University Recognized for Integrating CRM into Curriculum, Building Student Success

University staff and faculty with Salesforce's Vala Afshar at the Salesforce Boston World Tour event Image by courtesy
UMass Lowell alum and Salesforce Chief Digital Evangelist Vala Afshar, center, poses with the UML team of, from left, Steve Powell, Lori Dembowitz, Tony Gao and Rich Conley at the Salesforce Boston World Tour event.

By Ed Brennen

Since introducing students to Salesforce and its Trailhead training resources last fall, UMass Lowell and the Manning School of Business have quickly become recognized as pioneers in integrating the customer relationship management (CRM) platform into curriculum.

In March, more than 100 Manning School students participated via webcam in the Salesforce 2018 TrailheaDX developer conference, an event in San Francisco that drew more than 10,000 attendees.

UMass Lowell was one of just six schools invited to participate virtually, joining the likes of Carnegie Mellon University, Boston University, the University of Utah and the New Jersey Institute of Technology. UML, which had the largest turnout of the six schools, was recognized by Salesforce President and Chief Operating Officer Keith Block in his keynote address.

A week later, 20 Manning School students and three Marketing, Entrepreneurship & Innovation faculty members — Assoc. Prof. Tony Gao, visiting lecturer Milissa Moynihan and adjunct Steve Powell — attended the Salesforce Boston World Tour event at the Hynes Convention Center.

Manning students participate in the Salesforce 2018 TrailheaDX developer conference via webcam Image by courtesy
More than 100 Manning School students participate in the Salesforce 2018 TrailheaDX developer conference via webcam from Alumni Hall.

Speaking to an audience of 2,000 people primarily from industry, Salesforce Executive Vice President Sarah Franklin singled out UMass Lowell for its work in her keynote remarks.

“This was fantastic exposure for our students, especially with so many local companies in attendance,” says Manning School Dean Sandy Richtermeyer.

Gao also gave a presentation at the event on how the Manning School uses Trailhead in the classroom to teach students the CRM skills that are in high demand by employers. Trailhead offers hundreds of gamified “trails” that students earn digital badges for completing.

“We are considered a pioneer across the country. Very few universities and colleges are making use of Salesforce yet,” says Gao, who adds that there is currently a shortage of job candidates with Salesforce skills. “Being one of the pioneers with this type of training really puts our students on the map. This gives our students the upper hand with employers.”

A student uses Trailhead to learn Salesforce in the trading room Image by Ed Brennen
Students earn digital badges as they complete Trailhead modules to learn Salesforce CRM technology.

How did the Manning School become an early adopter of the technology? Gao says there are several reasons. Chief among them is the fact that CRM has been a driving force in university operations for several years. As part of its strategic mission to create a “connected campus,” the Information Technology Office implemented Salesforce in 2014 to streamline services provided by admissions, recruiting and career services. Since then, retention and graduation rates have improved dramatically, and there are more than 250 Salesforce users in a dozen departments across campus.

The university was recognized for these efforts at Salesforce’s sixth annual Higher Ed Summit in March in Washington, D.C. UMass Lowell won the Excellence in Student Success Award, beating out fellow nominees Georgetown University and Southern New Hampshire University.

“The fact that the university has done this and proven that it’s a useful technology has made our job easier in introducing it to students,” says Gao, who also credits Richtermeyer’s vision and leadership for integrating Trailhead into the classroom and for building corporate relationships with industry partners.

Richtermeyer, who attended the Higher Ed Summit with a team of administrators and staff members from IT, Admissions and University Relations, participated in a panel discussion on equality in education.

Students learn to use Trailhead in the trading room Image by Ed Brennen
The Manning School hosted a 'Salesforce Day' last semester, introducing students to Trailhead in the Pulichino Tong Business Center's trading room.

“It was about removing barriers for students and giving them opportunities with the Trailhead program,” Richtermeyer says. “What’s cool about Salesforce is that, even though its roots are in CRM, it spreads across the curricula and into every functional discipline in business.”

Gao, Powell and Julie Zhang, associate professor of Operations & Information Systems, are the first Manning School faculty members to weave Trailhead training into their coursework. So far, more than 300 undergraduate and graduate business students have been introduced to the CRM across five courses: Sales and Customer Relations, Sales Management, Analysis of Customers and Markets, Digital Marketing, and Management Information Systems.

Gao requires his MBA students to complete 12 Trailhead modules, and he gives extra credit to those who earn more badges. By the midpoint of the spring semester, 23 of his 80 students had earned 50-plus badges.

“It’s all about benefiting the students,” says Gao, who adds that it’s not just business students who can benefit from learning Salesforce. “It applies to any organization that has customers — hospitals, schools, manufacturers. The vast potential of CRM is very relevant, and our students will have this knowledge to really function in the high-tech workplace.”