While recently riding the subway, I saw Seneca College’s ads. Like York University’s, which I wrote about a month ago, these too are based on students’ stories. The first line of the ad I saw was “Drove,” the second “Bus to Survive” and the third “Herself to Succeed.” In those seven words was a very succinct summary of Michelle’s story.
I looked Michelle up on Seneca’s website: becauseitmatters.ca. Michelle has three children and was laid off from what she described as a dead-end job in the health sector. She drove a bus for 18 months to pay the bills and is now enrolled in Seneca’s behavioral sciences program, training for a new career in special education.
The website includes eight other stories of current or recent Seneca students, with pictures and first and last names. The stories are all presented with headlines (another reads: Changed. A Thousand Diapers. Her Future), two sentence summaries, and three hundred word narratives. The stories have some common themes: personal adversity before coming to Seneca; determination and persistence to overcome adversity; support from faculty and staff at Seneca, sometimes through personal accommodations; and progress towards a career goal. Two of the students are valedictorians now at work in their intended career, others are heading towards university programs, and others are doing well at Seneca. These are all heroic stories, with the individual as protagonist and with Seneca as indispensable supporter and facilitator.
The two things that impressed me about the ads I saw on the bus were that the format of the headlines — Verb. Subject A. Subject B – which provided a summary of the overall story but whet my appetite to learn the details, and the URL becauseitmatters.ca, which I think is a great title. Delving deeper into the stories, I emerged with admiration for the tenacity of the individuals depicted.
As a professor in the university system, I’m not very familiar with the college system. I imagine that many of the students in the college system face challenges such as those encountered by recent immigrants, single parents, and people near the poverty line. I’m not sure what Seneca’s objective is in running these ads: to increase the applicant pool, improve public funding, raise the college’s profile, or elicit donations.
Regardless of the specific objective, I think the story-telling is compelling. I reiterate the point I made about York University’s “my time” campaign. An effective way for an institution to tell its story is by creatively telling the stories of its clients’ challenges, hopes, and dreams.