The Perils and Power of the HigherEd Rebrand

Photo by Sam Hetterich on Unsplash

For anyone who has undergone a large-scale, high-impact rebranding project, you will likely identify with this mental exploration. My goal in writing this is to both share the process of ideation, but also to eventually find my way to a name, tagline and mission statement that actually represents something I can stand behind and be proud to propose to others. This plane is 100% being built as I fly it.

In early 2018, I was made aware of an imminent strategic merging of two pre-existing groups at MSU Denver (my current employer) — the Center for Faculty Excellence and the instruction design unit within the Educational Technology Center were to become one. This merge, which will ultimately lead to a new ten-person team, would not only broaden our collective scope of work, but also involve the opportunity to redefine ourselves within the institution. And while deeper context would surely be useful to you as a reader, sorry, this is a selfish endeavor and I’m much more interested in the process of rebranding and looking forward as opposed to building backstory. Suffice it to say that a variety of these merges and reorganizations are happening across the country as institutions of higher education react and adapt to the changing landscape.

So, on to our approach…

Our first steps involved casual collective conversations at meetings which helped to establish some sense of a shared baseline. What sort of personalities are we dealing with (some coming together had never even met)? What existing work takes place between our two teams? Where is there redundancy or potential for economies of scale? Soon after this initial exploration, we agreed that a third-party perspective would be useful, so Kris Boesch of Choose People was brought in for a brief consultation (which she graciously provided pro bono). During her time with us, she offered useful perspectives on the importance of vision/mission and provided some simple techniques for ensuring that we are intentional about crafting a shared culture as we work through the process — can’t recommend her work enough.

After 4–5 additional meetings as a group, we elicited still broader feedback from other constituent groups on campus (broader leadership, marketing and communication, student success services, etc.). In retrospect, I now view this as a critically vital step in that it helped to shatter certain preconceptions and broke group-think molds which had been reinforced in our earlier stages of the process.

With these initial steps behind us, it‘s’ time to finally key in on a few ideas that might define our new group into the future. Each party involved has been asked to bring a possible title, tagline and mission statement to the table for discussion. These will then get crafted into a small subset which will be brought to a diverse advisory council for a final decision — the entire process likely taking the better part of a year. And while I still question whether the whole thing is being over-processed, I realize that decisions like this create momentum and have lasting effects that are difficult to reverse once things get set in motion; so while I loathe much of the bureaucratic bullshit that is Higher Ed, I’ve come to truly appreciate this moment of seemingly unnecessary attention and vigilance.

It’s at this stage that I really do find joy. I can’t explain what it is about branding that I find so appealing, but it’s something I now know to be deeply rooted within my unique biology. Below is an initial list of names that came in the form of a 30-minute mental vomit session, but I/we soon realized that the name should really flow naturally from the mission, not vice versa.

  • Center for Teaching & Design (CTD)
  • Center for Teaching & Innovation (CTI)
  • Office of Learning Experience Design (OLED)
  • Office of Innovation & Learning Design (OILD)
  • Center for Teaching & Strategic Design (CTSD)
  • Office of Teaching & Design Services (OTDS)
  • Center for Partnerships & Learning Design (CPLD)
  • Center for Strategic Design Services (CSDS)
  • Office of Strategic Initiatives and Teaching Excellence (MSU OSITE)
  • Xperiential Center for Innovation and Teaching Excellence (MSU XCITE)

So this is where this story gets very organic. Realizing that the mission needs to come prior to even contemplating a potential name, it’s time to get serious about what this new group can and should represent, institutionally and beyond. The following mission statement is coming hot off the mental press, and will hopefully help to catalyze further thinking around a name.

The “Name TBD” exists as an inclusive and collaborative resource for all MSU Denver faculty. We aim to equitably engage, support, and empower the university’s educational leaders by assisting with innovative and effective course design, offering impactful professional development, and shining new light on the infinite possibilities of teaching and learning.

So after another 2 hours, here’s where I’m at:

1. XLab

Empowering Possibility

2. Infinity Center

Connect | Empower | Transform

Alternative Taglines:

Engage | Empower | Evolve

Connect | Engage | Empower

Empowering faculty through teaching, learning, & design

A little reflection on the above titles:

After feeling like I had expended my mental energy for the night, I decided to look into possible connections with existing institutional mottos, mantras or mascots. Low and behold, I ended up stumbling into some very interesting details about the roadrunner (the MSU Denver mascot). While I knew they were known for speed, I was unaware of the native american lore that has come to accompany this crazy cuckoo. The symbolism tied to their footprint making an X seemed like a perfect connection and opportunity for simplicity to accompany existing brand recognition. Now we have a meaningful story accompaniment about speed and limitless direction/opportunity, two things I think everyone will agree we represent institutionally.

Whether or not this was useful to read, it felt like the right exercise for me personally. I’m walking away with a useful starting point and some connective branding tissue in the form of the roadrunner folklore that I think could lead to some serious longterm sticking power.

If you’ve undergone a similar merge or rebrand, please share your story in the comments.

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Edu • Web3 • Culture • Travel • Identity → #BUIDL a rational mental map one neural node at a time. // Systems thinker; work in progress; thoughts derivative.