Re-Creating the Student Experience

In partnership with Utah State University (USU) and funded by a Lumina Foundation for Education grant, BIF gave undergraduates the opportunity to use real-world research and design methodologies to help USU and its students better track and communicate the competencies and capabilities they acquired over the course of their education. In two semester-long design studios, students developed a novel set of solutions USU could — and did — implement to improve their college experience.

Design Challenge

To lead undergraduates in developing new web-based approaches to supporting student success that are tightly linked to their evolving personal, academic, strategic, and financial goals.

BIF and Utah State University put undergraduates in the driver’s seat of a new kind of student-led R&D effort to transform education. In doing so, they exposed students, college administrators, and faculty to an integrated model of design research that brought the student experience to the center of USU’s conversation about improving the education system and student outcomes. Students were tasked with finding fresh approaches to support student success and timely progress toward degree completion, and were given the tools, methodologies, and processes to develop innovative design concepts to improve the student experience. Specifically, the students were charged with envisioning a new student support services model that would be easy for students to navigate and attuned to their ongoing self-discovery and self-actualization. 


Students at Utah State University — an institution known for advancing innovative programs and experiences — were involved in two 16-week design studios. The courses, co-taught by USU Associate Professor Jennifer Peoples and BIF staff, introduced undergraduates to a student-centered participatory design process for transformation. In the first studio, students learned and applied principles of design thinking in real-time with a “research-design-ideate” discovery phase, in which they planned and conducted research into the experience of fellow students, developed insights, and generated solution ideas. In the experience design phase of the second studio, students designed and generated conceptual prototypes of their digital student service solutions, and then tested and refined them “in the field” with students at USU.

Impact Statement

After identifying that students at USU do not take advantage of many services to aid them through their college experience — or even know that they exist — the design teams addressed this “engagement gap” by reimagining how students might access existing information and services more effectively. They envisioned an entirely new experience framework and interaction model for the delivery of student services — turning a siloed, institutionally-focused student services experience into a web-based, one-stop shop model that was customer-focused, seamless across university services, and personal to the student. At the end of the semester, students presented their research and solution ideas for a new e-Student Service platform strategy to a group of USU officials. One of the solution ideas — the “Aggie Genome Project” — was selected by the University for conceptual prototyping and officially launched in fall 2013. Learn more about the process in the project’s microsite or by listening to a student designer’s TEDx talk about the experience.

More broadly, the success of this effort shows the value of foregrounding students’ voices and action in transforming education systems. There is a double-win here: the students involved in the design studios gained valuable skills and competencies, and the larger university community benefited from their efforts.