The Power of a Group Ride

I love road biking. (I also love metaphors.)

If I have an hour or two of “Ken-time” and the winds are favorable (more on that in a bit), I love to gear up, hop in the saddle, and head out onto the long open roads for a leg-stretching ride around my home in Appleton, Wisconsin.

The glaciers that bulldozed the Upper Midwest about 20,000 years ago left us little to write home about in the mountain department.

They also left behind a landscape prone to maddeningly unpredictable winds.

To cope with this as a cyclist, before a ride, I consult my Accuweather app with the kind of zeal college enrollment folks use with applicant data, looking for patterns to tell us which way the wind will blow, and then setting a course to take advantage of it.

If there’s a steady wind—and 11 times out of 10 there is—I will choose a route that lets me start by tacking into the wind, happy to push through some harder pedal-grinding while anticipating the euphoria of that same breeze easing my ride home.

But the wind can be fickle. 

More often than not, just when I’m getting ready to turn toward home, I feel the wind start to shift—that hoped-for tailwind now a crosswind or headwind—and the ride home becomes that much harder.

When you’re riding into a headwind alone with just your bike, your will and your stamina, those rides can be tough. (Even if they are character-building.)

But when I’m riding with a group, the whole dynamic changes. There are few feelings I know to compare with the experience of riding with three or five or 30 other riders, pulling together, wheels just inches from each other, with a speed and ease that greatly exceeds what I can do by myself.

There’s an etiquette to riding with a group: everybody gets to spend some time leading the group, bearing the brunt of any wind while the others behind you benefit from the draft you create. When you’re done in the lead you get to drop to the back, allowing the group to pass you by while you merge into the caboose and benefit by riding in their draft. You follow this rotation until you reach your destination.

When I’m riding with a group, I can ride faster and farther—plus I have the added bonus of being able to chat with my fellow riders along the way.

You may be wondering when I will start applying this metaphor to our work as enrollment professionals.

How about now?

It started with my interview on the Admissions Leadership Podcast with Adrienne Amador Oddi, now Vice President of Strategic Enrollment and Communications at Queens University of Charlotte (NC). An endurance athlete, Adrienne is an open-water swimmer and long-distance cycler. In our conversation she describes how our work in enrollment is like swimming long distances, whether you’re practicing or racing:

There’s guts … the ability to persist through really tough stuff … just grinding out those laps. There’s a lot of time in your own head in the water thinking about anything and everything. Just keep going. When you get tired: keep going.

Just a few weeks later, when I interviewed Peaches Valdes, Dean of Admission at Hamilton, something clicked for me. Peaches spoke about her group of sister mentors—other women in enrollment leadership like Joy St. John, Jen Fondiller, Audrey Smith, Deb Shaver—who know her well and with whom she shared similar experiences. Those commonplaces allow them to provide her with counsel and advice, even if she isn’t sure she wants to hear it. “They’re like family,” she says, “They’re not going to sugar-coat it.”

Adrienne’s endurance-sport analogy and Peaches’s group of fellow travelers inspired me to launch a monthly “Enrollment Leadership Group Ride” back in February with my senior enrollment colleagues in the Associated Colleges of the Midwest. Once a month for an hour on a Friday afternoon during yield season, we gathered in the Zoombox for a metaphorical group ride, the sole purpose of which was to share what we were celebrating, as well as what we needed help with. In every session, one person’s challenge was shared by many. Some examples:

“How does an enrollment leader prepare for a presidential transition?”

“What happens when some of my staffers don’t want to return to the office or travel?” “ 

“How will this cohort of new students, who have been living and learning amid a pandemic, come together as an in-person community this fall?”

Like all good group rides, these conversations have been powered by the collective energy, shared experiences and common language of its riders, each astride a unique institutional bicycle.

If you are in need of a good push at this point in the semester, gather those colleagues you trust and enjoy and set up a “group ride” of your own. Be it through Zoom or a walk outside—or even a road ride—now is a good time to draw on the collective energy that we create when we support and allow ourselves to be supported by others. Even when the road ahead looks smooth and flat, the winds can push strongly against our forward progress. But, as a group, we can be stronger than that which obstructs us as individuals. The team at RHB is ready to ride alongside, too, anytime you need us.

I look forward to seeing you on the road—real and metaphorical.

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Ken Anselment

Ken is the Dan Saracino Chair of Enrollment Management at RHB.