“How many units should I register for?”
“Where do I pay my account balance?”
“What clubs can I join?”
“Where can I find more information about study abroad?”
These are just a few of the hundreds of different questions that incoming Cal Poly Pomona students ask during Orientation and throughout their first year. Fall 2019 freshmen and transfer students are able to ask them through Billy Chat, an artificial intelligence text messaging robot.
“Billy Chat empowers our incoming students to ask questions about the Cal Poly Pomona experience and get timely answers,” said Terri Gomez, associate vice president for student success. “This tool also provides us with an opportunity to send timely and relevant information to contribute to their persistence and success.”
Billy Chat lives inside a student’s text messaging app in their smartphone. The Office of Student Success has worked with campus partners to develop question-and-answers for a variety of topics, such as student financials, registration and academic planning, and co-curricular opportunities. Students can text Billy 24/7.
“Billy Chat responds to questions in a very conversational tone,” said Cecilia Santiago-Gonzalez, director of strategic initiatives for student success. “It’s important to us that we meet students where they’re at, and students tend to be inseparable from their phones. They like to get answers in a quick and convenient way.”
Throughout the academic year, the university will also use the tool to send both general and targeted outreach campaigns reminding students of deadlines, announcements and campus services. If a student asks a question that Billy doesn’t have an answer for, a team of staff and students in the Office of Student Success will step in.
“We’re looking forward to using real-time data to make Billy as smart as he can be,” said Jessica Wagoner, senior associate vice president for enrollment management and services. “If we notice that there are trends in questions that Billy doesn’t know how to answer, we’ll be able to review and strengthen the existing answers.”
Billy Chat’s platform is hosted by AdmitHub, an educational technology company that specializes in artificial intelligence. Billy Chat is currently only available to incoming students, but the university is planning to expand in future academic years.
Cal Poly Pomona is part of a consortium of CSUs – Channel Islands, East Bay, Humboldt, Northridge, San Marcos and Sonoma – who are working with AdmitHub to deploy these chatbots. In March 2019, the consortium received a grant from the Irvine Foundation to jumpstart the initiative and work towards expanding it to more students.