Symplicity Spotlight: Bill Heinrich, PhD

Each and every day, our client managers and implementation managers across the globe help make our clients' day-to-day just a little bit easier so that they can better support students and employers. With a client support team that comes from across the student success spectrum, clients continuously speak to the dedication of our client support team, and at Symplicity want to give them the attention they deserve. In our series, Symplicity Spotlight, we’re pulling back the curtain on those make Symplicity possible. 

In our latest installment, we are getting to know Bill Heinrich, PhD who joined Symplicity as an experienced higher education practitioner with a passion for experiential learning. Dr. Heinrich is the director of Mindset, the dedicated thought leadership division at Symplicity (originally part of Orbis, which Symplicity acquired in 2021). Heinrich is not only a seasoned practitioner in the field, but also host of the Mindset in Motion podcast, bringing leaders in higher education together for thoughtful conversations. Subscribe via Spotify | Apple | Amazon. 

Learn more about Dr. Heinrich's vast career in higher education and experience studying higher education below!

Before you joined Symplicity, what was your role in higher ed?

Before getting into edtech, I was primarily a scholar practitioner (and still am!) engaging evidence-based practices and practice-informed research. I got my start at Michigan State University getting my Master’s in Student Affairs Administration then pivoted to work as an outdoor educator for various companies leading Nordic skiing, mountain biking, and rock climbing trips and courses. In 2003, I went back to higher education at the University of California, Santa Cruz as a live-in coordinator for residential education at one of 10 residential colleges at UCSC. I worked with students and student leaders from orientation to graduation with a focus on residential education and housing, student conduct, and student leadership programming. In 2008, I took a short leave to work on Semester at Sea for a lap around the globe on a ship. I supported students on the voyage while they studied and learned in 11 different countries.

I pursued by PhD in 2010, returning to Michigan State in Higher, Adult, and Lifelong education, where my research included questions of assessment mindsets and examinations of critical thinking in HIPs like field study, study abroad, and project-based learning. In 2015, I graduated and began full time work at MSU’s Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology as the Director of Assessment and Experiential Learning. I served on project teams that helped departments and programs on campus deliver innovative solutions to entrenched student success problems. In this role, I stewarded a project to build MSU a campus-wide co-curricular record which tracks non-credit learning outcomes from hundreds of programs across the campus and records them on the Spartan Experience Record. In this role I met the principals at Orbis.

Fast forward to, 2020 when I started at Orbis, which is now part of Symplicity, as the Director of Mindset! I’ve been here ever since, while still pursuing research consulting, and storytelling for a broader set of audiences.

What got you interested in higher education?

I think it was some combination of understanding the complexity early on--from being a campus leader at Northern Illinois University—and finding that my talents and skills for seeing patterns and doing research had productive outlets in supporting student learning through assessment and educator development.

What are you currently working on in your research?

The first, is a project on The Experiential Learning Leader where I work with a team of colleagues to explore the growing EL ecosystem on campuses and how to lead them to sustainable success!

Second, I am working on project with the Society for Experiential Education (SEE) to update their definition and principles of Experiential Learning. We’re using a design-based process in the EL community to generate a new definition that works for SEE’s many stakeholders on and adjacent to campuses.

What makes you excited about the Experiential Learning/Workforce development field today?

I’ve been excited about EL for a long time for its power to utterly transform learners (and their teachers). Today, I like that it’s scaling up in higher education. Experiential education/learning used to be considered too much like training to engage in colleges and universities. With a greater focus on college as a workforce engine alongside academic learning, EL is an amazing tool for educators to use because it delivers outcomes on multiple levels from retention to emotional intelligence, content knowledge/skills, and applied career outcomes.

Tell us about Mindset! What’s been your favorite conversations to have? What’s one episode you’d send to someone?

Mindset is our effort to contribute to the ecosystem of knowledge, research, and conversations about delivering excellent career and experiential learning. We conduct research, write, present, tell stories, and most importantly, we listen to experts in the field about their work. On our podcast, Mindset in Motion, I’ve heard from experts across the Higher Education ecosystem. My single favorite episode is hard to pin down, but I always appreciate when our guests go from theory to practice in a single sentence. 

Bill's favorite conversations from Mindset in Motion:
How does your previous work in higher ed help enhance Symplicity clients? 

Clients work with our products to solve logistical challenges with the confidence that the software supports learning. In the background, I’m able to help make sure our products are aligned with good pedagogical practices (I.e., do the reflections come at the right time? Are we capturing useful data points so our clients can report on competency and learning?). With the research and pods, we’re aiming to engage conversations about the ever-changing nature of higher education. We know clients need to be aware of how their work fits into the larger ecosystem of career and experiential education, so we try to give examples.

In your view, what are some of the biggest changes to student success roles in higher ed in the last five years?

There are EL leaders on many campuses, but trying to figure out what they are supposed to do is a challenge at some institutions. Plus, intense external pressures on enrollment have caused strategic shifts in retention,  how to use EL and Career Education. Additionally, AI is starting to drive big decisions. 

What are the biggest pain points for clients and professionals focused on student success today?

Distractions and affordability; Students who need to work need to work a lot and don’t have as much time for optional experiences that could be meaningful. Other students have a lot of choices for how to spend their time and campus experiences compete for attention from other players (tech, games, etc.)

What is one thing you would tell someone about Experiential Learning and career readiness?

Experiential Learning will change you, give it a whirl! For someone seeking career advice? Try a few jobs/projects out to figure out if you like the kind of work and to see if the kind of work gives you joy and purpose…it’s a combination. 

Outside of work, what do you enjoy doing? Tell us a little about yourself!

I enjoy my partner and our kids, who are 12 and 10 and involved in everything. As a family we ride bikes and go skiing together in between reading and other hobbies like ballet, volleyball, and artistic swimming. At different times in my life I’ve been into climbing, biking (mountain, road, gravel, and triathlon), kayaking, surfing, free-heel skiing (Telemark skiing, skate skiing xc classic), and mountaineering. Unfortunately, I can still only ride one bike at a time.

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To learn more about Symplicity and how our expert team can support you and your institution, e-mail us at info@symplicity.comIf you wish to connect with Bill more on these topics you can contact him at Bheinrich@symplicity.com.

CSM, Experiential Learning, career readiness, client experience, support, Career Centers, Co-ops, Internship, early careers, Symplicity Spotlight, client success, Orbis

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