Watermark's annual Engage conference aims to bring together higher education administrators and leaders from all over the country. Attendees get to spend a few days connecting with their peers, exploring our software solutions, and learning how to make the most of the year ahead.
We are breaking down the Engage Conference throughout the years and how attending can help your higher education institution supercharge its efforts to serve every student equitably. We're also diving into the reasons why your team will benefit from attending Engage together!
What Is the Watermark Engage Conference?
To understand the Engage conference, you must first get to know Watermark and our mission. We launched Watermark in 2018 by combining three leaders in higher education assessment. In working together, we expanded our offers to encompass:
- Course evaluations and institutional surveys.
- Curriculum and catalog management.
- Faculty activity reporting.
We truly set the course to empower better learning at institutions across the globe with powerful software solutions for higher education. The Engage Watermark conference is our annual client user event. It brings together administrators, stakeholders, and educators in a place where they can:
- Network with others in the education field.
- Learn from expert keynote speakers.
- Receive product training and certifications.
Engage typically lasts for two to three days and aims to provide higher education professionals with an opportunity to connect and grow with their industry peers. Each year, we choose a general topic relating to academia for the conference and explore that theme as a group, making sure educators have tangible takeaways that they can bring back with them into their classrooms.
We began hosting this annual event in 2018. We skipped 2020 due to pandemic restrictions and uncertainty but were back in full swing in 2021. Watermark hosted the conference in a few cities across the United States, including:
- Austin, Texas
- New Orleans, Louisiana
- Baltimore, Maryland
Watermark Engage 2018: The Power of Community
Engage 2018 took place in Austin, Texas, on Thursday, June 21. As one of our largest and most important customer engagement opportunities, the Watermark community was eager to come together to share best practices, exchange ideas, and drive assessment forward.
Some of the peak highlights of Engage 2018 include:
Watermark's 2018 Engage conference focused on the power of community and its importance in higher education settings. During this year's event, we hosted more than 60 sessions led by our partner institutions and other thought leaders from across higher education and beyond.
In addition to the general path, we also offered five specialized session tracks:
- Planning for Assessment and Accreditation
- ePortfolios for Professional/Academic Growth
- Models of Non-Academic Assessment
- Educational Intelligence: Leveraging Data To Impact Student Learning Outcomes
- Assessment for Engagement/Sustainability
Having so many breakout sessions made it easy for attendees to engage in the sessions that matter most to them and their institutions.
Networking and Collaboration
In the spirit of community, we have also built in plenty of additional time for networking and collaboration.
The Engage 2018 conference brought together attendees from Hawaii to Puerto Rico to everywhere in between. We had individuals representing all six regional accreditors, numerous specialized programs, and large, small, public and private, and two- and four-year institutions. The setting yielded many fruitful and engaging discussions.
Keynote Sessions With Mel Robbins and Francesca Gino
When designing the conference program, we didn’t just want to bring together thought leaders from the assessment and accreditation space — we also wanted to provide motivation and inspiration from other leaders as well.
With that, we got two powerhouse keynote speakers. The first is Mel Robbins, CNN Commentator, Author, and Cofounder of Inspire52. She presented The 5 Second Rule: Achieving Breakthrough Performance in Your Career and Life. Attendees left this session with strategies to increase productivity, confidence, and courage. Robbins inspired the group to reach their potential.
The second speaker was Francesca Gino, Tandon Family Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School. She presented Gaining the Edge in the Art of Effective Decision-Making. She shared engaging examples from the field to discuss the main systematic errors that affect decision-making and what leaders can do to avoid them.
Exploring Austin, Texas
Watermark is happy to call Austin, Texas, home — well, one of our homes. We were eager to share the beautiful city with all Engage attendees. With Austin as our backdrop, the event had a vibrance and liveliness that made everyone feel right at home. It also doesn’t hurt that the barbeque was top-notch!
Watermark Engage 2019: Information, Inspiration, and an Einstein Painting
From the famous jazz scene on Bourbon Street to the many success stories shared by Watermark’s clients about how they use the company’s solutions to improve their institutions, there was never a dull moment at Engage 2019 in New Orleans.
The beautiful city offers a unique cultural experience grounded in the common love for seafood, voodoo, arts, and jazz music. And its unofficial slogan — Laissez les bon temps rouler, commonly translated as “Let the good times roll!” — ultimately describes the Watermark Engage 2019 experience.
The three-day event spanned from June 25 to 28 and was a huge success. Explore some of the top highlights from Engage 2019:
A “Warm Watermark Welcome”
Day one of the conference kicked off with a signature “Warm Watermark Welcome” and a hearty applause for each person taking the stage.
Watermark’s leadership brought the vision and strategy of the company to light. The team revealed the future of educational intelligence, sharing the company’s mission to empower higher education administrators, faculty, and learners from across the globe. Watermark accomplishes this by putting people at the forefront of innovation and providing better data to improve institutional effectiveness.
Keynote Speaker Erik Wahl
The first keynote speaker at Engage 2019 was Erik Wahl, a San Diego-based graffiti artist and motivational speaker. He stressed the importance of lifelong learning with an emphasis on rediscovering the creative genius inside you.
Wahl painted portraits of inspirational figures such as John Lennon and Albert Einstein, with the lovely addition of the Statue of Liberty. He impressively painted each of them, in under five minutes, alongside motivational videos that brought a humanitarian perspective into the mix. It was a perfect start to this journey of self-discovery, innovation, understanding, and, most importantly, teamwork!
Then, the conference kicked off with numerous sessions from university administrators, each with their own unique story of triumph and success.
Exploring the French Quarter
After a full day of events — plus a few trips to the Guru Lounge for solution-specific advice from the Watermark team — what conference would be complete without a little bit of dancing? Engage attendees were lavishly treated to a night out in the beautiful French Quarter, complete with live music from The Spazmatics at the famous House of Blues.
Completing the night was a voodoo doll-making workshop, hors d’oeuvres, drinks, and classic 80s music. The Watermark employees may know how to throw a party, but the clients sure know how to dance!
Keynote Speaker Dr. Francesca Gino
Day two began with keynote speaker Dr. Francesca Gino, who took conference attendees down a road of self-reflection and systematic inquiry into the nature of our decision-making processes. She took a pragmatic approach to pointing out the delicate nature of human error.
Dr. Gino explored the ramifications of deontological thinking as it pertains to decision-making by stressing the impact placed on outcomes-based measures.
Engage 2019 wrapped up on June 28 after going off without a hitch. The Watermark team and attendees left feeling ready to tackle the year ahead with the necessary insights to improve and empower student success.
Watermark Engage 2021: Insights Inspire Progress
Watermark Engage 2021 took place virtually over two days in mid-June. We engaged with more than 700 higher education leaders from over 500 institutions at our annual signature conference.
With more than 700 registrants in attendance, Engage 2021 had our biggest audience yet. And because it was all virtual and free, there was room for everyone to learn!
With a new Chief Executive Officer, Erin Shy, and a new Chief Product and Technology Officer, Darrin Bauer Kahan, attendees saw how we planned to evolve our products based on higher-ed administrators’ needs. They also got to see why “Insights Inspire Progress” was our rallying cry for the year.
Explore some of the highlights from Watermark Engage 2021:
A Glimpse Into the Future
Our CEO, Erin Shy, kicked off the event with opening remarks and a segment entitled “What’s Next for Watermark.” Attendees got an inside glimpse into the future of our solutions and higher education.
Darren Bauer Kahan, our Chief Product and Technology Officer, followed Erin's chat with an exploration of the benefits of migrating all products to AWS. Vice President of Product, Brian Robinson, introduced the product roadmap and naming that rolled out in the following months, beginning that summer.
Prominent Keynote Speakers
Prominent keynote speakers for Engage 2021 included Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s first female president, Laurie Leshin, Ph.D.
She spoke candidly with CEO Erin Shy on prioritizing diversity, equity, and inclusion, resulting in the University’s status among STEM institutions with the highest percentage of female undergraduate students.
Watermark’s Senior Accessibility Program Manager and certified private wealth advisor, Srinivasu Chakravarthula, described our product focus on accessibility embedded in all products across the entire suite.
The “Guru Bar” and the “Playground”
Other highlights from Engage 2021 included the “Guru Bar” and “Playground.”
Watermark Subject Matter Experts appreciated engaging with users at the “Guru Bar” and on the “Playground” to answer questions, demo products, and highlight new product features. The event went on with a lineup of more than 50 incredible opportunities to connect, including:
- Product sessions
- Client sessions
- Breakout rooms
- Dynamic roundtables
Client Video Contest Award Winners
Watermark Engage 2021 wrapped up with a lively send-off and the naming of Client Award winners. Attendees could submit a video to our Client Video Contest for a chance to win a coveted prize.
Kait Tracy, Assistant University Registrar at Emory University, was our 2021 winner. She shared a video chronicling her institution's transformative experience with EvaluationKIT, now called Course Evaluations & Surveys.
Top 5 Reasons To Attend the Engage Conference
We want everyone in attendance to get the most out of their time and have a transformative learning experience at Engage. In talking with attendees and getting feedback through event surveys, we've learned which aspects they enjoy most each year.
Check out the top five reasons to attend the Watermark Engage Conference, according to the people who have been there:
1. Get the Scoop on Where We're Heading
When you attend Engage, you get to be the first to know what’s ahead for Watermark products, features, and integrations. Our team will guide you through the future of the higher education field and the important insights needed from your data that will help you enhance student experiences.
Attendees get to see the inside scoop on how Watermark products are evolving to meet the changing needs of institutions like yours.
2. Listen to Inspiring and Knowledgeable Keynote Speakers
Keynote speakers are always a major highlight of every Engage conference. We are honored to have incredible experts and motivators join us for inspiring conversations that you will carry with you throughout the year. Some notable speakers from previous Engage conferences include:
- Tim Urban: Author of “The Wait But Why” and top TedTalk speaker.
- Mel Robbins: Renowned author, speaker, and talk show host.
- Erik Wahl: Graffiti artist, author, and motivational speaker.
3. Get to Know Our Products
You’ll hear directly from product owners and solution engineers about each product. You can attend roundtables with peers who use the same products you do. And best of all, you’ll cheer on other users just like you as they present their success stories.
Attendees can engage in plenty of question-and-answer sessions to learn how they can optimize our solutions to ultimately enhance student experiences.
4. Meet the Watermark Team and Ask Questions
A huge perk of attending the Engage conference is getting to interact with the Watermark team. We'll guide you through live product demonstrations and give you advice on our solutions. Our product gurus will gladly answer all your burning questions throughout the event.
The enthusiastic Watermark team loves meeting and connecting with users. Whether you're attending in person or virtually, we've got you covered.
5. Network With Your Peers and Win Awards
Engage conference is chock full of networking opportunities, beginning at registration. When you sign up to attend, you can update your profile before the event, and see who else is attending across the country. You can connect directly with your peers through the event platform.
During the event, you’ll enjoy Community Networking breaks. Attendees can engage in Peer2Peer roundtables and learn from the success stories of fellow users.
Achieve More by Attending Engage Together
Returning attendee Connie Monroe shared her experience going to the Watermark Engage conference alone versus with her team:
Attending Engage Solo
I have attended Watermark assessment conferences several times, starting a decade ago when I was a new faculty member helping to coordinate the assessment system with LiveText. Those conferences gave me wonderful examples of how others solved problems. It led me to develop new ideas for how to make updates and features that I took back to my institution. I enjoyed hearing from keynote speakers who expanded my perspective and reenergized me. I was able to put a face to the names I had communicated with when we had questions.
In more recent years, I jumped back into assessment efforts to revitalize our assessment system after faculty had become complacent between visits. I usually went as a single representative of our programs. In each case, I returned to my institution with careful notes to share with others, but I saw many of my enthusiastic ideas fade away when faced with the status quo and the fact that others had not shared my experience. The conference helped me, but the ultimate results were limited.
Benefits of Attending as a Team
Two years ago, I was able to attend the conference as one of a team of three from our teacher education oversight committee. As a group already used to collaborating, we identified sessions we wanted to attend together and sessions we would attend separately to report back to the others.
This time, the keynote speakers were a shared experience for us that led to discussions on the larger context of assessment in higher education, issues, and trends. As a team, we talked with faculty from other schools to understand that they were facing the same challenges that we were and to get new ideas. As the conference progressed, we found that we were developing new perspectives and ideas that we could carry back to our institution together.
We took time to sit in the lounge and make notes of ideas and plans for follow-up meetings after we returned to campus. On the flight home, we sat together with our laptops and drafted the framework that pulled together our assessments into a stronger quality assurance program. This time, when we returned from the conference, we shared our ideas and priorities. We carefully carried out most of the list we made at that conference.
I recently saw an updated version of the “Shift Happens” video, which always leads me to feel both overwhelmed and challenged. It is more than I can manage, but it is not more than we can manage. Assessment is no longer a separate entity in education. We better understand that data is an integral component through all steps. Assessment cannot be an individual effort — it requires teamwork. We all know that higher education does not adapt quickly and that changing perspectives is even more challenging than changing software.
Over the years, the Watermark conference has led me to keynote speakers who changed my ideas and broadened my context. I would encourage all institutions to send teams to the conference. Include academic leaders on your team, and plan time to work together there and afterward to ensure that inspiration from the conference carries through the shifts that will challenge us. Together, we can achieve more.
Contact Watermark To Learn More About Our Solutions
The unique perspectives introduced by various clients at Watermark Engage made the experience truly diversified, with something for everyone. The versatility represented by Watermark products and services allowed for the conference to be dynamic and inclusive to all organizations. Combined with the vision of a unified platform, beginning with one central login, Watermark has truly captivated the attention of system administrators and academics around the world.
If your higher education institution is looking for an outcome to measure quality and efficacy while setting the standards for reproducibility, Watermark is here for you.
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