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Creating a More Human-Centric Experience for Students: Meet Nick Gould, VP of University Operations Product Strategy

Written by Brad Adams on Oct 1, 2021

Related content: Leadership, Life at 2U

Nick Gould, Vice President of University Operations Product Strategy

Great leaders are hard to come by, especially for a new role within a fast-moving business that is constantly evolving. But when you find one, a leader so clearly passionate about the mission, so aligned with the vision of your organization, and so complementary to the team in skill and innovative mindset, you know it the moment you meet them. For me, this leader was Nick Gould, our vice president of university operations product strategy.

Agile. Decisive. Observant. Strategic. Those are just a few of the many adjectives I think of when it comes to Nick. He specializes in envisioning improved outcomes, breaking down barriers to entry, and creating solution-oriented paths forward–all important skills for an individual responsible for elevating the student and faculty experience. Nick is also willing to challenge the status quo, which is critical to a role that requires the rethinking of our products through the lens of the learner journey from beginning to end.

Aside from his more than 25 years of experience building upon his passion for customer journey mapping and creating experiences that surprise and delight–including a 15-year stint as CEO of Catalyst Group, one of the first UX-focused product design firms–what set Nick apart from the qualified candidate pool was his incredibly high EQ level. He’s a listener and then a doer–always putting the student, in 2U’s case, at the center of all he does.

In short, Nick’s as thoughtful as he is savvy.

Still new to 2U, I asked Nick to share his story–from where he started to what excites him most about the career he has today. I don’t think it will take you long to see what a value add he is to have on the team.

Hey, Nick. Let’s start with your background in operations and product strategy. What led you on the path to the career you have today?

I’ve always had a strong interest in working at the intersection of creativity and human psychology. The process of building something–a product, a service, a company, or a team–based on an understanding of what people need and how they behave has been the through-line across most of my career.

Given these interests, I jumped at the chance to help create a design consultancy that focused on the usability, appeal, and effectiveness (from a business standpoint) of user interactions with digital products–a discipline that later became known as user experience design. This company evolved and grew along with the rest of the technology industry and clients’ deepening understanding of the critical role that customer research plays throughout the product development process. My teams were challenged to apply core product design principles to address a wide array of business problems–no two projects were alike and this always kept us on our toes. This consulting experience has already come in handy at 2U. Given the complexity of our product structure. I’ve had to get up to speed quickly and render informed opinions about many aspects of the business in a fairly short time.

I’m also fascinated by the challenge of organizing and motivating groups of people to work together to achieve complex goals. As an entrepreneur and leader of teams, I’m always searching for new ways to connect groups around inspiring narratives that provide the right balance of strategic guidance and individual autonomy.

What does a VP of university operations product strategy do? Give us your elevator pitch.

The mission of our team is to improve business outcomes, reduce project risk, and increase customer satisfaction by elevating customer experience insight as a key driver for understanding and improving student and faculty journeys.

In what ways are you and your team meeting the needs of students, faculty, and our university partners? What impact does University Operations have on the learner experience?

Our goal is an ambitious one: we want to create a set of enabling tools and teams to help 2Utes create a more human-centric experience across all aspects of the student journey. For an organization of the size and scope of 2U, the best way to do this is with a combination of lighthouse projects that demonstrate positive impact and ongoing education and communication initiatives that inspire teams to try new customer experience strategies. University Operations is responsible for a significant portion of the end-to-end student journey–including some critical handoffs from one stage of the journey to the next. So we have an amazing opportunity to make a positive impact on the student experience within our team.

I’m excited to connect 2U's human-centric culture with the tools and methods that will manifest our commitment to students in the form of the experience we offer them.
— Nick Gould, VP of University Operations Product Strategy, 2U

What excites you most about your new role?

2U is a powerfully mission-driven organization, and there is already tremendous enthusiasm about the idea of putting the learner at the center of our product strategy and development process. I’m excited to connect this human-centric culture with the tools and methods that will manifest our commitment to students in the form of the experience we offer them.

How does 2U’s mission inspire you?

I’m hugely inspired by the many ways that 2U makes top-tier education experiences more accessible and widely available–and how we connect these experiences to career success and fulfillment. As the parent of a newly-minted college freshperson, I have personally experienced the full spectrum of emotions and concerns attached to a higher education decision. I’m excited to be part of an organization that is committed to driving change in this incredibly important space.

What is the biggest opportunity for the University Operations team right now? What about your greatest challenge?

University Operations is responsible for student and faculty interactions across the full journey of their relationship with 2U and our partners. As a result, we are well-positioned to envision that journey as a continuous, seamless conversation, and to identify opportunities to improve specific touchpoints. At the same time, our greatest challenge is the scope and complexity of these journeys. There will never be a one-size-fits-all solution to every student experience across products and programs, but we can define common principles and values that comprise a “2U student experience.”

Let’s switch gears and get a little more personal. What is one lesson you’ve learned in leadership that you apply to your work daily?

Driving change can be messy–with progress in fits and starts–and always takes longer than expected. Build that expectation into your plans and approaches so the inevitable hiccups don’t derail you.

And if you could give anyone interested in a career in operations and product strategy one piece of advice, what would it be?

Most tasks are more marathon than a sprint. As such, resilience and patience are critical qualities to nurture–but we all access these qualities in different ways. Find what works for you to maintain your health (mental and physical) and positivity so you can stay present and engaged for the long haul. Along the way, celebrate the wins with your teams!

Learn more about us.

At 2U, we’re on a mission—to eliminate the back row in higher education and help universities thrive in the digital age. To learn more about who we are and what we do, follow the links below.