Symplicity Spotlight: Jake Acton

Each and every day, our client managers across the globe help make our clients' day-to-day just a little bit easier so that they can better support their students. 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 we at Symplicity want to give them the attention they deserve. In our series, Symplicity Spotlight, we’re pulling back the curtain on our client support team.

In our third installment, we chat with Lead Client Manger, Jake Acton! Joining Symplicity in 2013, Jake specifically helps clients with Advocate and Residence solutions, while overseeing a team responsible for ensuring client success when it comes to utilizing Advocate for student conduct, Title IX, CARE, BIT, and behavioral management. 

Tell us a little about your career history in higher ed?

I first worked at Washington University in St Louis as a Residential College Director where I was very involved with our Residential Curriculum and Learning Outcomes that spurred a heavy interest in assessment. Ever since my graduate program at Michigan State, I've been very interested in Student Development Theory and creating communities to foster that. I then went west and worked at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash. to work closely with Dr. John Purdie where we built a robust learning community centered off Baxter Magolda’s Self Authorship Theory. While there I served on our campus BIT team and worked to initiate an Academic Care Team to try to help academically at risk students in our Residence Halls to persist. All in all, my background before Symplicity was very much the traditional Residential Life experience where I loved my staff of Hall Directors, some of which I still connect with in my work as a Client Manager as they’ve grown up out in the field of Higher Ed!

What got you interested in higher education?

I had served as a Senior RA and also played football in undergrad. After graduation I had a strong desire to coach football and landed a job at another small private liberal arts college in Michigan where I could coach football, run a residence hall, run our student conduct boards, run our Student Recreation center, and more. I loved it. Some mentors convinced me to make a career of it and get my Master’s done while I was a commutable distance from Michigan State University. Once I met my great cohort at MSU, I was hooked for life. While at MSU I did my practicum in university conduct with Rick Shafer who opened me up to the opportunity to create dissonance, treating the conduct meeting as an educational opportunity as an art form! I’ve had an interest in the work conduct officers do ever since.

What brought you to join Symplicity and look into a career in edtech?

I was recruited by Symplicity and joined willingly!

How does your previous work in higher ed translate to your work supporting Symplicity clients?

In my role as a Client Manager I view and support my users as if they are my peers and colleagues in the field of Student Affairs. I still view my work as important to serving the field that I am passionate about. I get a lot of feedback that my training sessions are fun and engaging – I guess all those years of RD and RA Training prepared me well to be a Client Manager. 

What’s the biggest pain points for clients today?

Having to be ultra focused on doing things in a very specific way so as to not get a lawsuit, which hamstrings some good professionals wanting to do good work for the community they serve or just drains their time/energy that could be spent doing more productive work for the community.  The bombastic response from students and parents and media causes a lot of good professionals to hold back, and the burn out rate is tough to see from the outside looking in.  I've observed it draining some of the creativity in some cases from the work professionals out in the field can do because they are more worried about litigation far more than I ever was as a professional. 

Tell us a story of a client’s struggle that you helped them solve with Advocate/Advocate GME/Residence.

Pretty commonly schools will reach out to me for guidance on how to fold in a new department or office or workflow into their system. I was always big on busting silos when I was a professional and building bridges on campus that could help streamline the support we lent to students as a division, so now at Symplicity, I enjoy finding opportunities to do the same work for the campuses that I serve as  Client Manager. Advocate as a tool was built to evolve with the changing landscape of Higher Ed and the tools within it are built to naturally support bridge building and silo busting (where appropriate). I think of Advocate as a massive Dot-collector, that will help your team of dot-connectors to do good work efficiently to free up more time and resources to serve students. The age old question of “can you help us to work better with this other office/department” is a struggle that I am happy to help solve and over the past 9 years at Symplicity the projects where we’ve expanded usage of the system in meaningful ways are the ones that stand out for me.

What’s your favorite feature within the products you support (Advocate, Advocate GME, and Residence) and why?

While I enjoy building reports, what I enjoy way more than that is helping institutions develop a plan to collect the data that will result in excellent reports later. Those schools that work with me to build their end of year reports at the beginning of the year are by far and away my favorite projects to work with. The question of “how do I run this report?” is nice – but the question of “how do I develop a process to collect the data I want to track” is my favorite. The designing with intention is the part of assessment I wish more of my clients had time for.

What’s a feature you think people don’t use enough?

Custom Reporting Dashboards where you can make charts easily accessible to others to show trends that can help inform practice.

What is one thing you would tell someone considering Advocate/Advocate GME or Residence?

I look forward to the opportunity to be helpful to you, your team, your institution, and your students.

Outside of work, what do you enjoy doing?

I used to be quite the rambler and outdoors adventurer and initially moved into this role with Symplicity back in 2013 to find some freedom and travel the country. Since then I’ve lived in 8 different states, visited all the National Parks and Baseball Stadiums in the lower 48 and knocked a bunch of cool things off my bucket list. But since COVID-19, I took the timeout as an excellent time to settle down. I bought a house and set down roots in Tucson, Ariz. and recently had my first kid! So, my favorite role and hobby now is that of good ole Dad.


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Symplicity, Advocate, client experience, Symplicity Spotlight, client success

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