A ‘road map’ app that can change the way students go to school


At SUNY Ulster, Sean Nixon, associate professor of art and graphic design program coordinator, and John Sheehan, assistant professor and computer science program coordinator, are collaborating to make a difference in education. When Nixon was asked what was the most important thing students do not have when they enroll in college, he emphatically said, “A plan – an education and career plan based in reality or none at all. Even if they claim to have a plan, they can be slow to take action or lose interest and drift.”

But don’t worry, Nixon and Sheehan assured that students can have a plan, right at their fingertips. “We are developing the Real World ClassroomTM Road Map app that will forever change the way you go to school,” said Nixon with a beaming smile. He sees the future, his confidence is infectious, but he is impatient to actualize the app.

We need money to make this app become a reality,” said Nixon. “You know when you know something, and you know it’s true, when every cell in body is in agreement? Well that’s what I feel like; I want to scream. We believe this will make students lives better.”

He continued, “Something has to give. Who wouldn’t want to be empowered, freely on the path to success and fulfillment as a result of a solid, informed, realistic education and career plan that they customized to fit their lives? A plan which is not their parents’, neighbors’, or friends’ – it’s theirs.” Nixon emphasized, “Every student is unique, they all have their own purpose, so why not their own plan – you have to know your why to know your plan. Having an accessible living plan motivates students to learn, engage and complete their degree along with resources on the path to success and fulfillment.”

How does the app work? “To begin with, the app is a direct extension of the philosophy and practice of the Real World ClassroomTM graphic design program,” said Nixon. “It will be accessible on your mobile device.” For now, design students will join as members of the app.

The site is designed to continuously evolve, giving students a reason to participate on a regular if not daily basis. “It is a community; it is alive,” said Nixon. “It is easier for students to build allies so they don’t have to go it alone, making participation a shared fun experience.”

The app is an interdisciplinary comprehensive website that will also drive students to a host of services offered on campus, e.g., career and students services, that is to be piloted this fall by the Real World Classroom graphic design program and then computer science in the spring. This app operates like a video game.

The student completes tasks; they get to know themselves more realistically in a scavenger hunt format, finding information and performing the tasks to assemble their education and career road map. Each milestone connects to a specific badge. Once the information is gleaned, a task completed, the badge will then be received and posted to the student’s profile within the RWC website as well as the student’s LinkedIn account.

An additional benefit for the students in the pilot is to have access to other students’ design alumni in the career field, clients, and Ulster County and national design community as well as access to the national design organizations, the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) and Society of Publishers and Graphic Arts Guild, and employment statistics and jobs. “It will act as a one-stop shop for networking, connecting and researching that fits, influences and informs their plan,” said Nixon.

Students must also participate in service learning to complete this process and earn badges. Building the students’ portfolios, resumes and industry connections in the RWC website and LinkedIn creates the education path, job-ready resumes and e-portfolios for the students by the end of their tenure at SUNY Ulster.

They will have support en route, i.e., mentors, advisers and allies, in tailoring their road map to specific interests. “This product is relevant to students by sustaining their motivation on multiple levels,” explained Nixon. The students with the purpose will be more motivated to be engaged in their classes and career. They will define themselves through the cohort and community created through the activities on the road map. “If we build the Real World Classroom Road Map app, students will have a community of relationships as an identity and purpose,” emphasized Nixon.

The Real World Classroom design program is leading in design education, and it fits perfectly with initiatives at SUNY to increase retention, persistence as well as experiential learning,” said Nixon. SUNY Ulster is a leader in the community, offering yet another contribution and option in education. John and I believe there is nothing like this in the area.” said Nixon. The app is intended to be scalable to all of SUNY regardless of major.

The plan addresses one’s big ‘why,’” he said. “The more realistic and relevant the plan, the more motivated students are to learn and complete their degree.”

So, how much money is needed and how is it being raised? “We are in the throes of a catch-22,” said Nixon. “We have to run the pilot first and get results/data to be in the position to apply for substantial grant money to take the app to a higher level. A slow server and technical concerns that can all be addressed by having an adequate budget have stymied us.”

Presently, to run the pilot so that enough components are in place, the Real World Classroom app program needs a minimum of $5,400. Sheehan and Nixon have broken the essentials down to cover the cost of hosting/server space; computer science and design interns to work on the site; administrative guidance and release time for faculty to enroll members, generate content and manage the site. “It will only take 216 people donating $25 each for us to meet our $5,400 goal,” said Nixon matter-of-factly. “This is phase one, to let the community know what we’re up to. If you would like to donate or gift our cause, you can do so to the SUNY Ulster Foundation,” he said. To generate content, Nixon and Sheehan are also looking for industry partners to participate in the app.

Many students are excited to take advantage of this opportunity and really want the app to happen," said Nixon. “Wouldn’t you like to see students prepared, feeling good about themselves and fostering industry connections, with a career-ready resume and e-portfolio? It’s your education, your life, your choice; and we thank you in advance for helping us make this a living, evolving reality.”

Nixon and Sheehan are available to speak with anyone and/or their organization to go over details and help in participating in the Real World Classroom app program.

To make a tax-deductible donation, contact Lorraine Salmon, executive director of institutional advancement and external relations of the Ulster Community College Foundation, by emailing salmonl@sunyulster.edu or calling 687-5093.

For more information, contact Nixon by emailing nixons@sunyulster.edu or by calling 688-1588.