Thursday, April 27, 2017

Commons Campaign Project

Commons Campaign Project
    By: Andrew Fitzke, Oletha Harris, Hiep Ngo, and Joe Huston

According to Iowa State University, freshmen that lived on campus during their first year of college had higher graduation rates than those that lived off campus. Encouraging students to stay on campus can have positive benefits so we felt persuading students to stay on campus after their first year was a legitimate idea. According to the director at HSS, more than half of all freshmen students choose to move off campus after their first year. After students move to apartments or houses off campus, their GPA’s drop significantly compared to those that stay on campus.  Students who live off-campus are almost twice as likely to have a GPA below 1.0 compared to those living on campus. Students living on-campus have an average GPA anywhere from .19 to .97 points higher than their counterparts.
HSS Resident Directors reported that students who move after the completion of their 1st semester rarely do better in the next semester when living off campus. The students that live in the residence halls are much more connected to the school and become more acclimated to the university at a quicker pace, which results in them feeling more engaged both academically and personally. Feeling connected to the university is what most researchers attribute to higher graduation and return rates. Being on campus is convenient for students: teachers, dining halls, the union, recreation center, and tutors, are all within walking distance.
Meeting with the RA’s, we wanted to get a better understanding if our idea could be implemented. We bounced ideas back and forth with them, and most RA’s said students move off-campus because they typically meet new people on their floor and want to get a house with them. It makes sense hearing that, however we believe that if students knew what kind of impact living on campus could have on their academics, then we could persuade them to stay on campus.
Before we began our Commons Campaign project, we first needed to see why so many people wanted to leave campus when there were vast amounts of resources located right on campus. In order to gauge the thoughts of the public, each of us came together in early February and began to type up three different types of questionnaires. There was a total of seven questions that were directed at past, current, and future UNL students that have, will, or are about to live on campus. For our project, we wanted an all-around poll on the population’s thoughts of campus life. After coming up with the questions, we thought we would meet our research needs by splitting into groups of two. The first group of two consisted of Andrew and Hiep; their task was to locate and pass out the first questionnaire to past UNL residents. This questionnaire asked about their experiences in dorms and their reasons for leaving campus. The second group of two, consisted of Oletha and Joe; they were given the second questionnaire which was directed at current residents. The second group stayed on campus and passed out questionnaires to current residents asking if they liked the dorm life, if they were staying on campus, and if not why. Unfortunately, the third questionnaire aimed at possible future UNL students could not be distributed. As a group we thought it was too late in the year to ask high school students their thoughts about living on campus, especially when they had so much on their plates already, and we had enough scheduled on our Campaign calendars we needed to accomplish.
After combining our data, we noticed most answers were what we expected; such as the lack of quality in dining hall food, the outstanding expenses for room and board, and the lack of knowledge students had about how many resources were available to them on campus. To overcome these obstacles we set out to create a website that helped students (past, current, or future) be aware of all of the benefits to living on campus. Hiep was in charge of the design, creation of our website, and our research statistics. But a mere website wasn’t enough to get the masses moving; we also decided to organize different floor meetings for each hall that talked about and explained the benefits to living on campus. Oletha was in charge of organizing and arranging times for RAs to gather the masses, so we could present to those students, as well as try to set up a meeting with University Housing. Still we needed an extra push that would solidify and ensure our voices would be heard, so Andrew and Joe were put in charge of making the PowerPoints for our presentations to the floor RAs, RDs, and other Housing staff. They were also in charge of creating our poster board and pamphlets we handed out and displayed at floor meetings. When we assigned these tasks, we all knew we would need the help of the entire group to accomplish each task. Even though, one person may have overlooked a particular group assignment, we all worked with one another to get it done. Still, the hardest part about getting college students to take time out of their day to recognize our data was troublesome, even with suggested RA floor meetings. That’s why Andrew and Joe played such a huge role in our pamphlet, PowerPoint, and poster board design.

We created pamphlets and a visual representation board that displays information regarding the benefits and drawbacks of living on campus as opposed to living in student apartments. Our pamphlets highlight the feedback we received from students who live in university housing complexes which include quotes from various students who either support on campus housing or how to improve on campus housing. In addition to comments, we also included charts and graphs that reflect the data we analyzed. We feel visualizing the data will help present the analysis in an appealing manner that will draw attention to the data and what students had to say about the livability of the housing on and off campus. These graphs and charts will be supported by information which further explains and includes the costs of various university housing options compared to their student apartment counterparts. The pamphlets include the different distances to University resources such as Love Library, learning commons, and the recreation center from on campus housing compared to off campus housing.
  The pamphlets are meant to support our general poster which will include the same information but can be displayed in public areas. Displaying this information in areas like the Union and the Library will expose our campaign to many more students than just the pamphlets alone. We will grab the attention of students and faculty alike by displaying the general poster, explaining our campaign, and handing them a pamphlet. This will allow them to revisit the information we provided and spread our campaign to other students.

Throughout the course of the semester our project had an overall success rate in its research and follow through of things we had to achieve. However, there were some bumps in the road as far as how we managed our time. When planning out our original timeline, we didn’t think certain objectives might take more time to finish than others.
Our weakness when approaching this project came when we could not find time to meet as a group. This happened no more than twice throughout the span of the project. We addressed this problem by individually setting up specific time slots for us to meet throughout the weeks according to our schedules. By doing this, we greatly reduced the possibility of a group member not showing up by scheduling the meeting weeks in advance.
Another thing we found out after already half way through the project was there were many things we had missed. For example, our data wasn’t complete because reaching out to the  students living on East Campus proved to be more difficult under our time constraints. Also, we were only able to show our PowerPoint, poster boards, and distribute our pamphlets to only twenty two floors.We felt this number should be higher considering we visited The Courtyards, Village, The Suites, HSS, and Abel/Sandoz residential dormitories which in total consist of over fifty floors.
Our strengths lie in the fact we are all students and have either lived in the dorms ourselves or know of someone who currently lives in the dorms. This personal insight gives us a firsthand experience on student living on and off campus. We can accurately testify the benefits and drawbacks of both living situations which helped us draw a more precise conclusion. Another strength we had was our member’s ability to draw resources and knowledge from previous classes and incorporate them into the project. For example, one of our members is an ADPR major, has taken a class on how to conduct interviews, and analyze the data in a professional and efficient manner that is comprehensible. We drew from this knowledge when we conducted our interviews with students and staff who live on and off campus.
Finally, we all agree the biggest learning curve was we all had great ideas, each of us contributed
greatly to the project, however we wanted to do more with the project than time allowed.

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