Unobstructed: Bringing Students Back on Campus (EP. 10)

Nick Begley

Nick Begley

Senior Marketing Manager

Mike Evenson was joined by Derek Mitchell on episode 10 of the Unobstructed podcast. Derek has spent nearly 15 years working in the higher education industry, a career that began as a student worker at the University of Maine and continues in his current role as the Product Manager for AudienceView’s Campus and Grad solutions.

Derek talked about the current challenges being faced by the higher education community, specifically related to the management of campus facilities like dining halls, libraries, labs, student unions and recreation centers. These spaces, which have traditionally been first-come, first-serve, will now require technology to help assist with capacity management, student flow, contactless access and other newly adopted safety protocols.

They also discussed the recent launch of the AudienceView Campus Flow solution, a new packaged offering designed to help higher education institutions manage capacity in spaces where students congregate, enhancing safety and supporting physical distancing measures. They highlighted the critical role that technology will play in helping bring students back to campuses across the country in the safest way possible.

Episode transcript

Unobstructed: Bringing Students Back on Campus (EP.10)



Announcer: You're listening to Unobstructed your view on the live events industry.


Mike Evenson: Hello, everyone. Welcome to another episode of Unobstructed. I'm your host Mike Evenson. And thanks for joining us today. It's a crazy time out there, and there's a combination of everything happening in the US and around the world, along with COVID and in our industry trying to survive and advance. And it's just a unique time that certainly have never experienced a lot of thought and introspection right now, but we're going to spend a little time actually talking about a new initiative that Audience View has been working on. And this podcast is generally reserved for talking to a live event professionals and really focused on that and just wanting to take a little bit of time to talk about an announcement we made earlier this week, where we are launching a new product and that's Audience View Campus Flow.


Mike Evenson: So, for those that don't know much about Audience View, we are a software provider and solutions provider for live event organizations around the world. A big part of what we do is help higher education institutions, campuses, schools, universities, around the world provide solutions on campus. And when we started looking at, the challenges that these campuses we're going to have, keep in mind, we have a graduation product. And one of the first things we identified was just the number of cancellations that were happening not only in live events, but on campus. And as these, these commencements were being postponed or becoming virtual or canceling and as the shift was moving away in the spring semester from being, on campus and present to being to finishing the year virtually, we were looking at what campuses were going to look like in the fall and how that was going to fundamentally change.


Mike Evenson:

And we recognize that there certainly was going to need to look different just like the rest of the live events world, just like the rest of the consumer world, from just shopping and interacting and everything. At the same time, we had a couple of existing clients who reached out to us and were either kind of using aspects of our different software to solve different challenges that were cropping up on campuses that weren't really problems before. They were things like cafeterias and recreation centers and libraries and areas that traditionally were seen as first-come, first-served, or you don't have to really worry about capacity, or who's coming in and how often they need to be there.


Mike Evenson: The cleaning schedule and hygiene has transformed and all of a sudden what were these common areas or areas that students and faculty and other people on campus would go in and out of without real restrictions or rules, all of a sudden now have rules. And if campuses are serious about bringing students back this fall, in working with some of our clients and in looking at the problem set, we recognize that we might be uniquely positioned to help and to provide a solution to this problem. That's what we did. I sat down with our lead product manager for higher education, Derek Mitchell, to talk about what this looks like and how this might work across campus and the different things we considered.


Mike Evenson: He's been through this once before where, through university tickets, a software Audience View had acquired, provided ticketing solutions for events on campus. There was a need that became identified for commencement. And we'll get into that. And that's how our grad product was created. And with Audience View Campus Flow we've done something very similar. We've taken those new cases, that didn't exist before. And we've packaged up a solution that we think is really going to make for a safer campus. We're not solving all the problems. We recognize that there are so many different things that a university or a higher education institution needs to consider if they are going to open, if they're going to bring students back on fall, and you think about all the different stakeholders, who have, something to say about this, and whether it's students, it's the university itself, you're talking about faculty and staff, you need to be mindful of their experience and their health and, and trusting confidence and safety.


Mike Evenson: Those are all words that we really started around when we looked at what a potential solution could look like. And then there's the parents of students. If you're thinking about sending your child either for the first time or otherwise back on campus this fall, you need to be confident. You need to have trust that the university has your child's best interest in mind and is creating as safe of an environment as possible. And so that's what we did. That's what we looked to start to solve. This week we're fortunate enough to be ready to announce that product to the higher education world. And we're really looking forward to digging in and helping these campuses create that student environment.


Mike Evenson: And when I think back to my time on campus, and think back to the best memories that I have, they involve a lot of people. They involve what I call bunching, which is that you don't just that natural coming together of people and humans, which is really what we love, whether it's at a sporting event or a concert, or in the student union, or in the [inaudible] or whatever it might be in the library, that was a big social area for us. All of a sudden, the rules need to change, and that's going to fundamentally change the student experience. It doesn't mean that we can't have that experience on campus. And so that's why we envisioned Campus Flow.


Mike Evenson: That's why we put effort and energy into building the solution. That's why we're thoughtful in our packaging and what needs to be included in a solution for these campuses like hardware and access points, and thinking about in and out privileges. And the fact that certain students need to be able to do one thing versus the other, and also thinking about the universities and how they want to structure. So, a flexible enough solution that allows them to create the rules and the framework that they want their students to flow safely, throughout the campus, this fall, or whenever campus is open again. We think that this is going to become the norm. This is going to become a standard. Albeit in a difficult circumstance, we're energized with the fact that maybe we can play a role in helping campuses open, with more trust, more confidence, safer and we think Audience View Campus Flow can do that. So, I sat down with Derek Mitchell to talk about kind of the process that he's gone through and his experience in the past, working with the product and building it out. And I hope you enjoy the conversation with Derek Mitchell, the lead product manager for higher education at Audience View. Thanks again for listening, Derek, thanks for joining us on Unobstructed. You've been a little busy these days, with launching Campus Flow. Why don't you give our audience just a bit of a background around kind of how you got started in live events and with university tickets and how it got to today?


Derek Mitchell: So, I've been with university tickets for over a decade. I was its first employee. My background while in college was in live events. I worked at a couple of major concert venues, outdoor amphitheaters, and the like, as well as producing live events, at my university, large scale concerts and things like that. I met the original founders of University Tickets at a conference actually, and we kind of hit it off. And when they were ready to take that next step and grow, I was their first hire and been with them since they had 30 clients. And we all worked from our respective apartments up to today where we have hundreds of clients across North America, a variety of product offerings and features within the platform that continued to evolve every day.


Mike Evenson: So earlier this spring, when you were getting messages and you were starting to look at the commencement experience this spring and that it may or may not happen, I'm curious, what your dialogue was with those clients, because they're uniquely kind of not live events. It's like kind of a live event, but not really and so I'm wondering, I know you've been really close to building that grad product and knowing those clients well, what kinds of things, were our grad clients, looking to you or to us to better understand as they were kind of navigating, whether these events were even going to happen.


Derek Mitchell: We're big in the commencement space, we're considered the gold standard. Our grad product is used by hundreds of universities. I think last year we issued something like 1.3 million total commencement tickets, which is a really cool number. And this spring, it became very clear, very quickly that schools were facing decisions. Are these ceremonies going to happen? The discussions were originally around what we're just going to postpone it a little bit. This COVID-19 will be short-lived, we're just going to do it in June, or we'll do it over the summer. And it became clear as those conversations continue to unfold that short delay wasn't going to be enough.

We're going to have to be the bigger changes made. And for a lot of schools, there were discussions of we're going to postpone to next year, we're going to do the 2021 commencement one weekend. We're going to do a 20, 20 commencement the weekend before, or we're going to try doing it this fall. We're going to host a virtual ceremony or any other number of possibilities. Some of which are still unfolding for a lot of clients. They still have no idea what they're going to do. And so we worked independently with each of those schools to sort of understand where their thoughts were and how we might be able to help them adapt again, for some they're ticketing events later this fall to congratulate their graduates for other clients, we helped them to communicate to their graduates, this idea of a virtual commencement, giving students ideas of how that will work, how they can take part in that the interactivity that will be involved in it.

For other clients, we're talking with them about how they're going to manage a significant increase in volume, a doubling of volume by holding two commencements sort of consecutively next spring. So, it's been interesting to see those conversations unfold, but it was clear that, events were going to operate very differently if they happened at all. A couple of our clients did indeed hold some form of a commencement, but it was moderated, the guests tend to watch from simulcasts facilities, or it was exclusively live streams, and only students were allowed to take part in a sort of a crossing the stage, getting your diploma type environment. So that was our first inclination that, that the events business in the college space was going to drastically change yes.


Mike Evenson: The reason why I asked is the evolution of providing solutions on campus has marched forward. The first product, Audience View Campus that was put on to campuses, around the country. It was really designed to support live events, whether that's arts events, athletics events, campus events, and all that kind of stuff. You, along with the core team, saw an opportunity because commencement was a, just a different kind of event. I mean, it required a few wrinkles and tweaks and differences, but at the end of the day, it was people gathering together to kind of celebrate something that had happened to be graduation. We as a company started really seeing and feeling the impact of this pandemic this spring started looking at are the different parts of our clients, whether it's performing arts or sports or music and higher education was one of those markets where we really started looking at the campus experience, we took the kind of graduation challenge that was there and the other live event challenges. And you were also starting to talk to some of our clients who were really starting to think about unique ways that a traditional events or ticketing system could be used to solve new problems on campus. Why don't you walk us through kind of what some of those examples were that were coming into your inbox?


Derek Mitchell: Yes, so, since our start university tickets now, as part of audience view, our team is really prided itself on having tight relationships with our clients, we enjoy, a consultative and collaborative type relationship where we encourage them to come to us with questions, with ideas. How can we improve the platform to better serve them? What, where do they feel the industry's going? Where do they feel their own campus is going? And how can we develop functionality to be the best fit? You know, virtually all of the functionality we've deployed over the years has been a direct result of those client's interactions. We want those and we are thrilled to have those conversations. And that's what led to these discussions around COVID-19 and changes to the changes to the student experience on campus, come this fall. It started with some early discussions about clients as they are handling small cohorts of students that were forced to remain on campus over the summer, predominantly, international student populations who due to travel bans and the like were just unable to go back to their home countries for break.

They were looking to enforce, the concepts of social distancing on campus for those populations of students, where they relied on the same core facilities that cohort of students had to go to a dining facility for their three meals a day. They all wanted to go to the library or computer labs places where they would traditionally gather. And they wanted ways to moderate that flow of traffic. Some of the early conversations they were making use of campus to do that, and some kind of unique ways, but they shared with us some pain points. They shared with us ways that needs to be made better and ways it needs to grow in functionality, to support the, the much larger population of students who will return to campus this fall and those early collaborative type conversations, made it clear that our platform had a lot of it, a lot of the core functionality, our integrations with campus ID cards, for example, integration with single sign on applications, our admission tracking, scanning devices and things like that would all play a part in and in a platform like this.

But we had to think about those clients and their feedback and how we might strengthen the products to again operate on campuses. I mean, those were great conversations. If you think about it, one student goes and gets their breakfast at a dining facility and they interact with 20 other students even peripherally all now, 21 of those students go to class after that, let's say each class does 20 students in it. That's 400 contacts, 400 potential exposures, all in a relatively short period of time. And that's all rooting back to one student. We knew that we had to give the campus a way to manage those, those interactions, those nontraditional points of contact. It's easy to look at a course enrollment list and see, Oh, these are all the students in journalism one-on-one, but they don't traditionally have a means of looking back and seeing who was in the dining facility this morning, who was in this particular computer lab. They're not gated access. So, we thought we had some, uh, some of the pop, some of the necessary functionality to provide that. And we knew we could strengthen the functionality, strengthen the product, offering to do it even better.


Mike Evenson: Absolutely. It's our DNA is around live events. And we understand that while we understand capacity management and privileges and who gets access to what, when and the administration of that and the managing of events, as we started looking at these non-traditional spaces and understanding the problem set now, it's different. It's, there's something on stage there's content on stage in this world. It's about let's limit the number of people that can eat at once, or let's make sure we have opportunities to clean these facilities to make sure we're building that trust in the student body. So, it looks and smells a lot like live events. It's just been repackaged and repurposed. The cherry on top for us, is that infrastructure that was built with the University Tickets DNA now Audience View Campus, what are those kind of unique advantages that you think that this platform has that can satisfy those needs throughout the campus.


Derek Mitchell: This was an exciting opportunity to innovate. We kind of relish those moments to think of how to solve interesting problems. And this was one, looking at a dining facility, for example, some of those early client interactions talk to us about, well, we're thinking there are going to be time slots, where students can go in small groups and get to go meals to go through a buffet line, get their meal and leave thinking of that as an event, you're talking about a whole lot of 20 minute events, you might be serving breakfast from 6:00 AM to 10:00 AM. In 15 minute, increments, you're creating a whole lot of events in a system. We knew we had to create a better way for those automated recurrences. We wanted lots of slots to be available in a way that didn't become tedious to the client to deploy much, to save the library. You're not timed to meals. Your library might be open from five o'clock in the morning to midnight, and you want hour slots, or do you want them to be able to say they need, they need access to the science stacks, or they need access to the business stacks or whatever the case might be in a way that again, controls and gates the population Gates the capacity of those spaces.

 So, so first off was a means of really controlling those entry slots, those, those facilities, and the recurrence of those available entry options. So that was the first thing we did tackle this idea of automated recurrence, make it easy for clients to say, Oh, I need to open my science lab from X and Y hours with slots every hour on Monday, Wednesday, Friday. And I need to open to these populations, only students in a biology class, or I need to make my engineering lab only open to my engineering majors or those students live on the West side of campus. They go to this dining facility, only students on the North side of campus. They go to this closest dining facility. Some of that was leveraging core audience view, campus functionality, but others had to be improved and built upon to make it, make it easier for clients to understand who may not have that event operations type knowledge, their facility managers. I manage a science lab. I don't really know much about ticketing. I need, I need to be able to control this in a way that's intuitive. I don't have to spend weeks in training to get to know how to do this.

So that was part one. The other part we needed to deal with was a means of contactless access to moderate control of a facility, but then require you to go interact with some type of staff member and to take your ID, or who had to interact with you in close proximity, kind of went against what we were trying to accomplish. So, we had to tackle this idea of getting students into the facility in a way that was non-contact allowed a staff member to stay at a distance, perhaps to monitor things, uh, but not have to be in close proximity or no physical contact with a student. And so we tackled that, uh, our, our access control mechanism up to that point had been handheld scanners that required a staff member to get relatively close to the user, to tap their ID card, just swipe their ID card to, to scan a pass or a digital ID. So we backed up from there and built a kiosk based self-service contact with skin tool, where users can go themselves, tap an ID card, hold their, hold their mobile phone at a distance from a reader and get automated or get automatically rather access granted to the facility, tracking their entry. We also made our exit scanning tool a little bit more robust so that perhaps they come in one door to get their meal. They scan in, perhaps they exit through another door to track their exit. They can scan their ID back out. So, they, the school can then very narrowly track. When were you in this building? Your window of mealtime was 9:00 AM to 9:20 AM, but you were only there for five minutes that, that, that allows them to look deeper into who did you actually have contact within that period of time.

And then on that particular note reporting around that we had the traditional access control reporting that you might think of from a concert's perspective. These people scanned in at this particular time, but a school would have to do a lot of their own sort of Excel magic to figure out, okay, these people were in the facility these times, these other people were in the facility these times, where are the commonalities? So, we built a contact or a flow reporting tool that allows a client to simply specify. I'm looking for these, these five students they've shown a potential infection or whatever the case might be. And I want you to know with an X and Y dates and times who were they in contact with, and it will show you, they were in dining facilities from A to B, they were in the library from B to C, whatever the case might be and showing you all the students who were in that same place at the same time, based on their entry and exit scans. So, they don't have to figure that out for themselves. You can just say, who did Johnny have contact with today and see everywhere he was when he scanned in and out and who he had contact with in those periods of time. So those are some of the big key points we made and adapting campus for the campus flow functionality that we think will be important for clients come this fall.


Mike Evenson: It's been really exciting and fascinating to see kind of our team, you and your team really rally behind this. As much as we would love to see stadium packed this fall and love to see live events happening on campuses. We recognize that that's only going to be possible if these campuses are safe, even interacting and flow throughout. And so, we felt like tackling this problem was solving the problem before the problem, which is exciting to think that we might be part of the solution to make campuses safer. Uh, when, when students come, come back this fall, how motivating is that for you just as a product lead and as a human who's worked with universities for so long to think that, I'm not trying to downplay live events, but to think that we might actually be building something that makes us significant impact on, on the health and safety and trust of the campus experience.


Derek Mitchell: I mean, it's, it's an incredible position to be in. I'm incredibly fortunate to have a team of colleagues who were able to turn on a dime, if you will, and help to take a vision, help, to take mockups, help, to take a requirements list and, and formulate it into a product, into a platform that that is powerful enough to be put in place at a school in a very short period of time to satisfy that need, that's been the bread and butter of the University Tickets and Audience View experience that we recognize the need on campus and we're able to very quickly adapt functionality to support that it even this spring, when we saw that there were going to be mass cancellations, mass refunding of transactions, in 72 hours, we turned around a mass refund tool for our clients so that they didn't have to go transaction by transaction to refund those.

We're very fortunate to have a team of developers, QA and UX, user design type people who again, were able to invest themselves in a full-time basis very quickly in adapting to this emerging need. That I find super rewarding to know that a couple of client conversations later, we had, we have a pretty powerful product offering that could be put in place for not only our hundreds of existing clients, but for potentially hundreds or thousands of other campuses. It was a fun experience. And frankly, it all came together in a really short period of time. It was just a few weeks ago. We had those early client conversations, and again, a quick pivot support from company leadership. We were able to make something happen aggressively


Mike Evenson: Well, Derek really excited that it came together so far as clean as it has, and love the fact that we continue to listen to our clients, our campus clients to understand how we can continue to solve these challenges that they have. And I'm sure there's some that we haven't even considered yet. And so, this is a journey for us as we help, open schools up this ball and, and really look forward to seeing how this turns out. So, thanks again for joining me today.


Derek Mitchell: Thanks for having me.


Mike Evenson: Thanks to Derek Mitchell for joining Unobstructed today, his positive attitude and infectious energy, really lifts people up around him and at a time like this. It's so great to have as part of a team, and it's been really fun to conceptualize Campus Flow and to roll that out. If you're interested in learning more about Audience View Campus Flow the new product that we're launching to help campuses manage the flow of students across their campus safely with trust, with confidence, please visit our website We're also hosting an introductory webinar. It'll be Derek and myself on June 10th. That's next week at 1:00 PM. Eastern, you can go ahead and register on on our website. If you are interested in learning more about Audience View Campus Flow thanks again to Derek for joining.

Thanks again to you for listening. Be mindful, be thoughtful. I have two kids at home and my wife, and I are spending a lot of time talking to each other, listening, thinking right now with everything that's going on. Hope you're doing the same. It's a good time for us to be in the listen mode and thinking mode. With that, I will sign off again. I'm Mike Evenson. Thanks again for joining me on Unobstructed podcasts. And we'll talk to you soon.


Announcer: Thanks for listening to Unobstructed your view on the live events industry. Subscribe today, wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.

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