Friday, October 21, 2011

Some Day

Being in college has it's disadvantages. And not being able to play the piano is one of the biggest ones.

Just look how gorgeous this one is!

And this one!



I swear, one day I will own one of these. Maybe I'll make it a condition of my engagement. That he has to buy me a grand piano. And I will have it in a room with lots of windows. Floor to ceiling windows. That way the sunlight can dance across the shiny surface. Maybe in a room like this.


Or this.


And my personal favorite. 
(Notice the amazing detail in the railing. And the stunning chandelier. A breathtaking entrance into any home.)


Yes. One day I will have a grand piano.


And of course I would just have to wear a big, elegant dress when I played.


I miss playing pieces by Jon Schmidt or various selections from musicals or the occasional pop song arrangement.

But I must force myself to be realistic. And to think like a college student on a college student's budget. So for now, I will have to be content with something like this.


And I promise I won't cringe too much when I play and I will make myself ignore the auto-tuned electric sound and try not to wish for the pure sounds that come from a real piano. I will just be grateful for the chance to make music (even if it does sound cheap).

I guess this is what 14 years of playing the piano will do to you. It makes you sit at home on a Friday night and lust after these gorgeously, stunning grand pianos.

And while I have you here, I want to share one of my favorite arrangements by Jon Schmidt with you. This is Love Story Meets Viva La Vida. It has got to be one of the greatest arrangements I have ever heard. Enjoy. And feel free to repeatedly press the repeat button... (I do).


Did you notice the Fazioli he plays? Did you? I think I'm in love.

xoxo
samantha

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Concept Brief: The Aggie Genome Project


UPDATE: Here is latest on our project to create a new framework for students to experience student services. My partner and I created this concept brief that details the problems and as well as a proposed solution. For the explanation of the project click here.

Challenge Summary
                There are many disconnects in place between Student Services at Utah State University and the Student Body. Students are confused about what a service actually has to offer, or have no idea that the service is even available. The student services are limited on what physical interaction they can provide. Websites are text-heavy and at times, difficult to understand, information is wide spread and hard to track down. This project aims to fix many of current issues and design a better and more engaging online experience for students. There is definitely room for improvement.
                Students want information that is easily accessible; they want help with their daily issues. They also want to be connected into a campus community. We hope to create a portal that will point students to exactly what they are searching for, through individualized design profiles and tacit delivery of information. Students deserve to have a positive experience when associating with the various organizations on campus. Currently, students seem to be having more negative or neutral experiences, rather than positive experiences regarding student services.
                Throughout this concept brief, we hope to explain the current issues involving student services and illustrate our suggestion to remedy the situation. This will be done through what might be called “The Aggie Genome Project”: a student driven initiative that will make the online experience a student personal and beneficial to the student.   It consists of various features that would help improve the experiences of students at USU while addressing the need of students. This project aims to provide a new experience that will be engaging and a tool that students will actually want to use. This project was designed specifically with students in mind.


Current State of Student Services
Students who feel connected to their school are more likely to stay in school and be successful. It is the aim of all student services to increase this connection. Students need help with things such as financial aid, math tutoring, resume editing, and advising, just to name a few. However, most students aren’t even aware of what is available. For example, in the research done last spring, it was determined that only 1 in 9 students even knew about the Career Services Office. If the student did know about Career Services, most often they had some misconception about what it had to offer. This seems to be true of all the services to different degrees. While all of the services would love to be able to serve more students; hours, staffing, and funding limit the capacity of the services for providing help to students.  When help “in person” is not available, students often turn to emails and the school website. Emails are often found to be problematic, as they may be misinterpreted, or viewed as impersonal. The website is also problematic for reasons that will be explained below.
Utah State University’s website is overly complex and cumbersome, to the point that  that students and sometimes even staff and faculty avoid it. To navigate many of the necessary portions of the website (Banner, Aggiemail, Touchnet, etc.) the student will need to enter their password info multiple times. Many of the pages are text-heavy and require time to dissect in order to find the information needed. Students are busy and need to find information quickly and efficiently, and if it can’t be found fast, they will go without.  Furthermore, each service has a personality or image that they are trying to portray to the students. Whether it be “open and inviting”, or “efficient and painless”, each service wants the students to know what kind of atmosphere they can expect when they come in to use the service. This is difficult or impossible for many services to portray thru their current web page. For example, the Access and Diversity Center wants to portray an image of being open, inviting, fun, and being “for everybody”. However, every service is bound to a formatted style of web design, which in the case of the ADC, does not allow them to create a website that is warm and friendly.
                 Many of the websites, for example the Financial Aid website, contain a lot of technical writing. Unless a student is a financial expert, they are unlikely to understand it. This may create the impression that the Financial Aid office itself will be confusing. While it is necessary for the site to contain all of that information (required by law in the case of the Financial Aid office), it intimidates and impedes students who are looking to use the site’s information.
Navigating the USU website can be difficult as some information is not clearly classified into appropriate categories. Especially problematic are the names of many of the services; names seem to frequently deceive the students as to what service is offering. For example, the Access and Diversity center has nothing to do with Access(Banner), yet one of the more frequent misconceptions they face is that their office handles Banner. 
The search engine on USU’s main page is inefficient. When the search engine is used, it can yield irrelevant and outdated results. It is seemingly consistent with returning an article from the 80’s, which just happens to contain the word you were searching for. Students are quickly discouraged and leave without finding the answers needed.
Another disconnection to mention is the intended usage of the sites. Many of the services noted that their information on the website was geared towards serving other entities, such as other Univesities looking for information, not towards the student. While this is necessary, it does not benefit the student.
                Physical location is also an issue when it comes to “in person” interaction. Most of the student offices are on the third floor of the TSC; an area most students avoid. In the student’s mind, that floor is seen as a place that “elite” students go. Lower classmen are typically afraid to venture up to the third floor. That is where the student government offices are located in addition to the majority of student services. The average student feels like they don’t belong there because they are not part of ASUSU or directly involved with any of the organizations located there.  This provides a point of disconnect between the student services and the student because the student does not feel comfortable going to those offices. While there is little that our current project will be able to do about physical location, we aim to make the virtual web location of these services much more appealing.

The Audience
                By taking advantage of all that USU has to offer, students will begin to make connections with the school while forming life-long skills. This is why it is imperative that the relationship between students and the school is enhanced.
                There are two very clear stakeholders in that will be affected by our proposed improvements. The first is the students. This is a student centered approach. Consider a market for goods and services, where the student is the consumer, while the school is the supplier. The student is looking for what value they can gain from the university, and the university is looking to see what value it can provide. The more value provided to the students, the higher the satisfaction rate will be. With this is mind, the student is the primary stakeholder looking to benefit from our project.
                This is not to say however that the needs of the Student Services are not important. Each Student Service has a business objectives that must be met, and each is looking for ways to more efficiently provide their service. The aim of our project is not to damage student services in any way, rather we want to find ways to benefit the student and the service simultaneously.

The Concept Strategy
We propose a new experience framework for student services be created in order to serve student needs more fully. The website needs to be geared more toward “this is how our service can help you”, and less toward “here is what we offer”. The way we would do this would be through what you might call a “small store model”. In a small specialty store, you will find merchandise on display in the showroom, well lit with all the information you might want to know when you are thinking about buying. Behind the showroom however, is a storage room with much more variety in colors and options.
Our design idea would follow this pattern. There would be a “showroom” of sorts, which shows you all the vital information you need about each service “for sale”. Each service has the opportunity to make itself known, and clear up common misconceptions. The student can then choose to look at what a service has to offer in greater detail, and if desired, search in the “backroom” through all the information that is available.
There are several benefits of this system. Students need to know what is available to them. They need to have this information easily accessible. With this type of delivery, students will be able to clearly see what each service offers them, and how it can help them, in a tacit manner that leaves little confusion. They will then be able to easily make the choice of which service to look into deeper, based on the need they had when beginning their “shopping trip”.
This would not merely be a page full of links however. The idea is to make this whole website more personal to the student. The portal will be incorporated with CANVAS, Banner, and all of the other common usage sites. Students would then only need log in once, and be able to access everything they need in one place. Students would be able to customize the page to their needs, so that each time they log in, their interests are most heavily represented on the page.
               
Preliminary Feature List
                Each student would have a personalized profile that would include information such as their major, class level, current GPA and class schedule that the student would have control over which details would be made public. Any school official, however, would have access to the information. Advisors and professors would be able to update and make notes on a student’s profile. This profile would be similar to those found on Facebook but would be filled with more academic information such as majors, minors, clubs, focus of study, etc. A profile would make the student more familiar to any facultly who might be working with the student, and give the student more incentive to take ownership of the site.
                Also similar to Facebook, the site would include a live feed page. This feed page would be directed more at relaying information about upcoming events. Student Services staff could post to it about upcoming fairs, service projects, and other events. A student’s teacher could post about upcoming events related to the class, SI Sessions, etc. Students could create posts about study sessions, requests for help, etc. and then make their posts visible to other students in their class.
                This type of profile would include an “appointment scheduling tool”, where advisors or other faculty could request a meeting with the student, and vice versa. The students basic schedule would be automatically uploaded into the tool, and the faculty in question would also have a basic schedule uploaded. This would allow easy comparison of available times, and allow them to immediately fill in a time for an appointment.
An advisor would be able to put alerts on the students account if needed. These alerts would prompt them to make an appointment through the appointment scheduling tool. These alerts would spawn from many issues such as being in danger of failing a class, needing to make a tuition payment, or failing to register classes. Until the student meets with the appropriate person to have the alert taken off, their account would be limited. Certain special features would be restricted, such as viewing other profiles and registering for classes.
There would also be an updated search engine. The current search engine on the USU main website often yields irrelevant and out-dated results. A  tactic that Google search engine uses is to place “official sites” and  “sponsored sites” at the top of the search list. Applying this to a USU search engine would mean that the search list would place student services and events closer to the top than older, less relevant information. A search engine is critical because students don’t always know exactly where to go for their information needs.
                On the main page there would be an integrated calendar. This calendar would show all the events on campus in addition to all school deadlines. This would put all event information in one central and easily accessible place. This would be a little more solid than the “feed page” mentioned above, and include information such as time, place and any admission costs. You would be able to take events from the feed page, and pin them into the calendar, thus making it more customized to the your needs. Students would be able to pick which events they went to and which ones they liked. This way, future events that apply directly to the student’s interests would be suggested on the main page. This is similar to the Pandora Radio website, or the Music Genome Project. The idea being that continued user input continues to match the website more and more to the user.
                Another key feature about the site would be tutorials. Currently, many of the services have things they wish the students knew, or had done, before they come to use the service. Accordingly, there would be “What to do BEFORE you come” tutorials available on the site for each service. Knowing what needs to be done prior to appointments will save the service time and maximize the value a student receives from their experience with the service.  There would also be many other tutorials based on what the Service needs the student to know. For example, the Financial Aid office could have a tutorial about the general process of applying for FAFSA, or many other things.
                In some cases, a student’s peers are the best resources. They are the experts on campus life and would be able to answer certain questions better than a school official. USU has not had any previous place for students to go to ask questions of other students. In this new design, however, there would be heavy emphasis on the discussion boards. Students would be able to go there to pose a question to the entire student body, or have the option to narrow it down to a specific class or those with the same major. Questions and comments would need to be moderated in some way either by advisors or professors. Any student would be able to flag a comment or question as potentially offensive or irrelevant which would then be looked at by a moderator. In theory, this would eliminate any casual conversations or offensive language.
                There would be an option for students to integrate their Genome account with their Facebook account. That would allow Facebook access to their account and pull information to put on the newsfeed.  Students would see updates such as events and updates to discussions they are participating in right on their Facebook newsfeed. This would not work the other way however, the Aggie Genome page would continue to contain only information about school related events.

Conclusion
                There are many obvious disconnects to be found between the student and the University. It has been stated that students with increased connection to the university, tend to do better during their education, as well as in their career after graduation. By incorporating this new design into the daily functions of the university, USU will be able to better serve the students, and thus increase their connection. Because this is a student driven initiative, it will reflect the needs of the student more clearly, and make the areas of weak connection stronger.
This is a model that would have to be adopted by all school officials, faculty, staff and advisors in order for it to work and achieve its maximum benefits. Seeing as it is a motion by the students to benefit the students, it should be a priority for faculty and staff to transition to the new program. We urge you to make the needed changes to benefit the student.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Saturday, October 8, 2011

I had the Time of My Life with You

Wonderstruck.


If I had to sum up the night of Sept. 28, that would be the word: wonderstruck.


That night was a dream come true. I GOT TO SEE TAYLOR SWIFT IN CONCERT!! :D


I went with my sister down to Salt Lake and we took A TON of pictures and videos (I filled up my entire memory card).








This picture was tricky. It took us like 5 minutes to balance the camera on the back of my car on top of our purses





We got makeovers from Covergirl. Maddi's turned out so much better than mine. BUT, we got FREE makeup! Mascara, lip gloss, lipstick, EVERYTHING. They were just handing it out to everyone. I won't need to buy any for a long time :)


Just waiting for the concert to start. And being very impatient.


This band was so bad that I don't even remember their name.


Needtobreathe was actually pretty good.




Taylor coming out on stage. FINALLY!
video




Some (of the the better) pictures of Taylor









Taylor Swift's cover of Animal by Neon Trees. She said she chose this song because the band is from Provo.
video




Haunted
video






This was my absolute favorite part. She ended by singing Love Story and she got in this balcony looking thing and flew around the arena above the crowd. And there was sparkly confetti all over. Amazing.










I can't wait for the next concert! =)



**Sorry for the poor quality of the videos and pictures. We were pretty high up and the zoom on my camera just wasn't good enough.
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