How Students Rising Above Uses Zoom To Empower Low-Income, First Generation College Students

Zoom Video Communications

Video conferencing is changing the way people communicate. At Students Rising Above, we needed a reliable and scalable platform for webinars and internal communication. Our business now operates using Zoom. We’ve put our credibility and productivity in the hands of their video conferencing solution and it absolutely lives up to our high standards.

The Students Rising Above (SRA) community is dedicated to impacting the future through the cultivation of extraordinary youth. SRA invests in low-income, first generation college students who have demonstrated a deep commitment to education and strength of character while overcoming tremendous odds of poverty, homelessness and neglect. As the Associate Director of Online Programs, it’s my responsibility to ensure we are using the best technology possible, as retention and engagement are paramount to our success. 

@SRAprogram ‏#webinars are connecting struggling students with mentors. @zoom_us

Unfortunately, we were using an unreliable video conferencing solution until the summer of 2016. Honestly, we tried several platforms over the years and experienced significant lag time and scalability issues. Plus, the platforms severely restricted what we could accomplish with respect to webinars and internal video conferencing. It was time for a change, so we adopted Zoom, a video and web conferencing service.  

Zoom for Students and Staff

SRA has a complex ecosystem comprised of individuals with varying degrees of technical sophistication who are accessing our information and attending our webinars for different reasons. For example, SRA has a hub with 11,000 registered users. The hub is national and we partner with nonprofits who use the hub for resources and lesson plans for their students, which means we also have their students accessing our webinars. Additionally, we run a scholarship program based in Northern California that relies on webinars. Since we run the risk of losing students if they experience any issue accessing our webinars, having an intuitive and user-friendly platform is essential. Zoom not only ensures a seamless experience for our users, but we’re able to get more creative with our webinars and are seeing tangible results. 

We host 8 to 12 webinars for students per month, which range in attendance from 10 to 70 students. The focus of these webinars range from addressing students' socioemotional needs with real-world tips and tricks to a career series that is dedicated to progressing students' careers. Since switching to Zoom, we have more external guests and cohosts, and about one-third of our webinars include panelists. Before Zoom, we stayed away from inviting those folks because it was too complicated to explain the process and get them set up.

SME panelists can boost your #webinar engagement. @SRAprogram

Now, our webinars are more robust because we take full advantage of Zoom's features. We use their screen share functionality and Q&A feature, and it is so simple to use we now have community members join our webinars who act as co-panelists and conduct informational interviews. For example, we recently had an investment banker on a webinar speaking about his career trajectory, and Zoom allowed for us to be co-hosts and provided a seamless transition as we navigated the webinar. For us, this was not possible until we made the switch to Zoom. 

Additionally, we often have our alumni on our webinars so students can hear firsthand success stories. These are wildly popular with the students and often these speakers become student mentors. The reliability of Zoom makes it possible for us to book the guests with full confidence the platform will perform. In fact, webinars that include alumni generate more student questions, which means we are increasing our student engagement, too. 

Zoom for Internal Communication

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also touch on the value Zoom adds to our internal communication. Our organization is virtual with 50 employees. Instead of doing a phone call, our default is now Zoom and we are meeting more often than before. We take full advantage of Zoom’s video conference and we always share screens. We are using Zoom meetings three to four times more than any other video conferencing platform we’ve used in the past. It’s become our primary method for communication. 

Increase #collaboration and productivity with #videoconferencing. @SRAprogram @zoom_us 

Internally, our meetings have grown exponentially. For example, in the past we would have one video conference per month. Now, I have more than five Zoom meetings per day. It has increased our ability to interact, which has led to an increase of productivity and helped us declutter our inboxes. Instead of countless email chains, we can now just jump on a Zoom call to chat or exchange ideas. 

I have talked a lot about Zoom’s ease of use, but if you are thinking about adopting Zoom internally then I suggest investing in internal staff training. Acknowledge not everyone knows how to use or is comfortable with video conferencing. While Zoom is intuitive, be sure to take the time to train your staff, so they are confident out of the gate. While it sounds simple, it’s important to put your staff at ease by providing A to Z training. Be sure to discuss how to use the Zoom link and how the user can ensure their audio and video are setup properly, because even the best technology won't provide results unless you know how to use it.

For Students Rising Above, Zoom has fundamentally changed how our business operates, and I would recommend it to any business looking for an all-inclusive video conferencing service. It’s fantastic for internal communication and just as great for hosting webinars. The quality and variety of content that we can offer has exponentially improved since we have adopted Zoom, and through our webinars, we are helping more low-income, first generation college students break the cycle of poverty and realize their full potential.