College Persistence + Completion Capstone Project Begins

We just began our second quarter at AC4D and were assigned new teams that will work together to carry out our capstone projects, which will continue through the end of the program in late April 2019. Our new team consists of Susi Brister, Catherine Woodiwiss, and Shelly Stallings, who will be working together alongside our classmates as a whole to research and address the broader topic of college persistence and completion.

Before diving into a project, it’s common to have a kick-off meeting with team members and stakeholders to discuss challenges, hopes and ideas. For Quarter 2, we are partnering with PelotonU, an Austin-based non-profit focused on providing post-secondary educational support, to investigate the changing landscape of college students and their needs.

Sarah Saxton-Frump, the Chief Operating Officer at Peloton U, visited our initial Q2 class to help us understand the challenges faced by current post-traditional students as well as how PelotonU serves these needs. While they are partnering with us on the first 8-week research stage of the project, we are encouraged to think broadly about this problem area, rather than considering them a client with strict business constraints.


Catherine Woodiwiss and Shelly Stallings work side-by-side to refine our team’s research plan.

As a small team of three, we had a project kick-off meeting and started with getting to know each other by comparing preferences for working styles and considering our various team roles, strengths, and personal challenges that we wanted to work on this quarter.

Next, we worked together to create a research plan, and to craft a particular research focus that we were all excited about. Because the topic college persistence and completion is so broad it leaves a lot of room for exploration, but also a lot of overwhelming ambiguity in terms of where to begin.

During the week’s team meetings, we defined three team roles – project manager, physical asset and environment manager, and communications manager. We want to ensure that communication issues and late deliverables do not quickly become the only conversation in regular status meetings and that we aren’t individually duplicating work or unknowingly letting tasks fall through the cracks. We also decided that we would shift these roles through each quarter of the remaining program, to give each of us the opportunity to fulfill each position.


Making sense of our research plan in the early stages.

At the end of the first week of the project, we have refined our research focus and created a work plan, which serves as a comprehensive document that outlines the scope of our research and exactly how we would conduct interviews with research participants.

After a few group discussions and feedback from faculty, we realized that we are all really interested in how culture, community, and family influence the choices young people make and the challenges they face when thinking about post-secondary education. We are also interested in the particular population of first-generation Americans, and their experiences with growing up in the US but with strong family ties to other ethnic backgrounds, and how that unique experience affects the role of post-secondary education in their lives. We intend to speak with first-generation Americans ages 18-25 to learn how individuals in this population feel about the idea of college, what role culture and family play in shaping expectations and beliefs about post-secondary education, as well as general motivations and challenges they face with pursuing education and/or their plans for the future. We hope to speak with young first-generation Americans from a variety of ethnic backgrounds to understand differences in cultural/community expectations, and are interested in stories from individuals who have entered into some form of post-secondary education and from those who have not.

When we introduced our initial research focus statement to Jon Kolko, he asked how to consider how we would define success for our group research. This was a key question to ask ourselves and has become a grounding force while facing the complexity and chaos of the ‘fuzzy front end’ of a major research project. For us, success for this portion of our capstone project would mean learning how first generation Americans starting out in their adult lives after high school feel about going to college (or not) and then being able to apply that valuable information to the broader context of college persistence and completion, or even more broadly, to providing services that meet the needs of that population, whether college is part of that equation or not.

Our research plan link:


Design Thinking VS Problem Solving

A Chinese graphic designer is looking for skills upgrade from western experts

Chinese kid: “Mr. Horst, the world is fucked, I am doing design research solving the wicked problem in China, I want to upgrade my skills, so let’s start over, we need a plan.”

Horst: “No, no, no, It’s not possible to design ‘ solutions’ to a certain class of problems that routinely face planners. Wicked problems have criteria pluralism of values, creates and challenges.”

Chinese kid: “ah, so no plan?”

Herb: “Horst, I think the design is a method for dealing with ill-structured problems and involves building models that reflect constraints and an evolving understanding of the problem space which changes with new knowledge and is based on long-term memory.”

Chinese kid: “Hmm, sounds interesting to me.”

Edward de Bono: “Hey! kid, give me $50, I can help you to upgrade skills, I can teach you how to be creative because creativity can be designed through the process of thinking.”

Chinese kid: “Yahh, that would be great, let’s do it, I never thought creativity can be designed, because, in China, the education system sucks, it kills creativity.”

Richard Buchanan: “Kid, You also need to build up some design abilities, such as tolerate uncertainty, working with incomplete information, use drawings and other modeling media as means of problems solving.”

Chinese kid: “hmm, that sounds a lot to develop, but I don’t find the motivation to learn those abilities, and facing ambiguity? No way, that’s hard.”

Jocelyn Wyatt: “Ha… I understand, what Richard described is what we call” design thinking”. Traditionally, designers have focused on improving features of products and overlooking the true needs of people, so design thinking is the human-centered method that can help to solve wicked problem globally, the places where people live and think differently.”

Chinese kid: “Okay, but I still don‘t know what is the meaning of design thinking?”

Richard Buchanan: “well, design thinking is an integrative practice- the liberal art of technological culture. Design problems are wicked because the design has no special subject beyond what designers conceive it to be. The design is universal in scope because it can be applied to any area of human experience but designers create particulars out of specific circumstances. Design (Plans) are an argument.”

Chris Pacinoe: “Actually, design thinking is not new but a reemergence of thought from Alexander back in the 1960s. Especially, In this information age, everyone can adopt such a method.”

Chinese kid: “Really? Design thinking sounds very powerful, but how can I work with Chinese colleagues who don’t have those abilities back to China? It feels like designers are still necessary, but western design thinking is not enough.”


Add meanings to people

I did some interesting practice on sketching over 50 people this week, those sketches are a direct representation of my stories from real life, whether it be cartoonized or realistic, made by pencil or pen. Also those people added an extra layer of “ meaning” .
To start, I needed to choose types of people, I choose family, individuals, kids with grandparents, different ages, different roles, some people are big, some people are slim. My mission was to quickly sketch fifteen people using different ways within 30 minutes. A lot, huh? I thought so, too. But I decided to give it a try.
At the beginning, it was easy to limit my tools only to pencil. I was easily lost in the details of lines. I had to put this people into context: What objects should I added into those scenes?

1 2
I used a combination of techniques that I learned from foundational classes to make a few others, it worked
Next, I start to sketch a group of people showing interaction each other. The first thing coming to my mind was a kid sitting on the ground, his grandpa sits on the chair reading the newspaper. When I thought about this, I felt warm and an image of sweet home came to mind.
What else? I’ve seen people walking around in the domain, I thought that could be interesting place to find stories. And it turned out, this was the best area observing people.
Lastly, I remember I was exhausted by keeping sketch for around three hours.
Like Pat said, energy management is like Long distance running, in order to reach to the destination, it requires energy balance.

Take aways: a topic on design research

This week I’ve been reading quite a few articles on design research, I agree that design research opens up many new opportunities, when it comes to trying to solve problems with creativity. I think, as a designer, it’s very important to keep the right mindset — how you think will have direct impacts on whether you will arrive at innovative and impactful solutions.

Takeaways from those articles:
1, Be empathetic. Understand people and their needs. Be explorative, stay curious about different things, different people and different places. Experience them. Try new things out.
2, Willing to embrace ambiguity. If things are starting out not right, no worries, start there and try something else, keep moving.
3, Be optimistic. Always think what you can do to move things forward, always try to look for opportunities and possibilities to move things forward.
4, Iterate, iterate, iterate. Do not try to perfect your solutions in one go, keep improving it.

Design research is foundational to creating products, services, and systems that respond to human needs. Within articles, eight authors mentioned different types of research: cultural probes (Gaver), co-creation (Sanders), qualitative research (Christopher and Jon Kolko), ethnographic –style (Suri).

A good design will address your evaluation questions,  an evaluation to examine whether the program is working, and explore how to choose the one that best meets needs. The question is as a designer how do you go about deciding what kind of research design will best serve the purposes of evaluation.

The answer to that question involves an examination of four areas:

The nature of the research questions are trying to answer
The challenges to the research, and the ways they can be resolved or reduced
The kinds of research designs that are generally used, and what each design entails
The possibility of adapting a particular research design to the program or situation – what the structure of the program will support, what participants will consent to, and what resources and time constraints are

Assignment 2 - Theory

Pick up the pencil again

My second week of classes is complete! It has been crazy busy.

Our schedule for the whole week:
• Monday lecture & discussion
• Interview with participants at Buzz Mill (Austin & San Marcos)
• Assignment due on Wednesday for sketch
• Assignment due on Thursday for theory readings and presentation

I spent 15 hours nights and weekend on my sketch assignment. Although I haven’t done serious sketching for years, I can still pick up techniques fairly fast, with my fine art background and knowledge from way back on school. It’s definitely not easy to get a complete grasp since there are a lot of new techniques to figure out.
After so many hours of digging into, here are what I’ve completed:

Circle 1 CL3 ELLIPSE4 TB 4

Anyway, I’m very proud of what I’ve done already!

Reflections for last week

I enjoyed a great week with my group members on field research, with my classmates on theory classes and my favorite sketching class.

Group Discuss

Watching my teammates discuss “Humanitarian” and google search its definition is fascinating to me. (20, Aug)


We went to the Refugee Service of TX to figure out whether they would join our research project as a school assignment. During the visiting, I found that most of the languages appeared in office are Arabic, Spanish, Swahili, English but no Chinese. (20, Aug)


No matter the presentation for a research plan or individual opinions on theory classes are require public speaking, and I have always been introverted since I was a child. I am not used to expressing in front of everyone. I am not comfortable with the environment in which everyone speaks positively… When my American classmates flocked to each other, I always felt a bit timid, afraid that I had asked a fool question, or gave the fool to answer.  I feel that others have said that they can express their opinions sometimes I have a wonderful idea in my mind, but sometimes I can’t find the right English words for my thoughts in the brain.

If I really want to improve the language level, I need to take the initiative to find opportunities, because if I can’t seize the opportunity to express my opinion, then I will gradually be ignored. So the goal must be set. (22, Aug)






Big Reflection Day

What a great experience sharing and learning workshop today!!!
Two guidelines for this workshop:
1. Share personal experiences with teammates.
2. Share experiences openly and honestly.
Adam, our major host, guided the workshop using a structured framework that made this kind of sharing more productive.
1. We broke into small teams (two people). Each has a presenter and timer.
2. We started with sharing best and worst experiences in the last 5 days, so that we got into an “experience sharing” mood.
3. The presenter, the main experience sharer, talked about a problem/issue she/he experienced with more details: challenges, emotions, action.
4. The presenter shares her/his takeaways and team members share as well.
5. Each person shares takeaways in front of people.
This is a really interesting interaction. As a team member talked about herself/himself, I can relate my experience to her/his experience, and that made it easier to see things from her/his perspective. Therefore, I took what she/he learned to be part of my knowledge base.
After that workshop, I can tell everyone in the room more open to each other.
I’m thinking where I can apply this approach to, and why this type of sharing or phenomenon not exisit among people in China?

My official sketching class

Today’s class is about “ Forms of Making”, which is to use sketching as a method to express ideas. It is an exercise that requires me mind to be loose and encourages me to see problem and tasks from different angles. I didn’t have a good amount of time to make this into pretty sketches, but did spend some time thinking about it.

Our group focus: add “Delight, Joy” moments to bus riders.
It’s very easy to get bored riding the bus, so Bus riders are those we should help them achieve that.

My initial thoughts went to the most common idea happening at bus stations in China, which is through LED poster people could scan QR code, download the metro app, inside app user can buy tickets, check live map, watch movies. But, our group find that idea would hard to achieve because LED poster is not popular here.

During the whole brainstorming, it’s too easy to just give opinions on things, but the real challenge is whether I can do some thinking on the original intention — why it was built that way, how it can be better.

Anyway, after talking out different ideas about insights.
We landed on the idea of combining rewards + game feature in metro app, so people would find motivation to ride a bus because of deals.

Again, we didn’t have time to make things into digital, so here’s our rough idea of how it works:
Once the user on the bus, he/she will receive notification saying “ Riding Capmetro? Click your route to play for discounts”. Click it, Choose the one restaurant or bar nearby your bus, Get the deal, Redeem it in the restaurant or bar.