Researching University-Wide Questions About Student Engagement

After a successful event, artsUP wanted to grow into a broader strategic initiative, supporting student engagement with the arts year-round. To do so, they needed insight into the audiences for their initiative, as well as the existing arts landscape on campus.

We provided deep-dive research on arts engagement at Penn State, interviewing students and faculty, touring facilities, and ultimately reporting back on what it would take to ensure that every undergrad has a meaningful arts experience. We felt strongly about this work–some of us are formally trained artists, after all!–and we’re proud of the insights, concrete data, and strategic recommendations we were able to provide.

Project Goals

1

Data about the existing arts landscape for undergraduates

In order to address a lack of undergraduate participation in the arts, the initiative had to validate some assumptions. How did undergrads feel about arts? How exposed were they? Why?

2

Insight into achievable goals for arts experiences

At the same time, we needed information from undergrads (and faculty/staff) to determine what was possible. We might want everyone to try dozens of arts experiences — but what is an achievable way to expose an average undergrad engineering student (for example) to music? visual art? theatre?

3

Support for next steps and strategic planning

Finally, research is only as good as its application. ArtsUP needed our research output to contain actionable next steps and recommendations——that’s how strategic thinking gets translated into actual results.

91%


According to Americans for the Arts, 91% of Americans think arts education is vital to a well-rounded education.

Discovery

For this discovery report, research was the heart of the work. We got to know the arts community at Penn State as individuals and as a whole. We extensively interviewed students and faculty. We toured facilities. We reviewed lists of activities, and listened to dozens of descriptions of good (and bad) arts experiences. Finally, we captured all of this information and clearly identified trends, patterns, and pieces of information that were meaningful to the artsUP brand. Simple insights — like the observation that there is no central physical location for the arts on campus — helped inform the group about possible future plans.

Strategy

And of course, we translated our research to strategic recommendations. Some were as simple as recommending the kinds of events most likely to attract art-novice students (encounter events they could experience along with a group of peers). Or, pointing out that word of mouth is ultimately the most effective way to reach students (despite the popularity of the classic “free food” approach). Others were more sophisticated, long-term recommendations about how campus spaces could be arranged and branded, how arts experiences could be intoduced early and often in the student lifecycle, and how to cross-brand events with other groups. Ultimately, our report wasn’t just a set of data; it was also a playbook for how the initiative could move forward.

Analytics and Data

Like any good report and strategic plan, our research contained recommendations for making all artsUP activities measurable. Some of this involved thinking creatively, since artsUP events aren’t limited to the digital landscape! How could we not only count attendees at events, but measure impact? How could we discern how many of the attendees were artists themselves, versus non-artists being exposed to arts for the first time? Solidifying answers to these questions, and making recommendations based on measurable data, was a key component of our reports.

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