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College debuts paid student feedback initiative this semester

September 22, 2023

A chance to share your opinions on relevant on-campus topics and make one hundred dollars in the process? About a hundred students each semester have been chosen to do just that for the newly-debuted Polar Bear Feedback Team (PBFT), a committee whose goal is to understand student opinions and implement changes based on the responses it receives.

This semester is the first trial run of the PBFT. One hundred randomly selected students are sent surveys containing two or three questions throughout the semester. In order to get the $100 stipend, students must answer 80% of the surveys. The program will be reviewed after two semesters, and the PBFT leadership will determine if they wish to continue with the surveys.

Examples include questions about the students’ summer, if they feel included on campus or what they think of the IT department—anything to better grasp the student experience and help various offices improve upon it.

The initiative is spearheaded by the Office for Institutional Research, Analytics and Consulting, with funding coming from the Office of Inclusion and Diversity. Tina Finneran, senior vice president for institutional research, analytics and consulting, said that the purpose of the program is to centralize feedback on campus.

“We were brainstorming ways we could do it differently and rethink what we’re doing and what the purpose was. This is kind of a grand experiment of trying to be more agile, and also to try to curb surveys across campus,” Finneran said. “We can sort of have a central place where then we would have this sort of panel of students.”

Response rates for the program have been positive so far, according to Chloe Qian, a research analyst for the College. Qian hopes the feedback team will change what she sees as the apathetic culture surrounding surveys.

“Usually when you get a survey you feel like, ‘Oh, it’s a waste of my time,’ and we definitely want to change that mentality,” Qian said. “I hope people actually find value in taking this survey, and that by serving on this panel and this team, they can get something a little bit different.”

The PBFT is partnering with the Office of Career Exploration and Development and the Office of the Dean for Academic Affairs, among many others, in an effort to help them work more efficiently and effectively.

If the initiative is successful, the hope is that the program can be extended to an even larger community.

“[Finneran] was mentioning that no other schools have really done this yet, as far as we know. We’re hoping that maybe in the future, if we have success with this, we can share it with other schools who are interested in boosting their survey response rates,” Qian said.

Qian said there are benefits for students in addition to the $100 stipend.

“Students who serve now have this added benefit of getting experience of providing stable, constructive feedback for this committed time frame,” Qian said. “You can even add that to your resume.”

Finneran hopes students can also see the change that they will affect at the College.

“It’s an experiment, but the goal is at the end of the semester to maybe have some meeting where we can say, ‘Hey, here’s some of the data you contributed to, and here’s what’s been done with it,’” Finneran said. “Sometimes as a student, you don’t necessarily know all the departments that are involved.”

Mackenzie Cooper ’26, a participant in the PBFT, is curious about what the impact of her answers will be.

“I feel like they are questions that can create concrete pathways to options,” Cooper said. “Things like, if people say they didn’t know they could use the Baldwin Center [for Learning and Teaching] when they first got here, then people can make a program or make visits to first year classes, et cetera. There’s [a lot] of potential for concrete change.”

Cooper recommends that students invited to partake in the surveys next semester accept the invitation.

“[The PBFT is] so serious when they say it takes five minutes of your day,” Cooper said. “One hundred dollars, five minutes of your week—I would do it.”


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