Finding common ground: Strengthening communication with students through authentic, collaborative working relationships

Ms Karen Davis1, Ms Kristina Keogh1

1Victoria University of Wellington, Kelburn, Wellington, New Zealand


Student engagement is a key factor that impacts positively on retention, completion and success in higher education. Effective communication with students is vital in creating a sense of connectedness and belonging. This presentation describes a partnership approach and effective use of a range of communication channels to enhance students’ engagement with the university community and each other.

Those engaged in authentic partnerships find common ground and collaborate effectively to achieve a shared goal. At Victoria University of Wellington, staff from different professional backgrounds – student services and communications and marketing – have developed a partnership approach to their work with students. The diverse views and skills of members of both teams are not always congruent. While this can create tension, it also provides an opportunity to work to each other’s strengths and create synergies. Two key areas of focus have helped to clarify priorities and approaches: championing the student voice and working with students as partners.

The presenters will describe how changes to organisational structure introduced an embedded Senior Communications and Marketing Adviser role in the student services team. As a strategic vision and operational plan were developed and implemented, trust and effective working relationships developed through ‘shared wins’. The team has worked with and for students on a range of projects. We will share examples, including videos made by students for students, social media, publications and events. We will also reflect on our evolving working relationship and consider sustainability and the challenge of maintaining this partnership beyond the staff currently involved.


Karen Davis is Associate Director, Student Academic Services (Retention, Achievement and Equity) at Victoria University of Wellington. In this role, she leads a team of staff who deliver academic and equity focused student services, including student learning, mentoring and holistic support for Māori and Pasifika students, disability services and careers and employment services. Karen is ANZSSA Vice President (New Zealand) and is particularly interested in students’ transition into tertiary study and participation and achievement of students from diverse backgrounds.

Kristina Keogh is the Senior Communications and Marketing Adviser—Students at Victoria University of Wellington. In this role, she leads a small team responsible for university wide communications and marketing for 22,000 current students and the University student services. Kristina has worked at Victoria University of Wellington since 2012 and has worked in the Faculty of Law and Alumni Relations teams. Kristina is passionate about telling stories about people and places, and is an avid social media user who is fluent in hashtags and emojis.


The Australian and New Zealand Student Services Association Inc. (ANZSSA) is a professional association for people with an interest in the role of support services in post secondary education. We are focused on: The quality of the student experience Supporting and empowering students to achieve their educational and life goals Enhancing student wellbeing and development Improving student success and persistence Providing outreach to students at-risk Raising institutional student retention rates For more information, please visit the ANZSSA website at

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Photo Credits: Visit Victoria