Ryon Kaopuiki is originally from Portland, Oregon. He earned his bachelor’s degree at Western Oregon State University, then worked at Concordia College in Oregon. He helped grow one of the first major national online universities. Before coming to AU, he was vice president of enrollment at Harrison College for five and a half years, then president of The Chef’s Academy at Harrison College. He has been married to his wife Marcy for 22 years and together they have four children. He began his job as vice president for enrollment and marketing at AU this year.
Q: Why did you choose to come to AU? What sparked your passion for marketing and enrollment?
A: Over the last five years I’ve felt that I’ve experienced a lot of growth in my faith, and a lot of that is probably global missions and seeing the gospel come alive in different cultures, and experiencing it in new and different ways. I found myself in West Africa with this question of ‘who am I?’ It was the same questions that we focus on asking ourselves here at AU.
It set me on this journey in the last several years to try and determine my purpose. I felt a bit like Forrest Gump, asking ‘Mama, what’s my destiny, mama?’ I did a lot of reading, did a lot of talking with people and I formed what I would call my mission statement. It’s kind of my ‘why’ statement, why I believe God put me here. I’ve really become a mission-minded type of person, where I believe God has a specific type of plan and purpose for my life and he’s gifted me with talents and abilities and experiences I believe he can use me for, which I can use to further His kingdom.
I’ll tell you my ‘why’ statement: it’s ‘to glorify God by serving, equipping and creating change in people and organizations that will positively impact the world around me in generations to come.’ And I use that as the lens for both professional and personal opportunities I want to get involved with.
Once I was able to establish my identity and felt like I had a bigger sense of purpose, that really led me on to be purposeful in what I was doing with my life.
I looked at my professional steps and the direction I was going. I had an alumni contact me about this position as soon as it was up, and I knew of Anderson through friends that had attended or friends whose kids were attending. I was determined to learn a bit more about what was happening here, and the more I learned about AU, then the more I realized that this place aligns really well with my purpose and who I wanted to be.
I saw a need here and an opportunity to be a part of doing some great kingdom work. I firmly believe that God called me to AU, and has me here for a specific purpose.
Q: Where are you drawing your inspiration for changes you are going to make in enrollment, marketing and communications?
A: I’m in charge of marketing, enrollment, student financial services, conferences and events, Covenant Productions and WQME. Marketing includes communications and publications.
My inspiration, or where I think we have a lot of strength, is the student experience that they have from a standpoint of community and relationships. One of the things that I think is certainly notable when you talk to faculty and a lot of staff is how long they’ve been here. So many of the staff have been here for generations. There’s a tremendous opportunity here to tell that story of community, acceptance and the meaningful, life-impacting relationships that come out of a place like AU.
We have amazing faculty here, and in my travels to many different schools, the faculty here are as good as I’ve seen. We need to do a better job of telling that story and giving us opportunity to highlight our faculty. The people, the faculty and those relationships make an impact well past your four years here. We made it a rule that every student who visits is going to sit down and talk with faculty, because our faculty are ultimately who are going to provide the education for our students, and they’re going to make those important connections.
In October, we had almost 200 individual visits. Those aren’t counting group visits; 498 students visited campus during the month of October. The previous year, we had 300, and that was our biggest month of visits. We’ve had a significant increase in the number of students who have been visiting because we’ve been putting an emphasis on that knowing that if students can come and visit this place, then they too are going to have a better opportunity to say ‘yes, this is a place I want to be,’ or ‘no, it’s not.’ And both of those answers are good answers; they’re clarifying answers for both the student and the university so that we can know who to continue building that relationship with, and who is probably not going to be a good fit.
Q: What do you think is the biggest marketing and enrollment challenge for AU as far as brand identity goes? What’s the biggest challenge that you see?
A: Historically, Anderson has been very dependent on the relationship that we’ve had with the Church of God, and even relying on that driver for enrollment. But if we’re really going to experience growth in our next hundred years, then we need to be figuring out how we can reach out to just more than Church of God churches, but really practice that attitude of meeting students where they’re at. This is a part of AU’s story, a part that we haven’t done a good job of telling, and it goes back to this phrase of ‘Real Life: Transformed.’ I believe that ‘Real Life. Transformed’ is just a description of how we talk about ourselves as a Christian university. It’s not a marketing tagline, but just who we are as a university. We’re not trying to define real life, but we’re accepting that whatever real life experiences, ideas, thoughts, whatever it is they’re bringing to the table, we’re open and accepting of that.
We don’t want to shut ourselves off from people who don’t already have a relationship with Christ; instead we want to be open to engaging in meaningful relationships and invite them into a community that’s based on biblical truths and expectations. But we also believe that in that community and it being AU, they’ll have the opportunity to experience Jesus in some way. And we know that through Jesus Christ transformation takes place. Telling that story, and explaining how we are open to people and how we are different than what people stereotypically think of as a Christian university, I think that’s the challenge. But that’s also an exciting opportunity because that opens the funnel wider for us than what other Christian universities may have, because we don’t have that same identity that others have.
My approach to enrollment management is that it’s all about the relationships. Everything revolves around developing, maintaining and growing meaningful relationships. We’re serious about the relational aspect and we want to help students move forward.
Q: What are your biggest goals for this year in enrollment and marketing?
A: We have an aggressive goal from a new student enrollment perspective, but we’re on a good trajectory early in our process to be able to achieve that goal. So it’s certainly hitting the enrollment goals—not just a number, but making sure that we are bringing in the right types of students who are here for four years, who are going to be a good fit that retain well and contribute positively to the academic community and to the campus community.
But I think it’s also beginning to tell the story better. I’m a big storyteller. I think stories help to build community, help to build culture and help to align around an identity. I want to see us telling more stories. I like the hashtag #MyAUStory. I want to use that more, but in meaningful ways that connect with people and tell the stories that are happening around here, in student life, in academics. There are a lot of great things that are happening in a small community like this that we need to do a better job of telling and sharing.