We rely on our academic leaders to shape the institution, most often through curriculum and content. The SNAAP alumni survey supports the decision-making of campus leaders. For VCU, one of the greatest values comes when the SNAAP survey gives a clearer voice to concerns and hunches already discussed within the institution. Alumni serve as a source of new ideas, but sometimes confirm existing goals or new initiatives. Each academic department is a critical part of the process. The survey information complements their leadership in terms of where the discipline is going and where it should be to serve our students.
The new Dean had a tangible trajectory of the school starting from the 1950s. I think this was amazing - to pull out comments and quotes from the first women students to the first African-American students to the students who attended during the draft even though they had "no arts talent." This was a reminder that we, as much as anyone else, struggle to meet the times in which our schools are living, and that we are subject to the major shifts which are typical of larger society.
I gave special information to departments that were lauded in some way by alumni or in statistics for special projects and efforts conducted (i.e., we have a design center that gives design students professional consulting experience and was noted by alumni). We tried to email existing faculty when they were positively acknowledged in narrative comments.
SNAAP became a huge help in replying to press reports on the wages and income of sculpture and painting graduates. SNAAP data allowed us to provide a more accurate and comprehensive data to counter news reporting that favored the "starving artist" mythology.
Here is a rough sketch of our roll-out timeline:
April-May: 2-6 weeks for reading through and selecting out information. Check-ins with the SNAAP national office regarding validity of interpretation.
June-July: Presentation to Deans and select internal staff, including alumni affairs, development, and communications director. Discussion and comments led to a revision for a faculty-staff retreat.
Mid-August: Powerpoint presentation of 2011 undergraduate results to Department Chairs and Program Directors (18+) at the Administrative Retreat. We used the data used for planning/thinking about the upcoming year. However, in the first year of survey reporting, I suggest you provide time to familiarize your community with the SNAAP Project, what it asks from alumni, and how it can be useful to the school.
Mid-September: 4 weeks later, new PPT presentation of graduate results to Department Chairs and graduate study directors. Discussion of how graduate results relate to undergraduate results. Mid-October: Presentation to the Provost and other university administrators, including assessment officers.
Mid-October: Apply for funding to develop a space that serves alumni by delivering skills requested in the SNAAP survey. While we had already planned to support this skill development through Creative Entrepreneurship courses, the survey confirmed goals in development. The survey provided a picture of skills relevant to alumni after graduation. In this way, we continue protect and develop the "fine arts approach" core that the alumni love and appreciate, but then provide alumni with opportunities to link back to VCU to gain skills they need as their careers develop in specific ways. Notably, we are making an effort to connect young alumni to alumni mentors. We are in the very beginning stages of this but it was something requested in the narrative comments.
Mid-November-Spring: Report back to alumni via communications materials regarding some general results and information.
--Sarah B. Cunningham, Executive Director of Research, VCUArts