Students studying in the library

When students have questions or concerns, there are plenty of faculty, staff and fellow peers on campus ready to help. At Dean, students also have another resource – a chatbot that engages students and connects them to campus resources and support via text messaging.

The chatbot, fittingly named Boomer, periodically texts students to share important information and to check in on how they’re doing in terms of academics, social engagement, wellness, financial matters and more. Students are able to text Boomer any time to ask questions, share their concerns and interact as needed in a way that may feel more comfortable than speaking to someone in person. The engagement that Boomer offers provides a personalized approach to supporting our Bulldogs and a fuller picture of how students are doing beyond the classroom.

“When we launched the chatbot in the fall of 2019, it was another way for Success and Career Advisors and some of our campus partners to get helpful information about the ways in which students were struggling,” explained Kristin Fitzgerald, CPRW, Director of Advising and a Success and Career Advisor. “Up to this point, we’ve been using the information to work with students on an individual level. As the technology has grown, our efforts are growing with it. We are now at the point where we can look at the trends and strategize broader efforts that affect larger groups of students.”

Originally introduced to engage first-year students, Boomer has since expanded to connect with all students since March 2020. Though students have the opportunity to opt-out at any time, there has been an incredibly positive response to the chatbot. Dean has a 93% opt-in rate of students who choose to receive texts from Boomer, and 67% actively outreach or respond to Boomer, which is about 20% higher than other institutions. Interactions with Boomer can range from informational questions such as “When is the library open?” to important concerns about mental health or financial circumstances. The topics students most frequently ask questions about include Dining Services, Athletics, Financial Aid, Counseling, Online Learning, Advising, Campus and Housing, Staff and Registrar. Boomer even offers fun, community-building interactions, like asking students to share songs that are then used to create a shared Spotify playlist. Of those who engage with Boomer, 96% stated that they enjoy texting with the chatbot – for a number of reasons, including the fact that they feel cared for, they have the opportunity to share feedback and feel that their opinion matters to Dean, it’s helpful and responsive, it’s fun and entertaining, and of course, the playlist.

The high engagement seen over the past four years has enabled the Success and Career Advisors to successfully work with students on an individual basis. Now, Fitzgerald says they are looking to use Boomer to make an impact at the community level. Leveraging data like commonly asked questions and high engagement times will enable the College to proactively address shared concerns or challenges. The Office of Advising will also be able to increase their partnership with departments across campus to make sure students have needed support and to implement programs or resources that improve the overall student experience.

Boomer is powered through EdSights, a software company founded to help students navigate through the challenges they face during college. Dean was one of the first to join the EdSights family, which now works with over 80 institutions, enabling the College to not only witness but also be a key part of the technology’s growth.

“Dean College adopted AI texting before chatbots were ‘mainstream’ or ‘cool’ in the higher education world,” said Carolina Recchi, co-founder of EdSights. “To me, this is a testament to their ability to innovate and also shows their commitment to supporting students and meeting them where they are.”

This early adoption of the technology has enabled Dean to gather valuable information that can now be used to improve student success across the entire College, not just on an individual basis.

“Over the years I've seen Dean successfully leverage data generated by Boomer to improve student outreach and retention interventions,” added Recchi. “The high student engagement has allowed the College to collect so much data on the student experience that institutional insights and trends have also emerged. I am excited for Dean to be able to utilize these insights to make data-driven decisions that have a long-lasting impact on the student experience.”

As both the capabilities and the success of Boomer have grown, the chatbot continues to help faculty and staff provide students with personalized support every step of the way. And as they look forward to growing the impact it has across the College, Boomer remains just a quick text away.

Learn more about student support and success at Dean College.