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President Virjee: ‘Be Bold’ When Sharing Impact, Value of CSU

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In a May 21 presentation before the California State University Board of Trustees, Cal State Fullerton President Fram Virjee stressed the importance of strategic communications in sharing the work and success of the educational institution.

Virjee joined CSU Vice Chancellor of Communication Garrett Ashley and Assistant Vice Chancellor Mark Woodland in the presentation on communications.

“Our communications team works closely with campus colleagues in what is a synergistic relationship,” said Ashley. “The team here provides information and messaging about systemwide topics like budget, government policies and crisis communications toward campus coworkers, as well as providing templates, tool kits and marketing material and original content. The campus is generating news and stories that we use to showcase the impact, value and importance of the CSU.

“Equally helpful, they provide us with insight on how policies and actions are resonating at a local and regional level. We create and foster these synergies in order to maximize our resources and build awareness of the California State University.”

Virjee agreed. “As in everything we do at CSUF, when it comes to communications, our relationship with the Chancellor’s Office is as strong as it is critical to our success.”

Virjee shared that the system’s key themes are drawn from the university’s mission: accessibility and affordability, preparation of graduates for success in their careers and in their community, providing a high-quality academic experience with a focus on student success and serving communities in leadership roles.

But the main focus is that in partnership and individually, the CSU and its campuses must be bold and fact-based. In communications, Virjee stressed, “it is a very crowded marketplace, so if you want to be heard, you have to be bold. You have to be innovative, nimble, and yes, I’ll say it, disruptive.”

Virjee turned to an example from about a year ago, when the CBS program “60 Minutes” aired a segment on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Gates Scholars at Princeton University and how the institution positioned itself as a national leader in providing upward mobility and access to first-generation students.

“The next morning, I did some digging and discovered that Princeton was preparing to graduate 300 first-generation students, while we at CSUF were preparing to graduate 6,500.”

Virjee wrote to the program pointing out the facts; when they didn’t respond, he posted a tweet that went viral and eventually garnered the attention of the Gates Foundation. Ultimately, “I now have a solid connection with Gates and am working proactively to develop partnerships with them for both CSUF and the CSU.

“Of course, there are many more ways in which we are standing out in what is a crowded marketplace,” Virjee continued. “We constantly pitch stories to various media outlets that result in incredible stories told around the world.

“All of it — from IndiaWest to the New York Times — begins and ends with the synergistic relationship we share with the CSU and the Chancellor’s Office.”

The president also referred to the need for data-driven communications, explaining that CSUF conducted far-reaching surveys that provided “insight about communications that could help shape our brand and best support fundraising, recruitment and advocacy.”

The themes that resulted from such research — Celebrated Reputation, Immersive Experiences and Trusted Results  — lay the groundwork for the university’s communications strategy.

“That is what we call data-driven,” Virjee explained. “That is who we are. And that, combined with our CSU synergies, is the genesis of all of our campus communications.”