After doing initial needs assessment for a project at the University of Michigan's Center for Academic Innovation, I composed a set of four springboard stories to help stakeholders understand how an existing system might change to address different types of students' needs. The stories supported a redesign of the Academic Reporting Toolkit, an interface for university members to access enrollment data, grade trends, and demographic information about courses.
This story introduces Omar, one of the four student personas.
Omar:Incoming student exploring options
Omar is excited and nervous about coming to U of M this fall. As a first generation college student and the oldest sibling in his family, he feels pretty clueless about college life in general and has no idea what to expect. He’s been messaging with his old friend Mark from high school who’s a junior on campus, but other than that feels pretty alone since he’s the only person from his graduating class coming to Ann Arbor. That’s one of the reasons Omar chose to join the Residential College. Other than the learning community’s excellent language course offerings, he knows that all RC students are required to live in East Quad for two years and are sure to form a good community. Many of them have already been in touch through groups on social media. He’s even been messaging with his roommate a bit. Despite not choosing a major yet, he knows that the RC will provide an excellent opportunity to find his niche on Michigan’s huge campus.
Now that Omar is in Ann Arbor for orientation, he’s feeling a bit overwhelmed. He’s looking forward to starting school in a few weeks, of course, but doesn’t feel like he has much personalized guidance. He sat in on a panel for financial aid, but still has a lot of questions since he’s paying all his school and living expenses on his own. Will he be able to find a part-time job and balance it with classes? How much is it going to cost for books, supplies, and course materials? Does it cost more if he takes more classes? None of the other students seem to have these same questions. Orientation also makes Omar feel out of place. He keeps hearing about various online systems the university uses for course resources and registration and submitting assignments and other things. He’s never used anything like this before, unlike the other students in his group who all did in high school. Just last week he bought his first laptop with money he’d saved from working his full-time summer job. Students also keep throwing around the names of websites they’re using to decide on classes, but Omar’s never heard of them. He thinks, “Is ratemyprofessor.com actually a legitimate website? I never heard anything about that from our peer advisors...”
Omar’s brief appointment with the academic advisor the first day of orientation was helpful. They didn’t talk much about specific classes, but the advisor assured him it’s possible to have a balanced schedule even if he’s working. She explained how to fulfill some general requirements and simultaneously explore new departments to start thinking about what to major in. The appointment helped him get an idea of what course load is reasonable for a first-year student and how to decide which classes to register for. If nothing else, he was happy to hear about how to explore majors; his parents couldn’t provide much guidance on this front. They’re already so proud that he made it to Michigan and are confident he’ll excel in whatever major he chooses. They say he should shoot for the stars! But he knows that advice will only get him so far when there are hundreds of majors to choose from.
Backpacking courses with the Academic Peer Advisors made Omar realize the seemingly unlimited number of options he has at Michigan. It took a moment to get oriented, since it was the first time he’d ever used a Mac. The Wolverine Access system certainly didn’t make the process easier. Luckily he’d played around with the LSA course guide beforehand and oriented himself with the different requirements. Once he narrowed down his options, he had a lot of questions for the Peer Advisors. Which professors are best? How hard are these courses and what is the workload like? Which requirements should he cover first and which ones can wait until later?
This morning Omar is headed to the academic advisor’s office to officially register for classes. He has some general questions that aren’t clear yet. Where can he find out more about RC requirements and how does he fulfill those too? He’s feeling very hung up on the question of what to major in. He doesn’t even understand what some of the departments at U of M do, so how is he supposed to choose one? The implications of pursuing one major over another still aren’t clear. What do engineers even do, anyways? What does “pre-med” mean? What skills do people get from different majors? What jobs do people get after graduation? He figures a university as big and engaging as Michigan must have information about these things somewhere..