The Ambiguity of a Focus Statement: Starting Research

Team members: Christina Davis and Kay Wyman

We’ve embarked on our capstone project we will complete over the next 24 weeks!

As a class, we are focused on the topic: College Persistence and Completion for Post- Traditional Students. We are partnering with Peloton U, a local organization dedicated to the mission of providing working students a pathway and support to graduate from college on-time and debt-free.

In the week following our first studio class of Q2, Kay and I have researched (and researched), created a focus statement, and crafted a research plan… with many iterations of the latter two in the last 7 days. Our research will focus on understanding how prospective post-traditional students make educational decisions to achieve a degree and what types of resources and information are used in the process. We are focusing our research on students who have taken active steps to enroll in college, including students who were previously enrolled and plan re-enroll. We chose to focus on people making decisions around attending school because, in addition to identifying resources future students access to inform their decisions, we can identify and gain insight into other life circumstances that influence educational decisions.

On Friday we set out into the field and had our first meeting with an advisory stakeholder, College Forward. During our meeting we learned about the support services they provide to students in the 11th grade thru college. Aside from the in-person support provided, College Forward is doing remarkable work to increase student success rates across the country through technology they have created for tracking student progress and outcomes, which is available for free.  I love that College Forward is focused on scalability as they attempt to solve student completion rates.

On Saturday we immersed ourselves at ACC Fest, an event at Austin Community College providing information on career paths. The entire experience was engaging and provided a handful of learning opportunities:

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  1. Pay attention to your surroundings outside of class: As a habitual billboard reader, this event was screaming in my face as I turned onto Springdale Rd!
  2. Be ready to improvise: We arrived ready with a tape recorder, gift card incentives, and consent forms in case we found an immediate interview opportunity, although anticipated we would mostly set up appointments. Approaching people in a large atrium with a band playing proved tough and we took a minute to regroup next to a table, an empty table. Like lightning, we realized we had found the perfect opportunity to stand behind a table like all the ‘official’ information providers and the students/ prospective students began to come to us!
  3. Watch and wait: We were most successful when we observed people’s behavior and activities for a while before approaching. People who stopped at the tables to chat with representatives and people who were smiling proved most interested in providing us their contact information for follow up screening. This was also beneficial in helping us to determine which attendees seemed truly interested in enrolling in college as opposed to the crowds surrounding the table handing out rubber duckies.

Today, Kay and I had a notable experience that we felt captured an essence of why we are here at AC4d and the work we will be doing as designers. We had great discussions (in a team-ly fashion) and evolved our research plan together, including narrowing our participants from students and potential students to (very serious) potential students and past students seeking to re-engage. As we expressed our ideas around the pros and cons of the options, we both had hesitations to eliminate people we had met at ACC to whom we already felt a connection, shared empathy, and had a deep desire to help.