Converge 2019 Speaker Spotlight: Q&A with Mara Zepeda

Converge 2019 Speaker Spotlight: Q&A with Mara Zepeda from Switchboard

An interview with Mara Zepeda, Co-Founder of Switchboard.

Mara Zepeda is the co-founder and CEO of Switchboard, which provides training and technology to colleges, universities, and independent schools around the world to increase their community members’ mobility. She speaks about and leads workshops on education, trust, social networks and the future of business internationally. Mara has spent her career at the intersection of community building, economic empowerment and education, directing programs at Harvard University; as a reporter with National Public Radio; and as an alumni board member of her alma mater, Reed College.


Converge Consulting: Why are you excited to present at Converge 2019?

Mara Zepeda: I’m inspired by the next generation of visionary higher-ed marketing leaders that are focused on listening to needs, building community, and storytelling. At Switchboard, we work closely with innovative partners like this. Converge seems to be their “family reunion.” I can’t wait to connect with and learn from the group!


CC: What are the three biggest takeaways you anticipate for Converge 2019 attendees and how will it directly impact their mindset?

MZ: Attendees will learn:

  • Lessons they can apply on campus, today, from the fast-paced and iterative world of startups
  • How a culture of listening, community, and customer service leads to the most creative marketing
  • The most critically overlooked data and KPI, and how measuring it can change the brand health and sustainability of the institution



CC: Would you consider yourself a right or left brain thinker?

MZ: Funny you should ask! I’m currently reading, The Master and his Emissary, about this very divide. I would say my daily practice is doing my best to be both a left and right brain thinker, while respecting the rather miraculous gift of personal intuition.


CC: As Co-Founder of Switchboard, what are some daily challenges you face?

MZ: As someone who spent years in the industry, I’m familiar with the slow-moving bureaucracy of higher-ed. Decisions are made over years and by committee. Yet time and again we see the most forward-thinking and successful campuses are the opposite: courageous, decisive, experimental, and learn from instead of hide their failures. They also aren’t afraid to get rid of programs that aren’t working. I wish more campuses adopted this mentality and had leadership that empowered their teams to think in this way. Our mission is to change this culture to reflect the needs and wants of the students they serve, which also makes institutions more successful.


CC: What part of your personality shines through the most in your work?

MZ: As a former radio reporter for NPR I would say curiosity and storytelling are at the core of everything I do. We learn so much by taking time to ask thoughtful questions and listen empathetically (in fact, we are hosting a conference on this topic this fall!). I love knowing that our product and process helps campuses create heroes out of their students. This heroic journey, made possible through strong leaders and networks, is the higher ed’s unparalleled value proposition.


CC: What can Converge 2019 attendees look forward to learning at your speaker session?

MZ: Listening is the most powerful and underused tool available to marketers. We are often afraid to ask questions, or to admit that listening doesn’t come naturally. In my session you’ll learn a simple formula for how to listen better, and tell more compelling stories as a result.

Register for Converge 2019 in Atlanta.

Interested in attending Mara’s keynote? Converge 2019 is a must for all HEM and leaders interested in the #newandnext. Use code EARLYBIRD and complete your EventBrite registration by October 15 to save $100 off your pass.

Blaine Phillips
Blaine Phillips
September 18, 2018