By Preston Banas ’24
This summer the Emergent Media Center (EMC) collaborated on a design challenge project with Vermont Student Assistance Corporation (VSAC) // GEAR UP (Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programming) and GUIDE (Giving Undergraduates Information and Direction in their Education). VSAC // GEAR UP aims to increase high school graduation and post-secondary enrollment rates across the state of Vermont.
An EMC Design Challenge Team centered their work around the preliminary question posed by VSAC:
“How do we engage students to give them information that will either proactively help them avoid crisis situations and/or give them the skills to effectively respond when they hit bumps in the road?”
GEAR UP serves eligible 7th-12th graders in 37 middle and high schools as well as offers transition help through (GUIDE) during the first year of post-secondary education. VSAC is a non-profit organization that provides Vermont-based students with the opportunity and assistance to continue their education by providing resources, scholarships, and financial literacy/assistance to students and their families.
The Design team was composed of five rising sophomore Champlain College student employees: Gwendolyn Sweeney, Hanna Blankenship, Maeve McGuinness, Adrienne Anderson & Dillon Drummond. The team used human-centered design (HCD) to create possible solutions from the GEAR UP and GUIDE program’s preliminary question. HCD is both a methodology and a mindset. As a methodology, it gives people the tools to create innovative and practical solutions to complex problems. As a mindset, it encourages would-be designers to identify with the people they are trying to help and emphasizes the importance of research and collaboration. The team also used question-storming (allowing a team to ask stakeholders questions to better understand their content and challenge) and brainstorming (group discussion to produce ideas or solve problems) to utilize and collect ideas to produce innovative solutions. Brainstorming is an effective way to produce a large number of ideas, generate ideas quickly, expand your portfolio of alternatives, get people unstuck, inject insights from a broader group, build enthusiasm, solve tricky problems, and improve team collaboration.
VSAC’s GEAR UP and GUIDE counselors and students involved in the two programs met to review the team’s insights and potential next steps. The team presented some potential places for GEAR UP and GUIDE programs to rethink and refocus their outreach and engagement to increase the participation of eligible students. We asked the team why there is a need for crisis training and post-secondary education specific to Vermont? Gwendolyn Sweeney inferred that “A very common crisis is students doubting themselves or doubting if post-secondary education is for them. I think another major crisis that many students face is navigating the finances involved with post-secondary education.” Maeve McGuinness also stated that “I might not describe what the GEAR UP and GUIDE programs do specifically as training in the event of a crisis, but more so providing the tools and information to avoid a crisis. I think that this need has come out of a higher level of pressure being put on high school students to attend a college/university, which comes with the potential for an emotional/financial crisis.” Accessibility rather than stress and anxiety of schooling is one of the themes that many students are concerned about when they plan on furthering their education and career in life.
Team member Dillon Drummond thought the goal of this project was to increase the interaction of the GEAR UP and GUIDE programs to as many students who are eligible to join. These students will then have a support system throughout middle school and high school and towards the post-secondary schooling process. These programs will help students with a potential career focus, filling out applications, and financial aid and transition help. Gwen also concurred, “We are thinking about how to better educate GEAR UP and GUIDE audiences and help them understand all of the services these programs offer.”
By gathering insights collected through discussion, question-storming, and brainstorming the team presented to GEAR UP and GUIDE stakeholders. The presentation included several categories of ideas and potential innovations to review with the GEAR UP and GUIDE team. The GEAR UP and GUIDE team expressed validation and identified potential ways in which they could tweak their services to increase engagement and participation in the services for these two programs.
This project has real-world implications that could greatly impact the enrollment of Vermont residents into post-secondary education. The members of the team appreciated the EMC for providing them the tools and resources to complete this project, and are interested in being involved in future projects with the EMC.