Since its founding in 1955, Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium has been dedicated to building a community committed to taking care of life under water. Today, the independent, nonprofit marine research institution has more than 200 world-class marine scientists.
At the heart of Mote’s research and education platform is their yearly internship program for undergraduate students — a unique opportunity for students to study under the mentorship of scientists, educators, animal care specialists and other professionals.
We had the chance to sit down with Gina Santoianni, Student Engagement Coordinator, to learn how they went from processing over 1,000 applications over email to a full online application platform using SurveyMonkey Apply to streamline their internship process and provide more opportunities to students looking to power the future of marine science.
Q: Can you give us a little background on what Mote does, who they serve, and your mission?
Mote Marine Laboratory is an independent, nonprofit marine research institution comprised of world-class marine scientists committed to the belief that the conservation and sustainable use of our oceans begins with research and education.
Our mission is the advancement of marine and environmental sciences through scientific research, education, and public outreach leading to new discoveries, revitalization, and sustainability of our oceans and greater public understanding of our marine resources.
Originally focused on sharks, our research has expanded to include studies of coral reef health and coral restoration strategies, red tide and possible mitigation technologies, rescue and rehabilitation of local marine life, and the development of sustainable and successful fish restocking techniques and food production technologies.
The ocean is our passion. And science is our catalyst to help our oceans heal, thrive and continue to be havens of sustainable life, life-improving science, and life-giving solutions.
Q: What are some of your day-to-day activities in your current role at Mote?
As Mote’s Student Engagement Coordinator, I coordinate the logistics of our college internship program. My primary role at Mote is communication. I am the main resource for students interested in our programs and our program supervisors. A lot of my work centers around answering questions, providing details, and setting students up for success before they arrive for their programs here at Mote.
On top of my usual day-to-day, I get to work with our High School Internship Program — a professional skills and college prep program for students interested in marine sciences. I also collaborate with academic institutions and other organizations in our community to recruit students and develop resources to continue growing our internship program.
Q: What were the biggest challenges you faced in your application management process before moving to SurveyMonkey Apply?
Mote has always been a place where students and volunteers can come to learn and grow, however in 2015, we were reaching a tipping point with our internship application process. Our internship positions were highly sought-after. Hundreds of students were applying, and the numbers were growing each year. While this growth was exciting, processing all of those applications over email was extremely time consuming and inefficient. Wherever there was room for an issue, there was an issue.
Previously, we managed our application and review process over email. Each application was coming through as 3-4 sporadic emails. There were separate emails for the information form, internship materials, and recommendations. On top of that, everything was coming in as attachments which meant we had to download each and every one, which made it really difficult for everyone to keep track of applications.
Q: What was it that made you realize a change was necessary in your previous process?
February is our most intensive month. Between our two programs, I was processing between 500-700 applications, and when each application comes in the form of 3-4 emails, I was getting more than 100 emails per day throughout the month of February. I was so consumed with the process of accepting applications that it was very difficult to manage my regular communication responsibilities.
With my email being totally swamped, I was unable to effectively communicate with applicants and reviewers, meaning a lot of people’s questions were going unanswered during this time, which was not reflecting well on me and my office.
With over 1,000 applicants annually, we started looking for an automated, online application system that would simplify the application process for both our applicants and reviewers. SurveyMonkey Apply offered us a customizable system that met all our needs and requests.
Q: How has selecting SurveyMonkey Apply helped you achieve your organization’s mission or goals?
Apply has streamlined our internship application process, creating a better experience for both the applicants and reviewers. From an administrative standpoint, I can now manage my workload more efficiently and feel confident that incoming interns feel prepared and excited about the experience they’ll receive here with us. Interns are incredibly important to our education mission here at Mote and we want to ensure the best experience possible.
Q: What alternatives did you consider before moving to Apply?
We didn’t really consider any other option than pursuing an existing application system. Since I’d gone through the manual process, I knew what we needed in a system and we needed it quickly, so we opted to find something that fit our needs that was already out there and successful, which is how we came across Apply.
Q: What impact has Apply allowed you to have on the intern community?
Having Apply has allowed me to spend more time on what matters most. I’ve been able to interact more with interns and concentrate my efforts on other responsibilities to make our internship program a success.
Q: Looking to the next few years, what are some areas of your program you are looking to grow with Apply?
In the coming years, I’d like to expand our use of Apply and explore different ways that we can use the system to save time and streamline other processes outside of our internship program. We’re starting to realize that Apply can be used for a number of programs, and it’s exciting to know we may be able to use the platform for our scholarship program as well. We’re also looking forward to learning more about how to customize our programs and how to draw conclusive insights using SurveyMonkey Apply’s reporting tool, to inform future decisions and continue to improve our programs for students.
“If your challenges sound anything like what we faced at Mote, I would highly recommend SurveyMonkey Apply. Automating the application process is so easy with Apply and has resulted in our staff being more efficient and our applicants, reviewers, and admins more satisfied!” – Gina Santoianni