Community on Campus: Advice from Upperclassmen
As a student leader, I have a vested interest in helping other students succeed and feel at home on campus, and as a UX practitioner, I also have a strong passion for understanding the highs and lows of a student's college journey. For me, student leadership is an opportunity to leverage UX tools and strategies to alleviate painpoints that plague students and detract from their college experience.
In this blog post, I'll introduce one initiative that was inspired by a survey of second year/sophomore students: the "Advice from Upperclassmen" feature on our group Instagram account, @sagcca.
Toward the end of the spring 2021 semester, I spearheaded a small-scale UX research effort to survey second year students to better understand what aspects of the sophomore year experience are working well and not-so-well. This entailed creating a survey that managed to collect all the information we needed without being too long for students to get through.
With classes being online still at this point in the pandemic, we struggled to reach students, but we got enough data to begin to see some patterns emerge; notably, that students were overwhelmed by negative emotions as they began their sophomore year. Students were anxious about getting new professors, starting more difficult classes, not feeling part of a school community, and general concerns about issues like housing or finances. Further, on average, students indicated that, looking back, they generally felt underprepared for their second year of college.
A core principle of our group, the Sophomore Advisory Group, has long been the notion of connections and knowledge-sharing between upperclassmen and underclassmen. We have other initiatives that we've built around this notion, but I saw a new opportunity with our research findings.
Currently, students feel unprepared. At the end of their sophomore year, they look back on it and realize that they didn't know what to expect going into it, or that their expectations were completely wrong. I also saw in our survey results that while some students did have existing connections with upperclass students within their major, many did not. This became the perfect opportunity area for our next initiative called Advice from Upperclassmen.
My concept was simple: reach out to upperclassmen from all majors at the college and ask them to share a snippet of advice for someone starting their sophomore year, or just something that they wish they had known when they were a sophomore themselves. I got lots of responses – students were really eager to share and support their peers!
With some students still studying remotely in online classes as of the fall 2021 semester, social media was the best tool to reach the new sophomore class. I've taken the lead of developing our Instagram presence over the last year, and we'd managed to get a decent portion of that year's sophomore cohort following us.
I designed a simple template in Illustrator to feature advice quotes that we collected, plus a line for attribution to the student who contributed it. I had collected so many pieces of advice that I opted to make it a daily feature to count down the last week of summer vacation and through the first week of classes. Knowing from our research that students were feeling especially anxious and uncertain in this time period, I carefully chose this timeline to deliver helpful and motivational content to students when they needed it most.
Below is a selection of advice we shared with students:
This initiative received positive engagement from students, and the concept was made possible thanks to insight from research. My key takeaway is that even small-scale research can reveal preliminary findings and relevant insights. UX doesn't have to be limited to interface or product designs; we can (and should!) apply it anywhere the needs of an audience are concerned.