Monday, December 7, 2015

Commons Campaign

Holly Kell, Peter Barnes, Michaela Luckey
COMM 250
Jon Carter
NSE Revamp 
 For our Commons Campaign, we decided to create a how-to presentation outlining the specific tasks, specifically for the digital portals like MyRed and Blackboard, newly minted freshman must complete before arriving on campus.
            As we brainstormed potential ideas, we all realized we shared the similar sentiments on the registration process UNL uses: fast, confusing and faulty. For most freshman, Registration Day is a long, exhausting ordeal where one enrolls in classes, receives their N-Card and is given a quick rundown of the university’s procedures.
            Seeing as it only a single day event, some materials such as how to navigate MyRed and Blackboard can fall by the wayside—or at the very least aren’t thoroughly explained so that new students understand their specific purpose and functions. NSE student leader Jonathan Berger agreed that the one-day marathon may not be the most conducive to a smooth transition, “If I could improve any aspect of NSE, I would love to make it a multiple day event. Many other schools do this, and it gives the students an opportunity to get even more familiar with the campus and make tons of friends…I think it would be beneficial for other students to experience campus for a longer period of time as well.”
            In essence, we decided to summarize the specific tasks and accounts that students must have completed/created in order to make the transition into college as smooth as possible and explain what may not be immediately apparent to the applicant.
            In the end, we decided the best route for accomplishing our goals would be to create some sort of digital presentation outlining the process of beginning at UNL that could be easily sent out to students via e-mail, put on a webpage and so on and so forth that could help lessen the strain such confusions wreak on new students.
            With UNL being a large university with a lot of departments, colleges, and resources, the application must be as simple and user-friendly as possible. This is especially relevant at the various points where the applicant is paying large amounts of money to proceed with the application, such as the housing contract.
            Our goal was to provide insight and implementation of said explanations to help the incoming students with their move onto campus. We researched a list of topics, focusing on the areas we believed needed to be more thoroughly covered. This included Blackboard, Housing Contract, Parking Permits, University Bookstore, N-Cards, Husker Hire Link, MyRed, email and registering/dropping classes.
Excerpt from our how-to on MyRed
            We sought out assistance from the Admissions Office, along with the Office of New Student Enrollment, primarily because they are the main providers of communicative assets to the incoming freshman.
            After conducting our interviews, we found a common theme of concern among freshman was indeed various small, technical concerns adding to the already pressing anxiety of adjusting to school.
            For our project we began by first outlining the major points of confusion freshman face upon entering the university. We sorted through the various technical processes UNL requires before you actually set foot on campus such as creating your accounts for both MyRed and Blackboard, applying for parking passes and housing contracts. From there we created our prototype “how-tos” on navigating and operating MyRed and Blackboard, hoping that by explaining which portals are meant for what purposes, how essential they are to your academic success and how soon they must be learned that future incoming students wouldn’t find them to be so daunting. Once this was completed, it seemed appropriate to reach out to the Office of Admissions so we could gauge how open they would be to incorporating our ideas into their material.
Excerpt of our how-to on navigating Blackboard, including accessing grades and MyPlan
            We first interviewed Risa Langelo, the Assistant Director of Admissions. As we spoke with Ms. Langelo she directed us to the Office of New Student Enrollment, realizing they would be more informed on the topics we wished to cover in our presentation. Subsequently, we were put into contact with Angela Cuadros, an former NSE leader. Angela worked with the incoming freshman as their Orientation Leader during their first week at UNL, helping them enroll in classes, adjust to campus as well as field any other concerns they may have arriving for the fall semester.
            “Time management is a big struggle,” Cuadros said. “Freshmen are no longer told exactly where to be for 7-8 hours each day and all the free time between classes can be wasted.”
            When we asked her about the technical troubles facing freshmen, Angela said, “We work really hard to take them step-by-step thru those things, especially during the registration process. We don’t even let parents on the registration floor so that kids feel comfortable doing these things by themselves.”
            We also spoke with Claire Hawkins, a current NSE worker. Claire described the New Student Enrollment as a “well-oiled machine,” however, she also admitted that there is room for improvement within the jam-packed registration days, “During NSE, we don't even talk about Husker Hire Link to my knowledge. We walk them through enrollment as hands off as possible so that they can learn how to use the site themselves, but I can't confidently say that each student leave feeling competent.”
Excerpt slide explaining how to search, enroll and drop courses on MyRed
            Similarly, we interviewed freshmen living at Sandoz Hall and Schramm Hall on what they found the most challenging adjusting to life on campus. Omaha native Mason Brewer cited poor online layouts as one of the most frustrating factors preparing for the fall semester, “Personally, I found the housing contract to be the most tedious and vexing part of the application process.  Not only was the page difficult to navigate, the process of both finding and contacting expected roommates was way harder than it should’ve been. Adjustments to this process is extremely needed and welcomed.”
            After completing the project, we realized it would have made more sense to immediately contact the New Student Enrollment Office as opposed to the Office of Admissions. While the Office of Admissions is a great resource for various information on the university’s processes, they deal more so with attracting potential enrollees, aiding their applying to their colleges and informing students on the bare basics of UNL. Since the NSE Office is comprised of the leaders and counselors who directly oversee freshmen already set on attending, it would’ve also helped us get more information for how to specify questions for freshmen when we conducted our interviews. Essentially, by first interviewing NSE workers, it would have helped streamline our project by cutting out an unnecessary middle man.
            Furthermore, the main factor as to why our project wasn’t as successful as we had hoped was that we as a group should have anticipated how concretely set the NSE programs are. When we contacted Angela and Claire, it became apparent that the NSE Office would not be as open to our project as we originally believed. Mind you, they were open to discussing the ways in which their programs needed improvement and more student feedback; however, it was the idea of implementing new presentations, material and the like that needed approval from higher officials.
            It simply boiled down to protecting the integrity of their programs that they continuously work diligently to improve upon. Effectively, had we anticipated their reluctance to change, we would have spent more time preparing our argument/evidence which in turn would have made our campaign more successful.
            Despite that initial setback, every person we contacted—from the Admissions Office, NSE and students—was amazingly helpful in listening to our ideas, providing thought-provoking feedback and helping to narrow the focus of our project. The freshman students pinpointed the main problem areas in enrollment, such as MyRed, while Angela and Claire provided perspective and experience in fielding such constant questions and concerns. The information we needed to obtain from them was amazingly useful and concise, which in turn helped us pinpoint what needed improvement in our presentation and approach.

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