Not just a number: Navengage helps every student find their voice

February 15, 2022
Credit: Navengage.com

In 2021, total enrollment in Penn State University was more than 88,000. Imagine being one voice in that large crowd and trying to find your way. At institutions large and small, it’s all too easy for students to feel as though they’re just another number, despite the college or university’s best efforts. But what if there was a technology that had the power to transform students’ relationships with their university?

That’s exactly what Navengage’s innovative platform is set to do. As CEO Andrew Strause explains, “Every student and every campus is unique. The Engagement app changes Penn State’s relationship with students in a way that few large universities, if any, are currently capable of holding.”  

Built around a core belief that student success starts with successful engagement, Navengage aims to make a big impact in higher ed. Its potential wasn’t lost on Ben Franklin Technology Partners, which has been a critical resource from the very beginning of the company’s journey.

From student to employee to partnering vendor

Navengage started in April 2020, but its roots go back years before. In 2017, Strause was taking Penn State graduation photos with two of his best friends when one opened up about his struggles in finding his way in college. “He explained how hard it was to figure out what organizations to join and how to find genuine friends. Hearing how he suffered in silence and knowing that I could not be there for him stuck with me,” says Strause.

After working with thousands of students, Strause came to realize that his friend’s experience wasn’t a one-off, and that everyone feels this way at some point during their college years, particularly during their first semesters.

“Our team is inspired to help students find their way through those anxious moments and to lead them to an environment where they can grow by utilizing all the opportunities college has to offer,” he says.

Before starting Navengage, Strause and his team ran another company. It focused on helping connect students with off-campus resources, including housing and restaurants. After COVID forced that company to shut down, Strause learned more about the Student Engagement Network’s app initiative.

“Our team is inspired to help students find their way through those anxious moments and to lead them to an environment where they can grow by utilizing all the opportunities college has to offer,” he says.

“We were eventually brought [into the Student Engagement Network] to build the Engagement app,” says Strause. “It was a natural business transition for us because our main goal, both with our old company and now Navengage, is to help students find the resources they need to grow and succeed in college.”

Partnering with Penn State was a natural evolution. Strause explains that he has a reverence for the university that goes back to childhood, when his older brothers took him to his first football game at the age of 14. Later, he attended Penn State as a business major.

He says, “I had an indescribable student experience. I was able to expand and challenge my studies through classes ranging from Women in Theatre to an Astro class about the Big Bang. I also had a NASA space grant to work on Lunar Lion, and I volunteered close to 30 hours a week during my third and fourth years for THON. Penn State gave me the space to evolve and learn.”

“From being a student, then university employee, and now a partnering vendor, I’ve experienced many sides of what being a Penn Stater means, and I take my role in helping the university grow very seriously,” he adds. “Hopefully, I can help provide more opportunities for current and future students to find the same kinds of life-changing Penn State experiences that I had that allow them to grow, evolve and learn.”

An engagement app that aims to change the industry

“Starting this project with our alma mater allows us to remember that we only succeed if we are working with our clients to achieve their goals. We want to change the industry so that vendors listen to universities’ problems and work with students, faculty and staff to make their experiences better, Strause said.”

So how does it work? 

During the sign-up process, students use the Engagement app to tell Penn State about their interests. They can describe their goals outside the classroom, like studying abroad or joining organizations. Penn State employees and student leaders can use that information to follow up with each student and connect them with resources to support their interests and goals. At the same time, students are prompted to connect with leaders who can help them.

“From being a student, then university employee, and now a partnering vendor, I’ve experienced many sides of what being a Penn Stater means, and I take my role in helping the university grow very seriously.”

“This ability for such a massive institution to provide individualized attention to every student is critical for effectively serving students, who all bring their own unique strengths and challenges with them to Penn State,” explains Strause. “The Engagement app is an outlet and a helping hand for every student to find their path and voice in college. Listening and working with students is the way of the future in higher education, and I am proud that Penn State is leading this cause.”

Ben Franklin supports success

While Navengage’s relationship with Penn State is a huge part of its story, Strause credits Ben Franklin Technology Partners with being there for him and his team from the beginning. In 2019, John Peterson from the Small Business Development Center introduced the team to Ben Franklin.

Strause says, “Ben Franklin is truly a superb resource for innovators. They quite literally supported us in every aspect of our business and personal development.” 

“Ben Franklin is truly a superb resource for innovators. They quite literally supported us in every aspect of our business and personal development.”

The Happy Valley entrepreneurial ecosystem

The Navengage team worked out of State College apartments before renting space at Innovation Park (they also have a location in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania).

Strause says that Happy Valley is a special place for the company. “The community members are incredible people who are gracious and quick to help others. The programs at Invent Penn State are magnificent opportunities for students and community members. I’m extremely grateful to have worked in such an innovative and forward-thinking area.”

“Penn State really is a special place, and the people who decide to be a part of this community are trailblazers. I also love to work with new people, so if anyone reading this would like to connect, please don’t hesitate to reach out!”

To learn more about Navengage or to connect with Andrew Strause, visit https://www.navengage.com/ 

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