Educational Research Program Flourishes in Hybrid Environment

The Challenge: Managing Critical Software Needs Without Too Much Software

In the past, Arkansas NSF EPSCoR executed their annual Arkansas Summer Research Institute (ASRI) program utilizing a wide variety of platforms, which cost their staff a considerable amount of time. Does this scenario sound familiar to anyone? A new process needed to be created in order for the program to grow. 

Led by program director Jennifer Fowler, the ASRI team was intent on finding a better way to do business and most importantly create the best possible experience for their students. Instead of providing instructions on how to use up to ten different pieces of software, the ASRI team was looking to re-allocate those valuable hours into strengthening research and education in science and engineering in Arkansas (which is the mission of the organization). 

The Solution: A Robust Online Community Platform

The ASRI team brought one solitary item to their first meeting with UpSquad: a list of the various software and applications their students were using on a daily basis when participating in their program. Jennifer Fowler then asked one simple question during that meeting: “Are you able to help us shorten this list?” The answer was a resounding yes and the relationship between ASRI and UpSquad got off to a great start. 

At the top of that list was web conferencing and more specifically, Zoom. Given the nature of today’s educational landscape, a virtual meeting tool is obviously necessary. UpSquad’s built-in Zoom capability provided an immediate win and crossed a major item off of the list. The second major bullet on the list was Slack (ASRI’s chosen instant messaging tool at the time). With UpSquad’s organic chat feature, ASRI participants and staff could immediately instant message each other inside of their community, creating immediate personal connections. Next up was social media and the ability to post content and share ideas. You guessed it - UpSquad’s social feed allows all community members all of the functionality needed to create a traditional social media experience with the added safety and privacy all educators demand. The final priority needed to satisfy ASRI’s mandatory needs was a document storage tool. GoogleDrive had been the reigning solution; however, program participants are now utilizing UpSquad’s “Files” functionality to securely upload and share documents of all types within their community of students, educators and staff members. 

The Results: Efficiency, Support (and Happiness) 

For the past two years, ASRI has built out and conducted their summer EPSCoR and STEM program via the UpSquad online community platform. During that time, the program has achieved a marked increase in productivity, reach, and overall impact. Specifically, program participation has grown by 80% and their student’s program work has improved dramatically. ASRI experienced a 90+% adoption rate by their students, with UpSquad being established as the official program communication tool for students and administrators. Jennifer and the program’s staff have saved countless hours of inefficient administrative work and have also been able to reduce their overall software budget by nearly 25% versus previous years. The end result of ASRI moving to an online community platform can best be summarized by Jennifer’s comments: “We are in a much better place today than we were two years ago. UpSquad’s tools saves everyone a ton of time and helps our students learn more by providing more access to their teachers. And that is what really makes me happy!” 

ASRI now uses UpSquad to cover their needs in the following areas:

  • Turning in assignments
  • Working on projects
  • Announcing events and meetings
  • Scheduling and RSVPs
  • Storing documents
  • Posting video / social content
  • Pushing out emails

Having the program's  needs met in one place has enabled Jennifer to reduce her list significantly. UpSquad's solution replaced the use of platforms including Eventbrite, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google Meet, Teams, Survey Monkey, Mailchimp/Constant Contact, GroupMe, Dropbox, and others. 

About Arkansas’s NSF EPSCoR

The mission of Arkansas’s NSF EPSCoR program is to strengthen research and education in science and engineering in Arkansas. Arkansas NSF EPSCoR’s goals are to provide strategic programs and opportunities for Arkansas participants that stimulate sustainable improvements in their R&D capacity and competitiveness; and to advance science and engineering capabilities in Arkansas for discovery, innovation and overall knowledge-based prosperity.

Interested in learning more about branded online communities for your educational  or nonprofit program? Schedule a meeting with Eric Branch from the UpSquad team here. Call or text us directly at 434-270-3622. 

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