COLUMBUS — For many years, Maridith Geuder’s mother held a cherished dream — she wanted young Maridith to study piano at Mississippi University for Women.
But Geuder had her own dreams. Her love for literature drew her to Millsaps College, where she obtained a bachelor’s degree in English, then she obtained a master’s degree in the same from the University of Alabama.
A lover of words and a skilled communicator, she surrounded her life with the music of language, honing her talents in marketing and communications before accepting the job that was to become her opus. Now, after 22 years as director of university relations for Mississippi State University, the West Point native is writing a new life chapter, joining MUW’s staff as executive director of university relations.
Telling the college’s story is a position for which Geuder is uniquely suited, MUW President Dr. Jim Borsig said Tuesday. As The W streamlines its image, launching a more tightly-focused branding, marketing and student recruitment campaign, the newly-created position will be a key element.
Geuder’s application immediately caught his attention. After more than a decade of working with her through her position at MSU and his previous position as the state College Board’s associate commissioner, he knew she was team-oriented, with strong collaborative skills and a deep network of professional relationships in media and higher education.
“She’s a terrific writer, terrific at conceptualizing communications strategies, and she knows how to implement them,” Borsig said. “She’s the consummate professional, and her skill set complements the team we already have. She’s a terrific addition to our university, and she brings a wealth of experience and talent.”
As the head of the university relations department, Geuder will lead five employees through a comprehensive marketing and communications strategy that has been missing from The W’s repertoire, Borsig said.
Today’s ultra-networked generation not only prefers digital communication — they expect it. Students’ parents still desire print brochures and correspondence, and that won’t completely disappear, but social media, text messages and e-mail have risen to the forefront, requiring a strategic shift for universities nationwide.
In the competitive world of higher education, student recruitment and retainment is critical. But as Borsig enters his third quarter as MUW’s president, he has become acutely aware of the need to present a consistent, cohesive brand identity.
Case in point: People frequently tout The W as “a private university experience at a public university cost.” Others say MUW is “low-price, but high quality.”
“Those are two very different sounding phrases,” Borsig said. “This is just Marketing 101. We will go through a very inclusive process to get down to the core message so the creative team can narrow and define that message.”
To facilitate that process, the MUW Foundation has hired idgroup USA, a Cleveland-based consulting firm that specializes in aligning corporate vision, identity and branding for colleges and other organizations. They list among their clients the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, where Borsig earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science.
Geuder said she’s looking forward to helping formulate The W’s new approach.
“I like a new challenge,” she said Tuesday. “I get energized by that. I have great respect for Dr. Borsig, I have great optimism about MUW and I’m extremely excited to be a part of his vision.”
Still, after two decades at MSU, leaving will be bittersweet.
“I have such respect for this institution and what it does for the state,” she said of MSU. “I leave many good friends and many good memories.”
Geuder will begin her new position at MUW on Sept. 1, and her first day on campus will be Sept. 3.
The verdict is still out on whether she will fulfill her late mother’s wish that she study piano at The W, but that’s the thing about life stories — you never know what new adventure the next page will bring.
Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.
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