Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology How do you create awareness on campus for a hard-to-define academic program? Stone Soup created recognizable brands and targeted marketing campaigns for two academic departments at a small, prestigious Midwest engineering college

[case study]
One prestigious engineering school, two academic departments with similar needs: to make their programs more widely visible across campus in order to increase participation and enrollment.

Cross-Cutting Programs and Emerging Opportunities: Background and Strategy

How do you succinctly explain what a “cross-cutting” program is? How do you communicate the clear value and exciting opportunities they offer students on campus?

Cross-Cutting Programs and Emerging Opportunities (CCPEO) found it was difficult  to get the word out about who they were and what they offered, and to get the faculty involved in initiatives the recognition they deserved.

  • At their core they are a multi-disciplinary home for hard-to-categorize disciplines that  don’t fit neatly elsewhere, like Robotics – a mix of mechanical and electrical engineering – along with disciplines like Sustainability and Data Science
  • Students obtain valuable experience working on teams within different disciplines – a critical skill employers are seeking, especially in the STEM fields

There were misperceptions to dispel:

  • “This is an ‘extra’ program that will take me ‘off mission'”, for example, away from a student’s primary training as a mechanical engineer 
  • “Whatever’s offered isn’t available to me”, when in reality valuable connections and resources are available to faculty and students from any discipline

Core characteristics about the program and their brand we wanted to promote:

  • Innovative: encouraging and supporting new ideas is important
  • Exciting: for faculty, here’s a space where they can get support to create new courses reaching across disciplines that’s fresh and interesting to them and their students – who respond to faculty enthusiasm
  • Networking: across campus between faculty and students, but also by facilitating connections between students and industry employers
  • Foundation: by providing financial support and other resources so academics can do what they do best

After discussing their objectives and audiences, we arrived at a strategy to reach their target audiences of both faculty and students on campus. Then we decided the ideal medium for marketing campaign tactics would be a memorable tagline, weekly rotating online web banners, social media images, and a printed poster campaigns. 

Tagline: Connected Learning for the Real World

First, we developed a tagline for our client, “Connected Learning for the Real World”. This originated by brainstorming ideas of major concepts we wanted to promote, using the list above. We started by putting words and ideas together in simple, memorable combinations, and then winnowing down the most promising phrases that reflect the identity, goals and vision of the client’s brand.

We applied the chosen tagline, Connected Learning for the Real World, to a series of flyer, poster, and social media share graphic templates – colors, font choices and overall look & feel always in keeping with the school’s existing brand guidelines – to be used across online platforms and printed media. We started them off with a design that could be readily adapted simply by swapping out a large, impactful feature photo and explanatory text for the particular project or discipline they wanted to highlight and promote, but keeping the tagline treatment consistent.

The final piece we designed came a few months later, a “report card” which was slipped into faculty mailboxes summarizing a few simple yet crucial data points from the previous year – such as number of students and faculty involved, plus new programs added – to highlight their success and act as a reminder of their presence on campus.

Department of Humanities, Social Sciences, and the Arts: Background and Strategy

The Department of Humanities, Social Sciences, and the Arts (HSSA) was like a liberal arts college within an engineering school, and were at a slight disadvantage by being one of the only disciplines at a college known for its “hands-on” education style that required reading, writing, debate and discussion. 

How could this department be presented in a more authentic way so enrollment would increase? How could we focus on the opportunities that arise from receiving a general education? Could we change the misperception that it is simply a requirement to be dispensed with? Could we alter attitudes so students would want to seek out an experience to develop critical thinking skills?

As with CCPEO (above) we similarly developed a tagline plus design templates for flyers, posters and postcards, plus a large retractable banner that could be used on the landing outside the department’s office on the second floor.

Tagline: Education for an Entire Life

For the tagline we created four general thematic “buckets” – departmental characteristics that we felt were important to highlight–  based on conversations with the client:

  • Liberal Arts / General Education
  • Reading, writing, debate and discussion
  • Seeking something out / Broadening your horizons
  • Opportunity

Then we brainstormed several slogans within each “bucket”. The preliminary list presented to the client included:

  • Education for an entire life: a double entendre – education for the whole lifetime, and education makes you a fully rounded human being; also, it implies that education is “entire” beyond just the “useful” arts (such as engineering) to encompass a more broadly rounded education
  • Seek knowledge for life: also a similar double entendre – knowledge “gives us” life and we seek knowledge for our entire lives
  • Move your mind in unexpected directions
  • Learn to be human: learning makes us human, and learning is a fundamental human exercise. It is an intellectual exchange of ideas as we develop critical thinking skills (Further, we envisioned this as a potentially larger campaign, a series of pieces, each with a different image that begins with “Learn to…” and then ending the phrase with any of the following relevant phrases: inquire, question, interpret, critique, compare, research, argue, to sift, analyze, shape, express, dialogue, converse, exchange, be useful).

The Unlogo

We also designed a new logo, but it was a sticky situation since every department on campus already had a campus-sanctioned wordmark. We did not want to run afoul of  Rose-Hulman’s brand guidelines. Thus this “unlogo” (as we decided to refer to it) was more of a visual icon that could be associated with the department and used on coffee mugs, T-shirts and other items that would bring a sense of unique visual identity to the program.

For the unlogo, we developed two design directions:

  1. The physical building housing their office is iconic on campus, with a traditional collegiate character. This prestigious space is evidence that Rose-Hulman takes the liberal arts seriously. 
  2. Old-style tattoo – a book with wings – to reinforce the tagline’s idea that learning endures for a “whole life”

Ultimately a stylized representation of the building was chosen to be the new iconic departmental image, since it had the best potential for swag applications, with a style deemed effective for a variety of academic units and liberal arts schools, therefore fitting the “liberal arts college within a tech school” idea. The client also felt it would be most appealing to alumni and parents, who are influential with the students.

The tattoo design proved to be polarizing. Faculty who like something “quirky” or “adventurous” preferred that one, which was also the client’s favorite:

I love that a book is right at the center of the tattoo concept. I think that a love of books is a huge part of our department and our special contribution to Rose-Hulman. Most Rose students are not big readers—and even reading addicts like me are starting to consume more text on a smartphone than on the printed page. But I still think that our ideal student, the one who is going to get excited about our department, is going to be turned on by encountering new ideas, and to me that means reading.”

Did you know? Stone Soup has over twenty years experience designing identities, developing strategy and creating campaigns for higher education. Check out more case studies for University of Oxford, Indiana State University, Indiana University Lilly School of Philanthropy, Western Michigan University, and Wells College.