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January 26

Tugging the Heartstrings with Emotive Storytelling


by | Jan 26, 2023 | Featured, Strategies, Podcast

Whether you’re a small faith-based college or one of the largest schools in the country, emotive storytelling is a powerful marketing tool.

First-hand authentic accounts of student culture, the classroom, and your faculty give recruits exclusive insight into your school’s vision.

Of course, there’s a lot of talk about the power of storytelling—so much so that it’s almost cliché now with education marketers. 

Unfortunately, when you hear about something so much, it’s easy to dismiss it. 

But in this conversation on The Higher Ed Marketer podcast, you’ll get to hear about emotive storytelling from someone working in one of North America’s top graduate programs. 

MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine's Terri Hughes share with us how they leverage the power of emotive storytelling to attract and cultivate new students for their postgraduate programs. Terri Hughes-Lazzell, Director Of Communications at Michigan State University – College of Osteopathic Medicine shared with us how their students are crafting remarkable stories through their unique offerings.

Emotive storytelling really is as powerful as you’ve heard, and it may not be as hard to do as you think. 

Listen in and make sure to take some notes. This is a great episode!

Background on MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine

To get us into the practical insights of the episode, Terri began by explaining a little about the unique qualities of their program.

We’re the only college of osteopathic medicine in the “Big Ten,” and we’re part of a public medical school. Also, we’re part of a major research university, so that does kind of set us apart. 

Like all DO [Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine] colleges and MD colleges, we compete against all medical schools for students. 

One of the unique things we have here, I think, is one of a handful of DO programs that have both a DO and PhD program. So if research doctors, or people who plan that type of career, are interested, that’s something we can also offer.

Michigan State University also offers some intriguing ways to get some real-world experience. 

One thing that students are interested in is getting some hands-on experience as early as possible. 

First and second year students can do that through several programs they can get involved in. This includes our street medicine program, where at each one of our locations, students with faculty advisors go out and meet people where they are and actually learn about them. 

In some cases, they even become their physicians. They also try to become the bridge to other services that these people may need. 

For our students, it’s a wonderful opportunity to really get to know patients and how to serve them. 

Using Campus Visits to Find Mission-Fit Students

For many education marketers, Michigan State University would be considered a large school. 

Even so, Terri and her team work hard to find mission-fit students for their graduate program.

Out of the seven to eight thousand yearly applicants, they can only take in a class of 300.

Of course, this means that MSU has the advantage of having students coming to them, but they still host campus visits in order to find mission-fit students for their program.

While they kind of come to us, we figure out [if they are a good mission-fit for us] through the admissions team and others that help with that in the interview process. 

We try to get a feel for that student and what they want to do with their medical career and what they have been doing prior to that. 

Also, we have several pre-college programs that are working with high school students so that they can get a taste of what osteopathic medicine is in our summer programs and some high school programs. 

We also have programs for undergrads, when they come here, that can get them a little bit more experience.

A lot of schools know the importance of getting younger students on their campuses. 

But to me it’s fascinating how MSU is doing that from a college of medicine standpoint.

Using Emotive Storytelling to Find Mission-Fit Students

Of course, campus visits are a tremendous way for both prospective students and admissions team members to qualify new students.

However, that’s not the only tool in Terri’s toolbox to find mission-fit students.

During our conversation, she shared an experience she had which allowed her to be able to tell their student stories with more of an authentic, “insider” feel. 

We are working on a magazine spread on our incredible programs. I was lucky enough to go on one of the photoshoots in Detroit so I could really see the experience hands on. It was incredible! 

Just watching the service of these people side by side with the students and the faculty advisors. There’s so many people who just want to be there and help. 

It is in the hardest city on the bus line. They see some of the same people quite often, but it’s about building relationships. Then they try and help them with other services, get them to clinics, or whatever that might be, but nobody’s turned away. 

Patients come and receive more than just health care. There is always snacks and water, and camaraderie with these patients and the students as they build trust. 

At one point, we were under a bridge, and they were treating this gentleman who had some sores on his feet. I remember him looking up and he counted the number of people there. He said, “There are eight people here just for me!” 

That was just heart touching! When you ask the students, “What does this mean for you?” They say, “It’s going to make me a better doctor.” 

It really teaches you to be humble and to have compassion for people, to learn not just about medicine but about people 

Everybody has a story if you take the time to listen.

Sometimes that terminology gets overused.

Often, we forget exactly what it means to tell a story. 

Terri gave us one final nugget that can help you find the power of a emotive storytelling like the one she just shared.

My advice is immerse yourself into where you are and really learn it. 

I was lucky to have that opportunity [to go with the students during the street medicine program]. But I don’t get to go out and do stuff like that every day. 

However, every day, I get to meet these incredible students who tell me their stories. I also meet this incredible faculty that I swear never sleep. They’re everywhere, doing everything! They’re supporting the students, and they don’t want to be anywhere else but helping them. 

[The secret to emotive storytelling] is fully immersing yourself [into the life of the campus] so you can know what your college or university is all about..

I agree with Terri. The stories we need to tell in our marketing are there all around us! 

But you’ll have to immerse yourself. You’ll have to get among your students and faculty and listen to them tell their stories.

Don’t be afraid to grab the things they share that really tug your heart. If it grips your heart, you know it will touch someone else. 

Discover more when you listen to the podcast!

Like all of our blog post reviews of The Higher Ed Marketer podcasts, there’s so much more to learn in the podcasts themselves.

Listen to our interview with Terri Hughes-Lazzell to get even more insights into:

  • Mission-fit opportunities at MSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine (7:57)
  • The impact of the school’s Street Medicine community outreach (12:47)
  • Why first-hand stories are critical to higher ed marketing (18:34)

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Featured image via com.msu.edu

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