How the University of St. Thomas used AI-powered mobile messaging to connect students to resources during the Texas Winter Storm
Faced with a once-in-a-generation arctic storm while still grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic, students in Texas were left without power, resources, and in dire conditions. However, it was difficult for universities to understand how exactly their students were affected by the storm and how to properly allocate resources. Faced with a socially distanced community due to Covid-19 as well as the lack of power, it would have been easy for students to feel even more isolated. However, the University of St. Thomas acted quickly to use their AI powered chatbot, Lenny, to meet students where they were and provide them with a variety of institutional and community resources.
Lenny, a behaviorally smart chatbot, checks in with students at scale, asks them questions over SMS, and proactively connects them to the right resources at the right time. Meanwhile, Lenny is granting administrators access to actionable, real-time data on individual students and the broader institution.
The Storm SMS Campaign
Through the SMS Storm Crisis campaign, David Hao, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs, wanted to make sure that administrators at UST were best equipped to take a pulse on how their student body was doing and provide students with resources. With that in mind, Lenny first asked students how much they were affected by the recent storm, ranging from “severely impacted” to “not too impacted.” This allowed staff to separate their outreach and allowed them to immediately identify the most at-risk students in a matter of minutes. Then, Lenny asked students which area they were struggling with most.
Students could select from a list of options which issue they needed help with; lack of Wifi, Housing/Food insecurity, or some other financial distress or academic problem. In addition to being flagged for the UST staff, students were also provided a real-time resource to help them in the meantime. Lenny was not only able to share institutional resources but was also able to connect students to community resources such as warming centers, wifi hotspots, and food pantries. In this kind of extreme situation, Lenny allowed UST staff to intervene effectively and directly in order to ensure that every student was taken care of.
STUDENT CAMPAIGN RESPONSES
OF RESPONSES IN THE FIRST 5 MINUTES
In minutes and with no staff intervention, Lenny took the following automated actions...
CONNECTED TO WIFI
Connected 68 students left without Wifi to a UST staff member as well as to local stores or vendors with power.
CONNECTED TO FOOD & HOUSING
Connected 55 students suffering from food or housing insecurity to local warming shelters and food banks.
CONNECTED TO SUCCESS COACHES
Connected 127 students who were financially distressed to a Success Coach.
Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students
Through our partnership with EdSights, utilizing Lenny the “Catbot”, our Success Coaches and staff were able to personally connect with our students to meet their individualized needs with impressive agility. Within a few days, we were able to accomplish something that in the past would have taken us weeks. This was a perfect example of how the right type of technology actually facilitated stronger human connection at an accelerated speed.