Regina Deil-Amen, an associate professor at the Center for the Study of Higher Education at the UA, is studying how social media can help different student populations in college succeed, and how colleges can use social media for specific purposes. Deil-Amen and a colleague, assistant professor Cecilia Rios-Aguilar, recently received a $735,442 Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant to work with community colleges across the country as part of a three-year study on social media.
How long have you been at the UA?
I've been at the UA since 2007, and prior to that, I was a faculty member at Penn State, and that's where I started my faculty career. ... Throughout my career, I've focused on access of more disadvantaged populations to two-year programs and community colleges. My field is sociology. When I was a young budding sociologist, I was advised not to focus on community colleges, (because) it would marginalize me. More and more, we have seen how important they are. Nearly half of undergraduates are enrolled at a community college.
In this social-media study, what software are you using?
The project involves Inigral (www.inigral.com), a company in San Francisco that developed a Facebook application that could work as a closed application for an entire school or college. We sent out a call for requests for proposals, and from the schools that responded, the eight colleges selected decided to use this application.
What are the eight colleges?
They are different colleges across the country. Two are Maricopa district colleges in the Phoenix area, Phoenix College and Chandler-Gilbert College (which count as one college); in Georgia, the Georgia Perimeter College; and the Los Angeles Trade-Tech College. We also selected NorthWest Arkansas Community College, Laramie County Community College in Wyoming, Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio, Western Technical College in Wisconsin, and the San Jacinto College in Texas.
How many schools originally applied to be part of the study?
We selected about 80 to apply for the grant. They sent in proposals, and we selected the final eight. They turned in an initial proposal on how they are using such technologies and how they were going to use them, considering other factors such as advising and counseling, and other opportunities. ... We asked them to make revisions, and we're going to work individually with each of the eight colleges to hone their design. Each plan will be tailored for each college. ... Some colleges want to focus on veterans; others on student development; and others want to focus on more adult populations (older than traditional students).
How would community colleges use this to work more with older, adult-age students?
One main idea or thought is that a commuting student tends not to engage in campus life as much as students who live on campus. This virtual community can help engage those students. There's decades of research showing social and academic integration and involvement are the strongest integrators of persistence in college. ... We're not focused on learning ... but community-building.
How did this project idea begin?
I had done research on two-year college students, and part of what I found is there are different ways commuting students engage with their schools. The (Gates Foundation) found it fascinating, and when it started to evolve, they had me in mind for the project to bring academia and social media together. Students (who are) commuting don't have resources to engage and have a huge social life while they are going to college. This could create that form of connection, and (students could) use it as a vehicle that forms a sense of belonging.
Who are you working with at the UA?
I've been collaborating with Cecilia Rios-Aguilar for several years now. ... She is a key part of this, because she does a methodology called social-media-network analysis. In sociology, we can measure peoples' connections to each other, and this presented an opportunity to use this type of analysis to study social networking. Usually she uses a survey, but this time, we will use the application to observe those connections. ... We can observe and map those patterns and relationships and see how they relate to success outcomes.