this is improving the steps to enroll in an institution of higher education. After all, there’s a lot that goes into “going to college.” So it makes sense that the subject-matter experts of improving enrollment would include students.

“It means a lot to help the process,” Garcia-Portillo said.

She said she also values support from her colleagues who have rallied around her suggestion, recognizing a good idea when it comes along.

Innovation doesn’t happen by accident, though. It comes from nurturing a cross-campus inquisitive environment, fitting nicely into the University’s priorities, too: Entrepreneurship is one of the five key characteristics employers expect from MSU Denver graduates, known as the Roadrunner Difference. “E” is also one of the Core Values of CADRE central to staff culture, including student employees such as Garcia-Portillo. And entrepreneurship has a direct impact on “building success by wisely employing the historically limited financial, physical, capacity and human resources available” found in the strategic plan, empowering students to make their experience better.

Allie Dirks in front of the SSB Welcome Desk where she now works. Photo/Mark Stahl

“Customer service and process improvement continue to be top of mind for us,” said Lori Kester, associate vice president of enrollment management. “Student employees have the opportunity to show initiative; we treat all of them as professionals and set clear expectations for their work performance.

“In addition to résumé experience, students see the bigger picture – and how they contribute to it.”

Another student employee who embodies this entrepreneurial spirit is Allie Dirks.

Beginning her MSU Denver employment in Admissions, the nutrition major went on to the student-staffed Call Center for its opening in March 2017, where she hit her stride by training other student workers in front-line functions in offices such as the Registrar and Financial Aid.

It was from this comprehensive perspective that she saw an opportunity to improve the training process for other student employees, with big implications for enrollment.

“They’re on the front line, speaking to prospective students every day,” Dirks said. “By providing a space for their personality with the foundation of professional support – that’s what makes the dynamic work.”

Now as the Welcome Desk coordinator, she has won the admiration of her colleagues with her affable approach to student service – along with the recent Outstanding Student: Special Service - Student Affairs Award from the MSU Denver Dean of Students office.

Allie Dirks (left) and Andrea Garcia-Portillo are students improving the enrollment process at MSU Denver. Photo/Mark Stahl

Kester noted the development of the Roadways student success program as a dedication to the inclusive perspective Dirks embodies. Slated to deploy this fall, the effort is a holistic, targeted approach to delivering strategic support across the collegiate experiential spectrum, from admission to alumni.

“Enrollment management encompasses so much more than just getting students to campus and in classes their first semester,” Kester said. “The development of Roadways sends a real message to the MSU Denver community that we’re committed to retaining and graduating more students.”

And, as Dirks noted, it’s about building an environment where students can step into their own success.

“Getting to mentor other students helped me understand what it truly means to be a leader,” she said.

In addition to entrepreneurship, purpose and readiness are two other pieces of the Roadrunner Difference at the confluence of improving the enrollment process. For students such as Garcia-Portillo and Dirks, that involves crafting an experience for those on the front lines of the student experience and building a transformative community for those who want to better themselves.

After all, they’re the experts – at being Roadrunners.

“There’s a lot of people and families that come to check out MSU Denver, who want the best education and college experience; that leads to asking more questions,” said Garcia-Portillo.

“And when you can answer those questions, they end up applying and coming to school.”