Project: M.A. Social Design capstone project
Role: Lead Design Researcher and Strategist
To view the project brief and process in a nutshell, check out my Social Design exchange video presentation.
International students contribute over $30 billion to the American economy and Indian students form the second largest pool of incoming students. Yet, American institutes of higher learning are unable to offer culturally relevant and holistic support to meet their unique needs. My thesis project explores: (i) the impact of acculturation on Indian international students and highlights their unique needs and pain points
(ii) the limitations and challenges within university systems and simple, cost effective and innovative tools that offer students culturally relevant and need specific support.
The initial CHALLENGE and problem definition
To find inspiration outside the immediate
context of the research.
Applying analogous inspiration by studying Intercultural Counselling Connection and participation in the Maryland Immigrant Rights Coalition.
To gain knowledge and expertise to understand and respond to the needs, challenges, and concerns of project collaborators.
Perspective building via mental-health first aid certification, webinars by ACPA and We are SAATH movement membership.
To get a deep insight into the lived experiences, pain-points, needs and motivations of Indian Students and university staff members.
Interviews with students from four American Universities, student counsellors, cultural competency experts and MICA staff members.
To navigate the existing research and problem framing in various media as a way to facilitate the future direction.
Secondary research to understand the historical, social, and political context around the international student community.
Peek into my notes: Navigating the different dimensions of the problem
A FEW TENSIONS
STUDENT SERVICES STAFF SAY
A FEW KEY INSIGHTS
Need a safe space that acknowledges the racist past, and opportunities that encourage intercultural discussions.
Need preparedness programs with information on local cultural cues, and guidance to navigate American health, banking, visa and insurance systems.
Curriculum designed according to the majority, whether it is the students from the U.S. or from another country.
Struggle to avoid information overdose and effectively reach out to students prior to the move and during orientation.
The US educational system is designed around white Americans. The rest of the students are considered ‘others’.
Need response-based and culturally oriented support from on-campus counselling and wellness programs.
Need student-centred classroom and on-campus services and programs.
International students, especially Indian and Chinese seek counselling only when when they reach a breaking point.
Students come from a number of different countries, designing student experiences for each community and culture is not feasible.
Within this group of ‘others’, universities design support services that favour the needs of the majority. As a result, the lone student slips through the cracks.
Need diverse pedagogical representation and culturally competent counsellors.
Financial and legal constraints pose difficulty in ensuring culturally competent counsellors and diverse pedagogical representation.
While the discourse within the educational forums recognise challenges of international students, no action- based and effective recommendations exist.
Opportunities that emerged after synthesis
The evolved CHALLENGE and problem definition
HOW MIGHT WE
SYSTEMS FOR INDIAN
The project process prioritised student collaboration, privacy and confidentiality. The ideation was a culmination of this collaborative journey.
The session was divided into 3 parts
RECOGNITION AND REFLECTION
Taking consent via form
Participant persona and empathy mapping exercise
Icebreaking 'Imagine This' (What could this bottle be?)
RESONATION & POWER SHARING
Presenting process, data points and opportunity areas.
Sharing decision making - each students casts 2 votes for opportunities that resonate with them the most
RESPONSE & FEEDBACK
Ideation on voted ideas with and without prompts, eg. ideas that don't require talking
Feedback session and inputs for way forward