Posts by Eric Fortenberry
Colleges and universities invest a great deal of money and resources in support of co-curricular activities in an effort to foster student engagement. With budget cuts happening across campus, it is more necessary than ever to assess if student involvement actually enhances student success.
|OrgSync’ers in front of our booth!|
To educate campuses on how the data collected in OrgSync can be used to assess the impact of student involvement on overall student success, we attended the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (“SACSCOC”) Annual Meeting last week. When we asked the attendees how they were measuring out-of-the-classroom learning outcomes, the response we received over and over again was “We can’t.” Of course, the OrgSync team immediately responded, “Yes, it can be done!”
Campuses can compare pre- and post-program assessments to see rates of student growth and development, revaluate programs and services based on feedback, and establish a benchmark to measure annual change and development. The outcomes of these analyses will help campuses continuously improve institutional and departmental strategic initiatives and align learning outcomes to the institution’s mission and values.
During the conference, we showcased how California State University at Sacramento (“Sac State”) leveraged the involvement data found in OrgSync to show measurable results linking student involvement to increased academic performance and higher retention rates across various student cohorts including underrepresented minorities, transfer students, commuter students and other non-traditional students. The results of the study found that no matter what the starting point was for students coming onto campus, student involvement had a positive impact on graduation and retention rates. By proving that students were learning and developing in their co-curricular programs, the Office of Student Organizations and Leadership at Sac State received the support and funding needed to help its programs flourish.
It is very fulfilling to know that we have been able to help those who work with students not only drive student engagement, but turn it into measureable data that can be leveraged for further funding and resources.
I invite conversation about how, together, we can reach this goal.
A few months back, OrgSync was nominated as a finalist for the Dallas Business Journal Best Places to Work Awards. Last week we went to the awards ceremony and ranked #3 in the small business category out of the more than 300 companies that applied!
We have always known that OrgSync is a great place to work, but it is rewarding to finally have an award to showcase the wonderful team environment that we have created. Ever since we started in 2007 out of a five-bedroom house in Austin, we prided ourselves on providing a work environment that is more than just a job. OrgSync is a family; we are a tight knit group of individuals passionate about what we do and dedicated to our clients. Our collaborative culture allows us to utilize the collective wisdom of each individual’s strengths to deliver the best customer service and reach our company goals.
Not only has our collaborative culture allowed us to create a great work environment, but it’s also our work-hard, play-hard mentality that has transcended through everyone here. We celebrate individual accomplishments as well as team wins and make sure that everyone has an opportunity to grow both professionally and personally. We have bi-monthly team lunches together, celebrate new partners joining the OrgSync family by ringing bells and banging gongs, have team outings to commemorate monthly sales’ goals and we always applaud every employee mentioned in our “Who’s Kicking Ass Box.”
We believe strongly in our team and have put considerable focus on making sure our work environment is truly the absolute best. We’re very excited to be given this honor and if you think you’re ready to join one of the Best Places to Work in Dallas, be sure to apply to one of our available positions today.
Community Home will replace My Home and be the new landing page for your campus.
Starting July 6th, you will notice a new user experience when you login to OrgSync. All users will have a new landing page called Community Home, which has a variety of new features that will improve the usability of OrgSync and direct you to the most important happenings on campus and in your organizations.
Here is what to expect on July 6th when you login to OrgSync.
The first thing you’ll notice is a new design style and customized top navigation bar that reflects your community’s or campus’s identity. In addition, each community will have their own community profile picture, which is similar to the user and organization profile picture and will be displayed on the upper left-hand side of Community Home.
Improved Navigation Bar
The navigation bar at the top of the screen combines related features together and improves accessibility to any organization and community you’re involved with. The navigation bar includes the following tabs:
- Community – Quickly visit your community’s landing page.
- Organizations – Jump into any organizations you are involved in.
- My Tools – Access your calendar, involvement manager, requests made and to-do lists.
- Notifications – View a list of your most recent notifications.
- Inbox – Includes messages, event and organization invitations and exports.
- Settings – Manage your account including notifications, memberships or get help and support.
Pre-selected bookmarks from your community administrator will allow you to directly move to other systems you already use on campus from OrgSync.
Updated News Feed
The updated feed allows you to choose the information you see (filter by community, organizations, or people). The improvement in our feed allows you to interact directly with content so that you may now vote in a poll, RSVP for an event or comment on a news post without having to leave Community Home.
Similar to Bookmarks, this section is controlled by the campus administration and allows you to quickly visit the most important umbrellas (campus departments) and organizations in your community. For example, you can quickly access your Student Life Umbrella, Residence Hall Umbrella, or Student Government Portal directly from community home.
At the top of Community Home, is a rotating banner that will allow campus administrators to spotlight upcoming campus events and important information that everyone in the community needs to be made aware of. For example, your campus may spotlight upcoming volunteer opportunities, SGA elections or campus welcome events.
See upcoming community wide events or switch over to events upcoming in your organizations. You can also see all events you RSVP’d for from the right-side bar.
View the latest weather updates on your campus.
OrgSync will begin recommending organizations in your community based on your interests.
If you have any questions or need help, feel free to contact us. We’re very excited to be releasing these updates for all OrgSync users across our 180 campus partners. Make sure to send us your feedback on July 6th and let us know what you think.
*Update: Take a look at how Community Home is benefiting you and your campus.
Summer 2011 is now in full swing at OrgSync, and we wanted to take a moment to share with you our most recent innovations. Over the next couple of months, we will be releasing a number of updates that will significantly improve the experience for all of our users. The following is a sneak peak of our most significant changes.
Community Home is the new landing page for all users when they login to OrgSync. It is a campus-driven resource that will centralize campus information and allow campus administrators to push out and showcase the most important content to their students. Some of the updates include:
- Upgraded feed containing more relevant information
- Improved community branding/styling options
- Bookmarks to campus-wide resources
- Recommended organizations based on user interests
- “Offices” to point students directly to important umbrellas or portals
New User Interface
OrgSync will be undergoing a site-wide redesign to improve the user experience. Very little will be changing structurally however, so you will continue to access most of the pages in the same manner that you are used to. Major updates to the look and feel of OrgSync include:
- Unifying the design throughout all of the modules
- Simplifying various design elements
- Breaking pages down for smoother navigation
- Giving a facelift to improve usability and accessibility
Updates such as these would not be possible without the help of our campus partners. The feedback we have received already has been phenomenal, and we are excited to hear what others have to say once the updates are put into production.
“I think this is the big piece all users needed to round out OrgSync as the one stop shop for all students,” said Corey Seemiller, Director of Leadership Programs at The University of Arizona. “This is phenomenal!”
If you have any questions about the updates or want to share your thoughts, please send us your feedback today. You may also subscribe to our blog to receive news on product updates, best practices and other important information related to OrgSync.
“*Mockup is subject to change”
Considerations when evaluating free vs. subscription-based services
As campuses are deciding how to best allocate their finances for the upcoming year in the midst of nation-wide budget cuts, more and more campuses are beginning to look at free and open source solutions to fulfill their technology needs. A common frustration for campuses is justifying the difference between a subscription-based service, such as OrgSync, and free solutions. This post is intended to help our current and future campus partners understand the risks and pitfalls that are inherent with choosing a free solution.
Something free today doesn’t necessarily mean it will be free tomorrow. When free solutions begin earning traction and user growth, the results will inevitably increase expenditures such as data storage, bandwidth, servers, etc. Because companies simply can’t print money, they need to find ways to keep their businesses up and running. Raising capital is always an option, but even those companies eventually have to generate revenue to stay alive. What happens to the majority of free websites is that once they have burned through all their cash and exhausted their final efforts to continue operations, they have to lay off their staff and eventually shut down their servers.
One of the main advantages of choosing a subscription-based service over a free one is that a free service is not obligated to continually develop their product and expand the capabilities to serve the customers’ growing and changing needs. Even when companies build the most amazing products, they still need to have the business intelligence and ability to capitalize on it.
Privacy is another major concern for higher education institutions, especially as it relates to FERPA, a Federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. Going with a subscription-based solution minimizes the risk of exploiting student data to the hands of outsiders and ensures the security of student and university data. Free solutions that need to sustain their company and generate revenue for their investors are likely to turn to advertisers in order to generate income. Some solutions may even sell their database of information to advertisers targeting university students or campus administrators.
Free is not always “free.” In order to generate revenues, many free, open-sourced vendors have chosen to charge for a variety of services. It is important to understand the total cost of ownership for such solutions to properly evaluate on-going expenses. The total cost of ownership is the sum of all costs associated with implementing a free solution. Hidden fees that should be considered include: cost of installation (staff time or consulting), hardware purchases (servers and storage), training costs (students and staff), and maintenance fees (annual maintenance fees, support, and product upgrades). This entire spectrum of expenses should be considered when evaluating software solutions.
Evaluating the advantages and risks of a free system must be a key element in deciding which software vendor to choose.
The OrgSync Difference
OrgSync’s business model has proven itself over the past four years and our revenue generation allows us to guarantee we will be in business to reliably deliver the products and services our customers demand. Our 175 campus partners do not worry about OrgSync going out of business, nor do they worry about the security of their student data. We put a strong focus on the continued development of the OrgSync platform and collaborate regularly with our campus partners to ensure we are continuing to meet their needs as well as the needs of higher education.
The OrgSync team is excited to announce that our new ePortfolios will be provided without charge to all current campus partners as well as any new campuses that sign up by May 31st.
After initially planning to sell this new product as an add-on, we realized an ePortfolio is such a valuable tool that every OrgSync user should have access to it. The ePortfolio will stay with every student, even after they graduate, as long as your campus continues to subscribe to the OrgSync platform.
Campuses interested in only ePortfolios may inquire about our stand-alone pricing by contacting Cayce Stone, Sr. VP of Business Development.
About OrgSync’s ePortfolio
OrgSync’s ePortfolio provides every student with a personal website to organize, showcase and reflect on academic course work, co-curricular involvement, internships and employment. Students have the ability to upload work samples, request professional recommendations and link to their social media profiles. In addition, students have a full range of privacy options and contents of the ePortfolio may be downloaded as a PDF for every student to save, email or print out.
The ePortfolio is comprised of six sections, which include a biography, co-curricular involvement, academics, employment, documents and recommendations. Together this information provides a holistic view of the student and his or her accomplishments. Students may use the ePortofolio to:
- Track personal development throughout their education
- Market themselves to employers during his or her career search
- Enhance their applications for graduate schools and scholarships
- Collaborate with professors and advisors to reflect on experiences
- Share project work samples, photos, and images
- Maintain a professional online presence
For those that haven’t seen our ePortfolio, watch the video below.
We have also put together a few resources for you to learn more about and get started with your ePortfolio:
- Press Release
- Article in Campus Technology
- Sample ePortfolio
- ePortfolio Overview
- ePortfolio Getting Started Guide
- 4 ways an ePortfolio can strengthen a career search
For current campus partners, the ePortfolio module should now be enabled for all of your students. As always, we encourage you to contact your campus consultant if you have any questions.
This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending my third National Collegiate Leadership Conference (“NCLC”) at the University of Arizona (“UofA”). I am so impressed by what just 15 students were able to accomplish, and believe their success story is one that needs to be shared with every institution across the country.
NCLC is an annual student-run conference providing 600 students, from 50+ campuses around the nation, a weekend filled with leadership training and personal development experiences. The conference is jam packed with workshops, service projects, team building exercises, and excursions to local Tucson attractions. The workshops covered a range of themes including: Personal Leadership Development, Leadership Best Practices, Issues in Leadership, and Leadership Transformation.
Here is a short clip from NCLC 2011:
The NCLC Planning Committee, which is one of over 10 Leadership Programs at the UofA, consists of 15 students who spend the entire year strategically planning, preparing, registering and executing the conference each February. This year’s team was exceptionally prepared and their operations were flawless, which is why I am extremely proud to share this video from conference leaders, Alyssa Martinez and Samantha Bass, who discuss how they used OrgSync to manage and organize NCLC.
Furthermore, I can attest to the high satisfaction levels of the student participants based on my direct interactions with the 200+ people who stopped by our booth and attended our workshop. As a conference attendee and sponsor, I was able to ask the students about their experiences and how the conference was going. The responses were extremely positive and most of them had at least one impactful experience or conference highlight they were eager to share.
As a way to encourage students to fully get involved, the Planning Committee awarded students who completed a minimum of 8 hours of workshops and service projects a Leadership Enrichment Certificate. Conference overachievers, who went the extra mile to complete 10+ hours, were awarded an Excellence in Leadership and Service Certificate. In addition, to help students’ understand and appreciate the value of all of their leadership and involvement experiences, OrgSync provided every NCLC attendee with a personal ePortfolio website to reflect on and showcase their involvement, academic and employment experiences. Students were extremely enthusiastic and excited to continue building their ePortfolios once they returned to their respective campuses.
In summary, this was one of the best run conferences I have ever attended, and even more impressive is the impact that NCLC makes on 600 student leaders in every conference they host. The leadership development model is phenomenal, and I hope to see many more of our campus partners implementing similar programs to help develop their students’ leadership skills and experiences.
More about NCLC is available at nclc.orgsync.com.
It saddens me to bid Austin adieu as we announce that OrgSync is moving to Dallas on April 30th. I am thankful and happy though to take a moment to reflect on how wonderful Austin has been and all the support this community has given to our company since our founding in 2007.
Exactly three years ago, my co-founding partners and I moved into a 5-bedroom house in Avery Ranch (northwest Austin) with the intention of bootstrapping the start-up of our company, OrgSync. We did not have any money beyond what our credit cards would hold, and so we decided to move in together and live off the company. Rent was only $1,650 and with all our bills and food, the five of us figured out how to live on roughly $2,500 per month.
We had heard of other entrepreneurs bootstrapping their companies out of their houses and apartments, so it seemed like a good idea. I’m pleased to tell you, three years later, that it was the best decision we ever made! In fact, I would go as far to say the past three years literally living OrgSync have been the best three years of my life. We did run into challenges along the way, but at the end of the day, we strongly believe it was that intense level of devotion that enabled us to self-fund and grow our company as fast as we did. Austin was absolutely the best city with the most supportive community to do something like that. I recommend to anyone thinking about starting a company to consider doing it in Austin, out of a house.
Beyond bootstrapping, the Austin community has been extremely friendly providing my team and me continual support and encouragement. Everything from the Austin Tech Happy Hours to South by Southwest (SXSW) to all the social media meet-ups; the opportunities to network and meet new people are endless! The best part of Austin is the people that make up this city. Almost everyone here is genuinely interested in what others are doing and always willing to help out. It’s that type of support that is extremely crucial for startups as you grind out and overcome the seemingly never ending hurdles of starting a new business.
So why are we moving the company to Dallas? There are a few primary reasons we have chosen Dallas for the next stage in OrgSync’s life:
- New Executive Management – for the past three years my father, Don Fortenberry, has served as our virtual CFO, and has agreed to come on board full-time if we moved the company to Dallas. Furthermore, we have hired one of Don’s former business partners and close friends, Michael Schwartz, as our Chief Operating Officer. In order to maintain OrgSync’s rapid growth, we recognize the importance of having the right, experienced people around the table to ensure we continue to build OrgSync in a healthy and sustainable manner. And since the right people, who we know and trust, are permanently located in Dallas, then that’s where we must go.
- Access to Capital – in Dallas our CFO and COO were able to raise a substantial amount of capital within two days, and now we have some great corporate leaders serving on our advisory board. Fund raising was not nearly as feasible in Austin.
- Strong Corporate Environment – we have secured a great office in Dallas that is affordable and meets our needs as a small and growing business. We are also very excited about the corporate environment that Dallas has and believe it will be a great opportunity for us to network with several larger businesses as we continue to grow ourselves.
- Close Proximity to More Clients – we have numerous clients in the DFW area (UTD, UTA, TCU, UNT, UNT Health Sciences, TAMS) and want to be as close to them as possible. This will provide us the opportunity to frequently visit with these clients, conduct focus groups, provide lots of training, and take new employees on-site to visit with clients and organizations using OrgSync.
With all that said, we are still very sad to leave the Austin community. Austin will always be OrgSync’s birthplace, and we will never forget our roots. Even though we are moving our corporate headquarters, we will continue to have a large presence in Austin and will continue to attract talent and supporters to assist us in achieving our corporate mission.
On behalf of my entire team, I want to thank each and every Austinite that we have met and exchanged stories, advice, and memories. We will keep you close in our hearts and wish everyone in Austin the very best with your current and future endeavors.
Eric Fortenberry, Founder & CEO
This past week Cayce and I (Eric Fortenberry) traveled to the Sacramento (‘Sac’) State campus to meet with campus administrators and train student leaders. We met with various departments including Student Affairs, Career Services, Event Services and Student Government. During our first meeting we were honored to present OrgSync to Edward Jones, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs, Campus Life. Edward expressed interest in providing OrgSync to all the student affairs departments to improve their communication and cross department scheduling. We were very exciting when Edward realized “OrgSync’s only limitation is our imagination.”
During our meeting with Sac State’s accounting department we discussed their student organization treasury needs. An online treasury solution is much needed and will be implemented slowly to assure that current treasury processes can be re-worked for efficiency. Another highlight was meeting with the Career Services department. They gave us some great feedback and suggestions on how we can continue to improve our resume builder and Co-curricular transcript manager. Lastly, we had Rebecca Dietzler and Rich Clakeley from Events Services walk us through their entire room reservation process. It’s always so exciting for us to have the opportunity to sit around a table and collaborate with campus leaders to brainstorm how our innovative software can benefit their campus in more ways then we ever intended.
The OrgSync leadership training for student leaders was held all day Saturday. We kicked off the day with a 90 minute in-depth walkthrough of all the “Nuts & Bolts” of OrgSync. Thanks to the Buzz Café, there was plenty of coffee and breakfast foods to keep everyone attentive. After the walkthrough we got the opportunity to visit with many excited student leaders. They wanted to know why OrgSync hadn’t been implemented on every campus years ago! After more food from the Buzz Café, the student leaders broke out into groups based on their positions. I co-hosted the planning and time management session with Leanna Neves-Bogetti, Student Activities Program Advisor, and enjoyed showing students how they could leverage our Calendar and ToDos modules to better plan and manage their time. At the same time Cayce was presenting in the philanthropy and community service session where he demonstrated how students could track their involvement and activity hours using our resume builder and co-curricular transcripts.
At the end of the day the Student Activities Office was excited to use their new Plinko board to raffle off prizes to the 75+ students who attended. They gave away everything from an iPod Nano to Peak Adventure trips and team paintballing. It was a great end to an already amazing day!
Overall, our trip to Sacramento State was very productive and gave us the opportunity to gather feedback from both students and campus leaders. We were also glad to build closer relationships with Tom, Karlos, Joanne, Leanna and Courtney in the Student Activities Office. They have been with us for over a year now and we are thankful for all of their efforts to spread OrgSync across the Sac State campus, as well as for their helpful feedback and feature suggestions that will improve the OrgSync platform for all. I can’t wait to book our next trip to Sac State!
As many of you know, OrgSync has seen substantial growth this past spring and summer. To prepare for the launch of over 50 new campuses, we spent the summer upgrading our hosting platform. We believe scaling our applications and databases will be an ongoing effort and have made it part of a larger initiative to transition our development team from startup to enterprise mode.
Prior to this summer we hosted our platform at Joyent. Joyent was an affordable third-party hosting solution that allowed us to stick to our bootstrap model. However, as we continued to expand OrgSync’s functionality and user base, we began experiencing reliability and scalability issues. As a result we discovered several technical constraints that hindered our ability to scale while maintaining acceptable uptime for our users.
Once it became evident that we would need a more robust hosting solution we began exploring our options in “cloud computing” through Amazon Web Services (www.amazonaws.com). We were initially wary of such a bleeding edge solution because of the risk of getting lost in unfamiliar territory. Thankfully, Rightscale (www.rightscale.com) allayed most of our concerns. They’ve created an application that simplifies the process of working with Amazon’s virtual server instances and data persistence system, and they have a comprehensive support platform to get IT personnel up to speed.
The transition to our new hosting platform took about 8-10 weeks to complete, and the capabilities and controls we now have are phenomenal. With our new partners we have developed an extremely scalable solution that allows us to respond quickly to load. Any component in the system can be swiftly replaced; our data is backed up every 10 minutes to an offsite location, and no single component can bring the application down for an extended period. We also have the ability to specify the availability zones of our servers, giving us a large degree of disaster tolerance.
We are extremely excited (and relieved) to have fully completed this transition. We can now rest assured that as our user base continues to grow we will be able to scale our applications and maintain a high level of uptime that all of our clients deserve.