Every year, around 5,000 incoming students join the Georgia Tech community. There are existing initiatives in place to help them embark on this new journey of their lives – such as early summer credit programs, and various clubs and fairs in the first semester. These programs helps new students find friends and join communities that share their interests.
However, there is a lack of mentorship and resources available to these new students. Most of them do not get the opportunity to talk to upperclassmen outside of the clubs they join. Although there are a handful of mentorship programs available on campus, they have a few limitations:
- They are paid to enroll, leading to an entry barrier ($10 per semester)
- They don't facilitate 1:1 relationships, hence making the experience less personal
- Mentors and mentees pairing isn't a good match, slowly making both parties less interested in each other
Tackling the Problem#
At the start of any project, I try to come up with research questions that can guide my design process. Here are some questions I wanted to get answers to at the end of the project.
- What things would a new student want to know about a university when joining?
- What are some issues new students face during their first semester of university?
- What are the incentives we can offer for experienced students to become a part of this initiative?
Based on all the formative and evaluative research conducted, I found 3 major insights about the problem space.
Mentorships should feel organic.
A lot of users felt that most mentorships are surface level. Answering questions is not the same as mentoring someone. Both sides need to be committed to make it go deeper.
Students need incentives for their time.
Since mentorship is time-consuming, most students want some sort of reward for taking out the time to contribute back to the community.
Following up on each other is hard.
Both mentors and mentees felt like their counterparts were busy, or often forgot to check in with each other for prolonged periods of time. This led to losing touch with each other.
Turning Insights Into Design Ideas
Give options of varying time commitments.
A lot of users in the survey reported that they weren’t a part of a mentorship program due to compulsory time commitments.
Reward students for being a part of the mentorship program.
Encourage students to give back to the community by rewarding them in the form of free food, merchandise and more.
Establish open flow of communication.
Make upperclassmen more approachable by developing a community Q&A between them and new students.
To get higher level design ideas out quickly without worrying much about the design patterns, I chose to follow the Crazy 8's techinique. I kept refering to the insights from the affinity map and spent 1 minute per wireframe.
Low Fidelity Wireframes
Next, I moved on to refining these sketches in Figma and deciding on a design system and its subsequent patterns.
Divide up the onboarding.
Design Iteration: Explain what the app does in multiple screens, highlighting one use case at a time.
Narrowing down the scope.
Design Iteration: Rethink the purpose behind the Community app, and replace it with a Q&A section for quick help & encouraging interaction between experienced and new students.
Finding balance of hand holding and freedom.
Design Iteration: Redesign the mentor guide in the gamified way, introducing badges and subtler nudges to do activities & experiences together as a mentor & mentee.
After 3 iterations of user feedback, the final solution ended up focusing on a smooth onboarding, multiple ways to interact with the student community, and a way to earn and redeem rewards for participation.
Getting set up and discovering mentors.
- The Onboarding helps students understand the main features of the app, and allows mentors & mentees to create personalized profiles.
- To reduce new user registration fatigue, the app integrates with the GT Login API to auto-fill a majority of data required. It also asks them to rank their needs from a mentor to help find better pairings.
- The Discover tab shows potential matches, focusing on what mentees & mentors can talk to each other about, and a small blurb about themselves. Students also have the ability to quickly change their match filters on the go from this screen.
Helping fostering real relationships.
- The core value of the app is in its social features to help mentors connect with mentees. This app doesn't try to circumvent in-person interaction, but rather encourages it by smart calendar integrations, badges to give ideas on possible things to do while earning rewards.
- The Q&A section allows students to get quick help, one of the insights from the user interviews. As a way to encourage students to contribute, there are small nudges present throughout the page which indicate the user’s progress to the next reward cycle.
Redeeming rewards and referrals.
- Students can quickly change their profile settings, and view their accumulated points which can then be redeemed at food places across campus, shop for GT merchandise, and get academic incentives like early access to career fairs and exclusive networking events.
- They can also earn more points by referring their fellow students to become a part of this community. These features are at the core of the app's strategy to onboard as many students as possible through grapevine communication across campus.
- During this sprint, I learned how to empathize with a user group in a limited time frame by interviewing a diverse set of users that are representative of a whole population.
- The result was a platform that connects new students with experienced students and encourages the GT student community to contribute and help each other in order to strengthen our student community and gain rewards while doing it.
- If I had more time on this project, I would have liked to recruit and interview members of student associations and freshman orientation committees to better understand initiatives put in place to make freshmen feel at home.
- Conduct another round of usability testing with the high fidelity prototype to get feedback on the app's visual design and gestures.
- Brainstorm more ways to further increase student participation on the platform.