Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 5
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman Office of Communications Hires New Staff

Photo by Allie Felt
Photo by Allie Felt

The Whitman Office of Communications has seen a number of changes in the past year. With a new hire and staffing changes in the communications office, the college is hoping to change its marketing and public relations strategy.

Chief Communications Officer Michelle Ma and Director of Digital Communications Kristen Healy were hired this January to fill new roles in the communications office. Healy, who has been with the college since August 2013, was formerly the office’s online content specialist. Ma was hired after former Assistant Vice President of Communications Ruth Wardwell stepped down from her position last July.

These hiring decisions reflect the administration’s efforts to improve the college’s use of digital media and to attract a more diverse group of students in order to launch Whitman into the national spotlight as an academically competitive and diverse liberal arts college.

As the Director of Marketing, Public Relations and Governmental Affairs at Coastline Community College in Southern California for nearly nine years, Ma reached out to a diverse and large student body for public relations efforts.

“Coming from Coastline Community College, which was founded as a college that mainly offered online classes, what’s so exciting [about my new position] is that I get to see and interact with and observe the student life that I’m talking about in public relations efforts,” she said.

Although Ma notes that the demographic communities Whitman attempts to reach are smaller than Coast Line’s target audience, she says her job is still challenging, since she’s still getting a feel for the Whitman environment.

“Whitman is still a part of a more competitive market. A lot of people want Whitman students to be a part of their communities,” she said. “It’s a very different environment here [than at the community college], so I’m still trying to walk around campus to talk to people. Even though I’ve been in education for nine, 10 years, there’s still going to be a little bit of a learning curve.”

Part of the difference between Ma’s new position and the former assistant vice president of communications position is that Ma is expected to work more closely with other campus offices.

Photo by Allie Felt

“The impression that I get is that the larger college community doesn’t know how to utilize communications. So we have some work to do in explaining to the campus about what we do all day and how we can help them to market their programs via the website [or] through social media or to create custom publications for them that really communicate what they’re trying to convey,” said Ma.

Healy was promoted to Director of Digital Communications after the office reevaluated its need to better connect departments of the college to online and digital media. Healy will be working to improve the Whitman website and the college’s various social media accounts and to expand the use of digital media. In this new position, Healy will spend less time on the day-to-day management of Whitman’s content management system and website.

“My goal for the position is to help Whitman expand its reputation as a top-notch liberal arts college. A year from now, my hope is that Whitman will be better known both inside and outside the Pacific Northwest region,” said Healy in an email.

Likewise, Ma hopes to create a strategic communications plan that will connect multiple departments to launch Whitman into the national spotlight to compete better with similar liberal arts colleges. According to Ma, the college has had no strategic communications plan with this specific goal in mind.

“A lot of people feel like there’s a disconnect between departments, and that’s something we need to reign in,” said Ma. “We’re a service bureau. We don’t create a product in this department. We don’t create something that we’re selling. What is created is out there. The staff, the faculty are already creating things and our job is to tell people about them.”

Ma, who grew up on the border of Compton, Calif. and gave a lecture on the importance of a diverse student body during her job interview at Whitman, noted that she will also be making efforts to incorporate the college’s mission of diversity in this strategic communications plan.

“I was asked this morning about what diversity means to me, and I said, ‘Well, it depends on how you define it. You can’t simply define it as color. That’s only one aspect of having a diverse population. But having a faculty, staff and student body from different experiences, cultures and backgrounds [is diversity].’ All of that is so important and necessary for the college,” she said.

Ma and Healy have been getting accustomed to their jobs in the past couple of weeks, and they look forward to implementing changes.

“The college has a really strong identity and people who see it love it. So getting people on campus to hear about it will get more and more important,” said Ma.

Photo by Allie Felt
Photo by Allie Felt
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