Dustin Ramsdell | Influencer Spotlight 132

Dustin Ramsdell lives in Baltimore City with his family and is the creator of a blog called Higher Ed Geek. Dustin works in digital education, believing everyone deserves access to high quality educational opportunities. Dustin also hosts the Higher Ed Geek podcast available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Stitcher. You can learn more about Dustin, read the latest articles and browse merch at higheredgeek.com. An Intellifluence Trusted Blogger, Dustin is also on Patreon in addition to Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and Twitch, to name a few.

Can you tell us the story of how you started Higher Ed Geek? Maybe touch on your own educational experience, as it sounds like that was a source of inspiration to start it?

I was involved as a student leader in undergrad at the University of Delaware. So it was a resident advisor in the residents hall there. And that spurred me into wanting to work professionally in higher education. And I went to graduate school to get my master’s in education and study more about student development. And while I was in grad school is where the inception of Higher Ed Geek came from, wanting to put myself out there, share ideas and things that I was learning and just put myself out there in an authentic way that would allow for me to hopefully just move my career forward, as I was graduating and getting my first actual full-time job in higher ed.

I mean my educational journey, just the short version [is] I never knew what I was going to make of myself. I didn’t do a lot in high school and getting to college at the University of Delaware was a transformative experience for me and just learning more about my identity and my potential and those sort of things. So that’s always been a driver for me, is to give back, just broadly through other projects, it’s sort of helping others help students better, through my writing or podcasting or those sort of things.

At what point did you realize you were influencing others?

I think it was the first times where people would express to me clearly or it’s like, “Hey, I listened to your show. It was so great. I liked this episode.” Or people who are like, “Oh yeah, I’ve seen your site or I know of your site.” So just the idea where obviously I objectively knew that like they were getting views and downloads and that sort of thing. But when you actually tangibly have someone who talks to you about what they got from what you do, it’s like, “Wow, this is actually having an impact.” Because some people can consume content, just sort of chew it up, spit it out, that’s that and that’s fine. But knowing that it was also having that intended impact of having people learn and grow and be exposed to new things within the higher ed world. Yeah. That was really meaningful for me because that obviously was the goal really. So I was getting a lot out of it. So it meant a lot that others were as well.

On your blog, you explain that the site is focused on relevant and thoughtful dialogues. Who is the target audience for Higher Ed Geek and what are some of the reoccurring topics that arise?

I think the primary audience is definitely hiring professionals. It’s for us, by us, it’s going to be really immersed in a lot of the lingo and things going on in the space, to sort of give back and to have that cycle going of knowledge sharing. But I’d say, I do imagine that a lot of people who are college students or interested in education, just care about education, care about the space, which I would imagine is a lot of people, they would find value in the things that I share as well.

So I think the types of things that I posted on the site could just be things about how to be successful in college, which could be for any student or anybody who works with students or as a child, who’s a student and then other things that are maybe more industry news and then just other more just the purely educational side. Things that I’m kind of geeking out about, things that I’m learning that I want to share about other things that I care about. So I mean the content primarily is a blog, but I do post a podcast and other things that I do if it’s a panel that I’m on or a conference session, I’d share content from those avenues as well.

Can you think of some of your favorite guests or topics you discussed on your Higher Ed Geek podcast?

the first one that always comes to mind, it was definitely a very proud moment and they’ve had some really great milestones they’ve hit recently. We had Ben Nelson who heads up the Minerva Project. They’re a really innovative player in the higher ed space and basically bringing the best of liberal arts education that it tends to be a cloister, small private institution in the woods somewhere. How can you maybe expand on that, do it better, smarter and do it at scale online and across the world. I’m overly simplifying it, but they have an incredible model, it’s really a great honor to be able to speak with Ben Nelson about that. And then there were others that, a lot of episodes lately have come about serendipitously of people just reaching out to be on the show, which when I started, I had to hustle and reach out to a lot of people.

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So a lot of the episodes that I’ve posted this year are just special because it is that idea of having influence or an impact that like, “Okay, people just know about this.” It’s not the biggest show in the world or those sort of things. It’s a very independent, I do everything, grassroots, but I think the right people know about it and people want to be a part of it. People want to create that content and share out their message and it makes my life easier when they reach out to do that. So ones this year that have explored a lot of different nuances of higher education that I’ve just never hit on. And some of them that are coming top of mind that I really liked that are releasing as of the recording of this in the coming weeks.

And I come back to my summer break, cover things like scholarship, like databases, helping students with their affordability of college, international exchange programs. So those have been really cool just because especially, I know that I’m learning a lot, so I’m like, “I’m sure there’s other people that these are gap areas in their knowledge as well.” So those have been really special as well. I could talk to people about digital education for every episode because it’s stuff I know, and I want to talk about it. And I know a lot of people that work in the space, but having this avenue be a place where I could really explore all of the various depths of higher ed and experiences that students can have to make sure they’re choosing the right institution, the right program and the right modality and being able to afford it and fund it in ways that are sustainable for them. So yeah, I guess that’s all that comes to mind.

How do you structure your average day so you can get everything done as it pertains to your blog, podcast and social media endeavors?

I mean, it can be hard. I’ve given myself a lot of grace in terms of everything I do is just, again, I always use the grassroots, anything I get to do I earn it myself, but I have to put the time in and I get to whatever I get to. So I do make sure on a monthly basis to really try to chart out reminders on my calendar of, “Okay, every Wednesday you got to post the podcast.” So it dings me to make sure that I’m doing that. Chart out my whole podcast schedule several episodes in advance. So I know that I’m recording with this person, that episode’s going to post this time, I have the whole year charted out and what the dates are going to be that I need to fill and sort of planning all that out.

Part of it is just giving that structure and planning ahead, just calendar management and reminders instead of notifications and those sort of things have been a huge help for me. And then part of it is just, I’ve been doing this for a while, so I know how to manage against deadlines and having that workflow to keep consistent. So for me has naturally come with time of just doing my due diligence to set those reminders, to make sure that I’m balancing and not stressing myself out because I could be posting more on social media certainly. But I think the amount that I do is either my own content or other content that I’m finding interesting. And I’m not bombarding people so that it feels as though it’s authentic and just done in a sustainable cadence and a way that feels relevant, I guess.

I think some people just post a lot just because it’s like, “Well, yeah, you might get more attraction if you’re posting more often.” But I try to keep things fairly balanced and set up pretty good boundaries as well to just not be constantly on my phone or trying to juggle three things at once. It’s like, “Okay, this morning, I’m going to do some social media. This morning I’m going to make sure the podcast is edited. And then now I’m going to do blog posts for whatever it is I need to do for the various projects that I work on.”

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So I think those would be the ways that I structure things out. And I don’t plan too far in advance for anything other than the podcast. Because for that it can be very hectic if it’s like, “I need an episode, post next week and I’ve got to chase people down.” Where it’s like, “Can you record tomorrow?” Then I can get it ready in less than a week or something. So that’s the area where I’d definitely have to make sure I’m really intentional about structuring my time, but otherwise I try to take it on a month by month basis to make sure that I check a lot of the boxes to keep everything active and engaged.

What are some of your short-term goals for your site, podcast, social media, etc?

I would love, I think, just because everything has been so independent and almost low budget. So I think I’ve been trying to grow the show to get to a point to have long-term sponsors to keep feeding into the show to grow that audience. I’m hoping to do more live podcast recordings at conferences. If I worked full time remote and obviously we’ve all been isolated even more so recently. So I’ve been very eager to get out, to build community with professional organizations and record that content live just for that exposure, but then still able to share it on the podcast stream.

So yeah, hopefully more podcasts, live recordings, partnerships for the show. And then I would hope to be able to do maybe more short form video content that could go up on social channels or YouTube or something. And that would, I think, complete the trinity of, I do writing, I do podcasting and then even if it’s, I do the podcast every other week, the idea of just on a set cadence, I can create some video content as well. So just need to get some more gear for that, I feel like to do it properly.

As a craft beer lover, what is your favorite style?

I lend myself more towards kind of the lighter stuff. A little bit more flavorful and getting easy drinking. So a good Pilsner, a good Kölsch, Witbier, those sort of things. So I’m always seeking out good places locally and it’s a good way to travel around and see places wherever you go. So it’s been a nice hobby. I share it with my wife as well. So yeah, we’re trying to like visit a local spot in every state. So we’re going to keep a track of where we’ve been and where we want to go.

Note: Influencer Spotlight interviews are edited for time and clarity.