Meeting Dr. DiSalvo

Dr. D

I recently had the honor of meeting the new president of Marian University, Dr. Steven DiSalvo. The words on the Marian Website cannot do justice to the man I met…

“Dr. Steven DiSalvo currently serves the Marian University community as President. Bringing to Marian a wealth of experience in higher education and philanthropic fundraising leadership, Dr. DiSalvo has a strong foundation in student affairs, student retention, academic programming and institutional development.  DiSalvo earned three degrees, including his Ph.D., from Fordham University in New York, and currently serves as the Board Chair for Fordham’s Center for American Catholic Studies.  Administrative experience at other Catholic universities and not-for-profit organizations, including the Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation, have suited DiSalvo well to lead the university in living our Mission and Core Values.” via marianuniversity.edu

It’s a shame the world can’t get to know him in the way I did! Our mutual friend Paul Osterholm (who originally had the vision to connect us in the first place) brokered a meeting in Dr. DiSalvo’s office. We spent the first hour talking about life and experiences only to learn that we were twins separated at birth — in fact, we even lived a few blocks away from one another in Flushing, NY in 1983! That, however, was not what inspired me — it was that Dr. DiSalvo is a man with his feet planted firmly on the ground of a sound experience in business with organizations like IBM and the Joe Torre ‘Safe at Home’ foundation and at the same time, he is reaching for the academic stars at a new and improved Marian University with the lessons he learned at Fordham University. Marian is now blessed with a dynamic, gifted leader who, imho [in my humble opinion], could really take Marian to the next level if he makes the right moves now to rebuild the Marian University brand while building on its strengths…

As expected, Dr. DiSalvo faces many challenges in his new role. Here are a few that seem obvious to me…

  • Marian has a relatively weak brand compared to other colleges and universities in the region
  • It has a reputation as a ‘suitcase college’ — the campus is empty on weekends
  • The community — parents and students alike — are disenfranchised
  • The website is a brochure and the university may not be using the website and social networks optimally

I’m sure there are others, but as a Marian parent these are the ones that jump out at me. Fortunately, there seem to be an abundance of “good, fast, and cheap” answers in the form of ‘thought leadership’ marketing and social media that could help Dr. DiSalvo put out these fires and focus on other areas.

I’m going to share with the good doctor one of my all time favorite New Yorker cartoons and I trust he’ll appreciate the source considering his New York roots…

Since I first saw this cartoon over 17 years ago, I have taken it to mean that the internet has the potential to be the great equalizer and pound for pound, it may be the best place for Dr. DiSalvo to create a solid image of the ‘new’ Marian for the lowest overall cost…

Strategy

If it were my job to meet his challenges out on the internet, here are some of the things I’d consider strategically:

Leverage association resources and learn all I could from what other comparable universities are doing.

Closer to home, I’d ask myself the question “What would St. Norbert do?” SNC has recently won a couple awards for effective use of social media. What are they doing right? Evaluate and emulate

Marian has several different ‘customers’. Pre-students, students and post-students. They need to deliver messages to the media these customers use that helps Marian sell to prospective students, helps current students stick with Marian, and helps alumni stay with the school, emotionally and financially. ‘Sell, stick and stay‘ should resonate in everything Marian does online and in social media…

Marian could do a much better job connecting parents and students to the school. Our trips to Fond du Lac were usually disappointing; events competing with basketball games, bookstore closed, etc. What a difference it would have made if the school broadcast our son’s basketball games live via Ustream or Qik. Free, but priceless in terms of connecting parents to the school. What would happen if the school actually showcased their student athletes as well?

Furthermore? Many non-profits are effectively using the internet to fundraise online. What is stopping Marian?

Tactics

If it were my job to fix some of these problems, I’d remember the words of the great philosopher Andre Agassi who said ‘Image is Everything’…

  • I’d redo the website as a content management system [blog] and instruct Dr. D and other great thinkers at the university in the fine art of ‘thought leadership’ marketing.
  • I’d sit him in front of a camera and get him to effectively communicate the same passion that got me fired up to write this post.
  • I’d take that great content and I’d connect it to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social networks.
  • I’d put my star professors and their great content online and expand the borders of Marian beyond Wisconsin to the rest of the world.
  • I’d build real and virtual community around the Marian mission, vision and values using best of the “good, fast, and cheap” tools the internet offers.

Will Dr. DiSalvo succeed? Time will tell, but I’m betting he will and I think I’d like to help. My only regret, however, is that my son, basketball standout Colin Lohenry, only has one semester left…

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