Mobile Leader of the Month: Pacific University

Submitted by on Mon, 01/23/17

Pacific - Blog Image

In our monthly blog series Mobile Leader of the Month, we talk with organizations that are creating exceptional mobile experiences. This month we spoke with Katie Lightcap, a Biology major and the VP of Communications of the Student Senate at Pacific University.

The demand from the student body and the resulting work that the Student Senate has put into the Pacific app, Boxer Mobile, demonstrates the profound impact that student governance can have on institutional technology. This is truly a case of government by the students, for the students.

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About the organization:

Pacific University is a diverse learning community in Oregon with campuses in Forest Grove, Hillsboro, Eugene, and Woodburn. The undergraduate population hails from nearly every state and across 20 countries.

Established: 1849

Student population: over 3,800 enrolled; nearly 2,000 undergraduates

Nickname: Boxers, named after the school’s legendary mascot, a dragon-like creature

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Why is mobile important for students today?
Mobile is important for students today because of the technology that we’ve grown up with. It’s something that the Millennial generation and the generation that follows are really comfortable with.

I think that utilizing mobile strategies to get in touch with students and share information they would be interested in is really vital to a college experience nowadays whether we like it or not. It’s learning what each generation is in tune with and taking advantage of that.

How did you become involved in managing the school’s app?
Last year I was the administrative assistant for the Student Senate, so I worked really closely with last year’s VP of Communications, Cameron Chapman. He was a part of the original team that installed and initiated this app.

When he found out that I was interested in following in his footsteps, he got me more involved and sent me to the conference [Kurogo Higher Ed Mobile Conference] last year.

There are five of us [on the Senate]: the President, Vice President of Campus Betterment, Vice President of Finance, Vice President of Leadership, and then myself, the VP of Communications.

It falls under my job description to maintain and run the app. We do talk about it in our general meetings to see if we had any feedback or any ideas from the students that we could incorporate. I’m always open to those, regardless, but I’m the one who puts those into effect.

This last year I hired an assistant–he’s an app guru. His name is Charlie Davis, and he’s a sophomore. He’s really involved in the app as well, and helps me maintain it and look for new direction that we can go with the app. We’re constantly trying to keep it as up-to-date as possible for students and incorporate new features that users might be interested in.

The undergraduates at Pacific funded your university app. Tell us more about that.
Every year when students pay tuition, they also have a student activities fee. All of the student activity fees makes up the Student Senate budget.

One thing that we heard from a lot of students was that they wanted a university app. So, we talked about it for months and months, and then we took it to a vote and we decided to go forward with that.

Since we have the responsibility of representing the students and we’re working with their money, we felt it was important to take off with this project because that’s what we were hearing.

Does having students manage a university app (vs staff) create a different type of experience for the student population?
Definitely.

Our generation is much more familiar with social media platforms, like Snapchat and Twitter. If we were able to incorporate things like that more fluidly over a different generation, then it could promote the success of the app tremendously.

It’s not to say that other generations can’t do that; it’s just that students nowadays, they’re way more involved and way more tech savvy than the average person. To encourage the progress and success of the app [you need] to have a student there who understands what modern students are using and what they’re looking for in the app.

What are you hearing from your fellow students about what they like about the app?
Currently the most popular feature is the calendar feature because the Kurogo platform has really cool software where you tap on an event and it downloads straight to your own phone calendar. A lot of students use that for the sporting events so that they know when to come in and when certain people and certain teams are playing.

We also just revamped the app. We’re still working on a soft relaunch; but it’s got a Boxer Connect page [with] live feeds. If there are any sports events, they have those live streaming. The Boxer Radio has a link there, so you can listen to that. There’s a Photo of the Week that we update. So, it’s constantly changing. It’s very fluid.

What’s the purpose of the soft launch?
We had our official launch last February to the main student body and it was really successful. But over the summer and over the past semester we’ve heard that the layout was pretty generic, it was pretty boring and not interactive.

We were inspired by the University of North Carolina, their Carolina GoApp. The layout that they had was a Spectra homepage, so we piggybacked off of their idea, and we’re trying to make the app more modern, more color, more live streams, more updates. Something that’s more living rather than an static app.

Are there university apps or other apps in general that you took inspiration from?
The CarolinaGo app just for the layout, but also the Kurogo conference app from last year just because of all of the color it had in its layout. We tried to mix the two by taking the Spectra layout but making it more colorful, more vibrant.

How do you promote your app?
We have digital signage around campus. We have TV screens in the main buildings, both academic and dorms. [For] any posters around campus, you can submit a digital file to our digital guru over in Student Life and he will tweak it so it fits the screens. Then we run slides anywhere from two seconds to 30 seconds.

Another thing we’re going to do is the soft launch during our Spring Club Fair. That’s where all the clubs come together to encourage students to sign up for the next term. We get a lot of foot traffic during that.

Are students using the app as their first checkpoint for information? How often are they checking it?
With the new layout that we’ve relaunched, we’ve had a lot more traffic because it is a little more intuitive, and I guess more fun to play with. We have seen more people turning to the app to look up professors’ office hours or where their office is located because there’s a staff directory. It’s much quicker to use the app to find that rather than to open up your laptop, logging in, and searching that way.

A lot of students are just [going] in to see our Boxer Connect live update page. They’re seeing the latest poll, the latest photo of the week. Things like that.

Do you do anything with that poll information?
Usually they’re fun polls like, “What was your favorite meal in the university center?” We look at the feedback, and if it’s relevant information, we’d take that favorite food information and then send it to [dining services].

Other times we’d [have a poll] like, “What do you think the score vs the Lynfield Pacific football team will be?” Then for the student who’s closest, if they opt-in (they can share their email), we’d send them a $5 Starbucks gift card. Things like that, just to encourage involvement. Hopefully students will see that it’s not an aimless questionnaire, but it goes places. It is applied.

Have you talked to other schools where the students are owning the app?
I met the student ambassador last year at the Kurogo conference who was responsible for working with the development on the UNC app. Other than that, that’s really the only university I’ve been in touch with.

At the Kurogo conference, was it helpful to speak with the participants on the student panel?
Yeah, definitely.

I talked to them mainly just about making the app more engaging. What can we do as far as changing the layout? Changing the content? Who we necessarily advertise the app to? Things like that. Just trying to get as many students engaged as possible, because that is the ultimate goal.

Are there any 2017 technology trends that could affect mobile at Pacific?
More and more students are being engaged in apps that are constantly refreshing. There’s constant content updates, like Twitter or Yik Yak, and even Snapchat. So I think that apps are going to see a lot of success if they’re able to incorporate modern social media platforms that students use.

Twitter is going to stay pretty big, Snapchat is going to stay pretty big. One thing that we’re seeing on our campus is that Yik Yak is getting pretty big, which is similar to Twitter, but it’s anonymous. I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing, but it would be something interesting to keep an eye on.

Finally, what’s your favorite app, besides Pacific’s?
I like Instagram a lot because it helps me keep in touch with friends whom I no longer see because we’ve all gone our separate ways. Even family who have Instagram. I love seeing pictures.

Snapchat, too, because we can essentially communicate or text, but you use pictures rather than sending text.

I think it’s fun to integrate different ways of communication and keep things interesting.

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