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2020: A Year in Review

Written By:
Lizzie Lithgow
Monday, January 4, 2021

This year has been hard. Really hard. The world of higher education has faced a lot of unknowns during these last 12 months: Will students adjust to virtual classes? What will recruiting look like without in-person events and college fairs? Will things ever go back to normal?

But 2020 has also been the year of transformation. We’ve had the opportunity to help colleges and universities quickly pivot their enrollment strategies, develop creative ways to communicate with students and prospects, and lean on the benefits of Slate to continue admissions efforts in a new, virtual world.  

And while we don’t know what 2021 has in store, Underscore is up for any challenge. Here’s what our team has to say about this unprecedented year and what they’re looking forward to in 2021:


Scott Novak, CEO: What am I looking forward to the most? That’s simple…being together with our team again! We went fully virtual in March and have been ever since. We made it work and I am proud of our team for making it through this year. However, you cannot replace the impact of being together to build camaraderie and to strategize with one another. I also miss our remote staff coming to visit on a regular basis. I consider us a pretty close-knit bunch and having them visit the office was always fun. I look forward to (hopefully) getting everyone together again in 2021!

Shane Phillips, Office Manager: Looking ahead to 2021, I am hoping to achieve a multitude of goals. Professionally, I hope to develop and implement new strategies that promote a diverse, empathetic and exciting work environment. Personally, I hope to explore new hobbies and activities that cultivate joy and inspire me to lead a happier life.


Coty Walden, Senior Graphic Designer: As one of Underscore’s graphic designers and having over 20 clients who I provide designs for, one of my biggest goals of 2020 was to find ways to increase my creativity in the digital space. Although this goal is always evolving in many ways, I am proud that I have been able accomplish this by growing my abilities to create GIF designs. By utilizing GIF’s, we have been able to enhance our email communication, drawing more excitement and engagement from the audience.


Allison LaTorre, Slate Strategist: Although this year has not been easy for any of us, it is certainly a year that has taught us a lot. For me, the greatest lessons I’ve learned are: things can often go not as planned so we need to be able to adapt and stay positive. Upon accepting my position at Underscore at the end of last year, I decided to leave the only state I’ve ever lived in to take on a new adventure in Charlotte. Little did I know it was not the adventure I had imagined. I had to make the best of it and had to learn to look for the positive in the not-so ideal situation. And although I consider myself to be a very grateful person, when real serious things happen, like a pandemic, it really puts things even more into perspective.


Amanda Johnson, Slate Strategist: The most important lesson I have learned this year is that nothing lasts forever. Rolling with the punches in a positive way is so much better for the soul than focusing on what you cannot change or control!


Selma Gomez, Senior Project Manager: The biggest thing I’ve learned throughout this year is how to manage and establish a work-life balance in the middle of a pandemic while working from home.


Sabrina Gregrow, Project Manager: The most important lesson I’ve learned this year is moving outside of your comfort zone. I’ve found that staying comfortable won’t allow you to learn new things and to grow. Since moving to Charlotte, I have gained so much knowledge and independence, and I am much more confident in all that I do.


Jim Rogers, Director of Enrollment Strategy: I look forward to traveling again for work and pleasure in 2021. I enjoy international travel especially, and can't wait to get back to normal life. 


Nina Sirico, Graphic Designer: The most important lesson that I have learned this year is that positivity can be a gift in and of itself. A genuine smile, a passing compliment, or even a small acknowledgment of hard work can mean more than any material good. 2020 taught us that the even the smallest particle can impact our lives in big ways. Luckily, positivity is the good kind of contagious.


Amanda Garay-Cedeno, Slate Strategist: Adaptability I feel is the most important lesson I have learned this year. With how things have been during this pandemic, I had to be sure how to balance working from home (especially with helping clients navigate Slate through a more virtual-centered admissions process) with helping my daughter with her online school. So being able to adapt whenever possible has been the key both personally and professionally.


Jerimiah Tudor, Director of Special Projects: I’m most proud of creating some of the most intricate portals of my career so far! Including Financial Aid Portals, Staff Portals, and some pretty cool Applicant Portals.  I'm also proud of adding a new team member to the Special Projects division. Chris Carl has been an amazing addition to my team and I look forward to seeing him continue to grow into his role at Underscore.


Brenna Burke, Enrollment Strategist: I look forward to helping our partner institutions navigate a successful sophomore and junior search during this unprecedented time in higher ed. And identifying creative and unique initiatives to communicate with students through yield and anit-melt in a virtual world.


Chris Carl, Slate Strategist: I’m looking forward to continuing to grow with Underscore and within the Special Projects division. Delivering the student- and faculty- facing portals our clients need has been so rewarding. I can’t wait to see what 2021 has in store for me in terms of new challenges and new features we can provide for our clients!

Ted Magdzinski, Director of Slate Communications: The most important lesson 2020 taught me is to be adaptable. This year has been a tremendous curveball for everyone, but I can appreciate that Underscore has been able to make changes that allowed us keep working while finding some ways to improve at the same time.


Bree Shepard, Project Manager: In September 2019, my partner and I set a goal to buy a house in 2020. We went through an extensive process with a mortgage program that allowed us to have a low interest rate, no down payment, no private mortgage insurance, and most of our closing costs covered. We finally got approved in May 2020. We put in so. many. offers. Finally, in September our offer got accepted and we closed in November! I’m thrilled that we have our own place right here in Matthews (where Underscore is headquartered and an amazing little town).


Megan Robinson, Director of Slate Implementation and Consultation: The most important lessons I have learned this year are how much I value my people and love my work. As we continue to grow (as a division and a company) despite the challenging times around us, I have learned to lean on my team more than ever. It’s made my internal relationships stronger and my day-to-day so enjoyable as we are able to work together as a team all while supporting our clients, who we are also closer with than I ever could have imagined. Loving what you do, who you do it with, and who you do it for. That’s my 2020, and I couldn’t be more grateful.


Ashlie Perry, Creative Director: For me, 2020 has been a year filled with a lot of change and a lot of growth. I’ve learned never to think plans are set in stone (my new year’s resolution was to take at least one trip a month for goodness sakes), to lean on people in hard times, and to never take a day for granted. And while it’s been a hard year for us all, it’s also been one I’m extremely proud of. We added Nina to the graphic design team, had the chance to teach many of our clients the ins and outs of Slate Print, and even won seven Educational Advertising Awards!


Morgan Cook, Senior Project Manager: In 2020 I set a goal to learn more about Slate to better help our clients and know exactly what I’m recommending. Now I’m in Slate every day and am able to put together educated communication plans based on Slate’s functionality, not just what I think is a good idea. It’s changed so much for both my clients and myself!


Laura Murnen, Slate Strategist: I’m most excited about working with the Implementation and Consultation division to continue to enhance our training offerings. There’s nothing better than sharing in the excitement of all of Slate’s capabilities and features with our clients!


Robert Tallerico, Senior Slate Strategist: I love what Underscore does and I believe in the value we provide to our partner schools especially those that we assist in implementing their Slate instance. So, in2021, I am looking forward to working with even more schools and helping them realize their processes don’t need to be so complicated and that they don’t need Excel spreadsheets or paper applications any longer!


Chris Coons, Director of Business Development: As a former full-time remote employee, I feel that the company became much closer as an organization once everyone had to work from home. Through virtual happy hours, Zoom or Microsoft Teams calls, I feel we have gotten to know one another more than knew about each other previously; it appears we’ve also become more connected to our college clients as well. We’ve collaborated with each other and have added many new college clients this year…overall, we’ve had great success in an otherwise challenging environment.


Jessica Severt, Slate Strategist: While 2020 has been quite the ride, I'm grateful that it brought me to Underscore! I'm really looking forward to having a full year with the company under my belt this coming March, and I'm excited to continue to celebrate successes and come up with new, creative ideas for our awesome clients in 2021. Also, my husband and I are planning to adopt a dog in 2021 which we are both very excited for!


Matt Herr, Slate Strategist: I’m looking forward to leading a full implementation and integration in 2021.


Laura Bald, Slate Strategist: The goals I’m most proud of having accomplished in 2020 is moving forward in my career by being hired by Underscore where I am much more able to utilize my skills and education; moving back to NC where my heart will always live; and buying my first home!


Ryan Ostendorf, Account Executive: In 2020, I’m most proud of the transition I’ve made to a new job and new city. I’m proud to be working for Underscore, a company that partners with colleges and universities in an impactful way and in a field that I’m passionate about.


Emma Handron, Project Manager: The most important lesson I’ve learned this year is to not take anything or anyone for granted and always buy more than you need at the grocery store. You never know what will be sold out next time you go.


Martin Smith, Enrollment Consultant: The importance of pivoting when life throws you a curve ball.  COVID 19 was not what any one expected nor planned for in 2020 and yet it happened.  Those that understood that the environment in which we lived in had dramatically changed and adapted to these changes moved forward and found success both personally and professionally. I have always lived by the motto you will never steal second base with one foot on first and this year was definitely a reminder of how true that is. The importance of pivoting when life throws you a curve ball. 



Let’s Talk About Your New Year's Resolutions.

You don’t have to navigate 2021 alone. Reach out to discuss how Underscore help you achieve your enrollment goals next year.


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About the Author

The benefactor of brands. Lizzie knows the education marketplace. It's where she honed her brand messaging expertise, after all. From visual identity to enrollment communication and market research, Lizzie has extensive experience with all things brand. And serious project management chops to boot. Trust us, your brand is in the right hands. Hint: tell her you're a Billy Joel fan, and you've got a friend for life.


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