A Summer of Internal Culture Discovery

Exploring the Indiana University regional campuses, June 2011—February 2012

What started on July 1 when the IU communications merger seven months ago, 5,000 miles of driving, and only one bout of sickness later, I can say I’ve spent a total of two weeks on each IU campus discovering what they are like from a student and staff perspective. All of the IU campuses are anchoring their regions well on behalf of IU.

The campus communities were full of students, faculty and staff excited about being on their own campus, and pride and spirit were very high. And, they all have a common theme for success—build a dynamic and prideful internal culture and you build brand. Coupled with solid administrative and academic leadership and an invested marketing/PR team, you build pride and spirit of place that would be the envy of any for profit or not-for-profit company.

Here are just a few of the things I discovered….

IU East

Just to think a year ago, this campus was challenged to improve or face drastic changes. It is now the fastest growing campus of all the IU campuses. With a proactive chancellor and solid marketing and PR staff, the campus is a very attractive and a first choice for students in the east-central Indiana and west-central Ohio region to receive their IU degree.

While on campus, I struck up conversations with a small number of students and staff about their experiences, and I found that they absolutely see themselves as IU and, more importantly, in that region the IU East Red Wolves. IU East is another great example of building internal culture and pride to advance the campus.

I’ve visited the campus periodically over the years and during the past five years I’ve noticed a dramatic change in the demographics of the campus.  Five years ago the campus was quiet and I did not witness much activity and excitement for and about the campus. The student population had more of an adult or non-traditional student feel about it. You would never see the more traditional students, but after spending some extended time on the campus this summer and hanging out with the students (ok, just working and listening to the excitement and conversations while sipping my favorite IU East drink, Red Wolf Latte-iced), I can say those days are long gone.

The campus has completely transformed itself, and all facets of the campus have the feel of youthful exuberance and are embracing their new spirit image, the Red Wolves. Strolling the campus it is immediately noticeable that the demographics have changed and high school students in this region see IU East as a first choice to receive their IU degree.  I witnessed, on many occasions, students greeting faculty and staff and having their undivided attention and living the promise of the campus, Focused on You.

They have athletic teams that compete in the NAIA and that the campus can rally around. They’ve defined what it means to be a red wolf and have established a solid internal culture around it. I had the pleasure of attending a basketball game (IU East vs. IU Southeast in a battle for first place). The spirit squads are engaged, they have a new pep band, and they have a very svelte, but tough and cool looking, mascot.

Internal culture is strong and this proud campus community is thriving!

IU Southeast


I’ll start with this…the nicest, most polite and helpful staff people you ever want to meet. On many occasions I was asked if I needed help while out and about on campus.  The campus is sprawling and beautiful, especially in the fall. The student housing is very inviting and they appropriately named them “lodges.” Many times I sat and pulled out my laptop to work at the picnic table by the campus lake. I can remember saying this when I discovered this great scenic spot to work, “Has this lake always been here?”

Let me step back. I’ve visited the IU Southeast campus on a few occasions over the past 13 years working at IUPUI, once for an all campus marketing directors’ get- together and on a few occasions headed to my favorite restaurant in Louisville, Jeff Ruby’s.  Well, my visits to this campus must have been  “drive-bys” because the campus lake has always been there.

This fall I took the time to discover all of the campus and see it as the students and staff see this campus (I even got a ticket because I forgot to hang my parking pass–the full experience) that serves southern Indiana and the greater Louisville metropolitan area. I mentioned that the staff is outstanding when it comes to helping visitors to their campus.  I also discovered by sitting in on a meeting of about 15 of their staff members from various offices across the campus that they are a close knit group–they can all recite lines from their strategic plan document. Impressive.

I had the pleasure of attending a couple of basketball games, one being the IUS homecoming. The games were fun and full of spirit and pride. Like Kokomo, the IU Southeast campus utilizes the IU fight song. They have an excellent pep band with established cheers.  Pride in place is on exhibit everywhere at IU Southeast. There is a connection with staff and students that rivals any campus. It is truly a community.

This was never more evident then at the IU Southeast homecoming game. The students were dancing when one of the students grabbed the chancellor’s hand and they began to dance on the sidelines. It was a great sight. Pride in place is evident. The campus is a proud IU campus and everyone knows they are the IU Southeast Grenadiers, but they are very receptive to a stronger Indiana University brand.

The campus is an outstanding model for building a solid internal culture for success. They have strong leadership and strategic direction, a vested communications team (that happens to be extremely talented), and, according to one of their goals in the campus Integrated Marketing Plan 2010-2012, they are well on their way to achieving its vision “to become — and to be recognized as — a top-tier regional university campus and a number one choice for higher education in their region.”


IU Kokomo

As one of IU’s smaller campuses, IU Kokomo is absolutely big and vital to the residents of North Central Indiana. The campus has strong visionary leadership that is advancing the campus rapidly. I’ve probably visited this campus more than the others. I’ve sat on hiring committees and have consulted with and made various presentations to different committees.  But for the most part, I’ve just sat, worked, and listened to the students talk around me in the food court. I’ve watched them go from not maximizing their spirit mascot, the Cougar, to embracing it as a symbol that expresses the pride and spirit of their place and the promises they make to the North Central region.

Well, folks, the Kokomo campus has had a campus spirit rebirth. The chancellor has ignited renewed focus to advance Kokomo, the region, and the campus is well on its way to living the chancellor’s vision and strategy of IU Kokomo as a driving force in transforming north central Indiana through education and entrepreneurship to an economy of knowledge and innovation. As the title of one of my favorite summer read articles states, “Culture eats strategy for Lunch.” I agree.

Well, not a problem on this campus because, like IU East, increasing pride and spirit in place is happening and appears to be job one.  Check out the evidence on iuk.edu as the chancellor sets the tone to build culture at the Kokomo annual fall convocation http://www.iuk.edu/chancellor/news/fall-2011-convocation.shtml
Want further evidence of a bold new image?  Just look at their homepage presentation.

The campus has ushered in club sports to enhance campus spirit and to serve as an outlet for shouting and cheering the spirit of their campus and all that they have and will accomplish for their region.

I had the pleasure of attending the first club sport event, a volleyball match, and the Kokomo Marketing Communications office organized a tailgate party for the occasion. I had the pleasure of attending the day’s events, and IU Kokomo pride was on full display. The administration, faculty, and staff seemed to be more alive and have increased focus on the campus’s mission and vision of moving Kokomo and their region forward. Awesome!

I was on campus for the first couple of days of the fall semester. The students vary in age but it is clear that this IU campus has also attracted students who have just graduated from high school. There is a constant flow of student organization activity in the activities building. The campus has completely been re-energized and made itself more attractive as a number one choice for the high school students in the region.


IU Northwest

030113IUNChemI’ve visited this IU campus on several occasions to see the cultural arts gallery or to stop by on my way from Chicago to after visiting my family. Visiting the arts gallery has always been one of my favorite activities on this IU campus. The gallery is located in the Savannah Center, which is connected to the Moraine Student Center, a very large space at the entrance of campus and the hub of vigorous student life activities. The campus does not have campus housing but has excellent meeting and gathering spaces to encourage students to hang around campus to study or participate in student activities.

I also experienced the Redhawk Café (If you are ever on campus try the turkey burger and the fried mushrooms prepared right before your eyes), which was teaming with student activity. On the last visit to the campus, I discovered the Little Redhawk Café. This gathering area is located within the Anderson Library and Conference Center.

This area was also bustling with student life. I sat there for at least three hours and so did a group of students in a study group. After they studied, they sat and talked while ordering coffee. I left the campus that day thinking for a non-residential campus there is a lot of student activity all day. The folks at the IU Northwest campus have really made it comfortable for their students.

I also had great experiences with the staff; they were very helpful at every turn when I asked questions about the campus. I believe the campus is at the infancy stage of building an internal culture behind a campus brand culture. They have just adopted a new tagline but have not seen a plan for implementing it strategically across internal and external communication channels.

On one particular visit, a student welcome convocation was going on, and I was, again, surprised by all of the traditional aged students, which indicates that more and more students are choosing the campus to begin their college careers.

I believe there is a misconception about the campus and the populations it serves. Yes, there is a wide range of ages on campus, but as one of the staff members stated to me, “There are a whole lot of young people here now.” I noticed that as well, and spirit for the campus is present. IU Northwest gear is seen everywhere, along with the block IU.  The IU Northwest athletic teams play in the NAIA as well. The basketball teams, especially the women’s team, create a lot of excitement on the campus. The campus is poised to build a solid brand culture, but it must determine its direction and strategy—and the students are ready to follow.


IU South Bend

This Indiana University campus serving north central Indiana and southwestern Michigan was a surprise. I must admit that in my thirteen years, this was my least visited campus. I did tour the campus several years back at an all—campus marketing directors’ retreat, but that was back when campus housing was just an idea so just as I did on the other campuses, I wanted to experience the culture from a student and staff perspective.

I parked my car and the first words out of my mouth were, The place is beautiful! I don’t recall this. Mature trees line the walkways of the campus, and there were plenty of places to sit and work on the laptop and take in the sites and sounds of students walking to class. What a great place for students seeking a residential campus experience and searching for the promise that the campus makes—extensive resources, professor attention, and plenty of opportunities to get involved—to name just a few—all on 80 beautiful acres nestled along the picturesque St. Joseph River. The bridge (painted red) is a magnificent entry into campus housing.

On another visit I tagged along on a campus tour. The guide was energetic and enthusiastic about Titan country and what it had to offer. Just like at the other regional campuses I visited, the guide was definitely IU proud, touting the power of the degree and genuinely excited about the culture and spirit they are building at the South Bend campus. On other visits, I attended a couple of talks in the library atrium (another beautiful spot), and I plan on going back to the campus to view the Lincoln exhibit in April.

Like many of the regionals, the IU South Bend Titans athletic teams compete in the NAIA. I thought I would not be able to make it to a Titans’ basketball game and experience, but I made it with 8 minutes left in the second half on senior night.  I did not get to experience the breath of Titan athletic spirit, but I can tell it was alive and well and will continue to grow.

On another visit, I explored the Student Activity Center where the game took place and, maybe because the building is somewhat new, I remember saying to myself, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a basketball floor gleam like that. The facility is magnificent and oh how I wished I had this at IUPUI. The students were milling in and out of the facility and the work out area was full. I found a spot within the facility to sit and answer emails. There were four students sitting there doing homework or working on a project. The campus has done a nice job of creating spaces for students to hang out on campus.

On my last visit to campus I purposely engaged staff that I did not know and struck up conversations with them. Nearly every one of them talked about the changes that have taken place on the campus during their years of service to IU South Bend. People are excited to work here and want to be on board with the progress the campus is making, and they are thrilled about the possibilities of new construction.

But this comment says it all about the beginnings of a healthy internal culture…

The marketing staff mentioned that more calls are coming into the office from campus schools and departments requesting direction on visual identity and the design work based on the quality of the communications tools they are producing.  The campus is ready to go.

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One thought on “A Summer of Internal Culture Discovery

  1. Hi Troy,
    I have enjoyed reading your perceptions on the IU campuses; they lead me back to our discussions 5 years ago with the identity committee and how that pride in those campuses has not wavered since then, but grown stronger. You may have a different memory of our discussions in the group; but I remember Chancellors and faculty who were impassioned about creating their vision of IU in their city and on their campus. It’s clear they have continued on their paths from your observations this year. Now the medical school’s campuses are embarking on a mission to create campuses across the state that need to find their own voices while remaining true to the whole. I hope you will be here to help them find their way; they’ll need the guidance of someone who understands the power of being united while giving its parts the where with all they need to actualize their visions.

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