Case Study: Higher Education Forum

Planting Seeds of Wisdom for the Future

It’s no accident that Eliza Mathis and Kelly McLaughlin share this story; it’s a natural extension of the relationships and collaborative efforts that the HDI Higher Education Forum (HEF) has fostered. It’s a story of shared experiences and shared outcomes. It’s a story of collaboration and teamwork. It’s a story that transcends boundaries between small liberal arts colleges and large state institutions. And it’s a story of personal and professional relationships that carry forward into lifelong friendships.

Kelly pullquoteEliza is the director of IT service management at the University of South Carolina, South Carolina’s flagship university. Eliza’s department was in a state of reorganization. They were reevaluating their service delivery strategy around the help desk, desktop support, laptop support for students, and the wide range of other service demands they were facing.

Kelly is director of operations and technical support at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, a small liberal arts school in Geneva, NY. Kelly was just starting out in a new position at the colleges. “We were transitioning to a real support center,” says Kelly, “where the notion of single point of contact at the help desk didn’t really exist.”

Forum Connections Prove Personally and Professionally Rewarding

Both directors joined the HEF, eager to network with and learn from professionals from other higher education institutions that were experiencing similar challenges. It became evident rather quickly how similar the problems, issues, desires, goals, and visions were across all of the participating institutions, regardless of size. The members got to know each other quite well through the HEF meetings and active participation in the group’s listserv, which led to a very high level of trust.

Four years later, it has proven to be a career-changing experience. “This is the most personally and professionally rewarding group I’ve ever been a part of,” says Eliza. “We’ve been able to share ideas—whether it’s customer satisfaction surveys or operational procedures or just frustration on how to get the staff to do something they don’t want to do—and it’s helped us take our help desk to another level.”

Eliza pullquoteKelly agrees: “I leave every HEF meeting with some very tangible things that I want to investigate further or even do right away. The meetings also plant seeds so that as things arise later, I can pull those ideas out when I need them.”

Eliza and Kelly took that collaborative spirit a step further. At Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Kelly had recently hired new employees and was looking for ways to advance the team culture, bring people together, and establish a new foundation for their service desk. Kelly remembered a conversation she had with Eliza during an HEF meeting some months before about the work her team had done on vision and mission statements. The seed was planted.

A phone call, travel arrangements, hours of planning, and a few weeks later, Eliza was on a plane from Columbia, SC, to Geneva, NY, happy to facilitate these sessions with Kelly’s team. And those seeds continued to sprout. At the eleventh hour, they decided to use a team-building exercise they’d participated in at an HEF meeting, but neither could remember precisely how it worked. They called Craig Bennion, an HEF member from the University of Utah, on a Sunday night at 8 p.m. to get the details. “The fact that you can just call someone on a cell phone on a Sunday night—that’s a special relationship,” says Eliza. “These are professional relationships that will last a lifetime.”

Collaboration Leads to Professional Development and Thousands of Training Dollars Saved

The workshop was a full-day experience filled with exercises on writing vision and mission statements, small-group discussions, brainstorming, and plenty of energetic team-building activities, including the rope trick. At first, Eliza sensed that the group was not completely on board with the plans for the day, but that feeling quickly dissipated. “It actually surpassed my expectations just with how much Kelly’s team embraced what we were doing and what they did with that knowledge even after I left,” says Eliza. “It was a personally rewarding experience for me.”

“My team still talks about it today,” says Kelly. “Not only did it generate tangible results in the form of vision and mission statements, but it brought my team closer together in a way that I don’t think I would have been able to do on my own.” Sending twenty people to a training class or bringing in an outside consultant to facilitate the customized workshop would have been cost prohibitive, so the collaborative effort also saved Kelly’s institution thousands of training dollars.

Eliza and Kelly are quick to show their gratitude for the HDI Forum program and the HDI team that provides the resources and connections with other experts in the field to help the group focus on what’s important and specific to higher education. “That unique focus is the real value we get out of this experience. It’s truly collaborative,” says Kelly. “My participation in the HEF has exceeded my expectations on every level.”  

The Rope Trick

For this puzzle, you need two people, some rope, and some empty space. Each person will need a piece of rope with a loop tied in both ends, so it can be worn as handcuffs. The rope should be reasonably long so that the person wearing it can step over it.

Each person puts on a complete set of handcuffs. Before putting them on, they loop their handcuffs around each other so they’re tied together. They then have to get themselves apart while following these rules:

  • The handcuffs cannot be removed.
  • Do not break, cut, saw, bite through, or in any other way damage the rope. Damaging each other is probably a bad idea, too.
  • If you are doing this puzzle with a class, make sure you tell them they need to be able to show you their solution. Otherwise it wouldn’t be so much fun!  

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About HDI Forums

The HDI Leadership Connection Membership is a top-of-the-line membership, bringing together elite groups of senior-level professionals who meet face-to-face multiple times per year. These groups are the HDI Forums. The HDI Leadership Connection Membership includes your choice of one HDI Forum annual package.

The HDI Forums serve as a valuable opportunity for support leaders to learn, network, share ideas and experiences, and to discuss the latest developments in support center best practices with peers who work in similar industries or share similar roles and responsibilities. Participants gain fresh perspectives on world-class support and ideas about how to improve the people, process, and technology strategies within their support center. There is no better place to connect and exchange knowledge and information with other service and support managers, directors, and executives than the HDI Forums. HDI Forums offer you the opportunity to connect with some of the brightest and most driven in the industry resulting in both enhancing your own performance and your organization’s, and help the industry at large.