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Transforming higher education ecosystem

Design Research

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Systems Thinking

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Applied Sociology

PROJECT

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. 

 
Illustrated Eyes
The initial CHALLENGE and problem definition

RESEARCH

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To find inspiration outside the immediate

context of the research.

INSPIRATION
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To gain knowledge and expertise to understand and respond to the needs, challenges, and concerns of project collaborators.

IMMERSION
Perspective building via mental-health first aid certification, webinars by ACPA and We are SAATH movement membership.
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To get a deep insight into the lived experiences, pain-points, needs and motivations of Indian  Students and university staff members.

EMPATHY
Interviews with students from four American Universities, student counsellors, cultural competency experts and MICA staff members. 
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To navigate the existing research and problem framing in various media as a way to facilitate the future direction.

CONTEXT
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

INSIGHTS

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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.

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Opportunities that emerged after synthesis
The evolved CHALLENGE and problem definition
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HOW MIGHT WE 

CREATE CULTURALLY 

RELEVANT SUPPORT 

SYSTEMS FOR INDIAN

INTERNATIONAL

STUDENTS?

FROM
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TO

IDEATION

The project process prioritised student collaboration, privacy and confidentiality. The ideation was a culmination of this collaborative journey.
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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
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Ideation table buzzing with ideas

OUTCOME

Workshop facilitator offering insights into student journey, needs, challenges and recommendations for MICA  staff.
Co-presenter at the annual AICAD symposium In collaboration with Sukyun Weaver, Graduate Liberal Arts Faculty and ELL specialist at MICA
Built a tool-kit that offers time, space and cost effective action-based recommendations for university faculty and staff application. View a few tools below: