ic2

Fueling Student-led Field Research During COVID-19

This summer was not just about finding toilet paper – try getting 8,000 surveys from across Texas.

Over 50 Texas cities are working with IC² this week to define practical and urgent community problems, and 20 teams of UT Austin students are digging into research on some of these communities for the 2nd George Kozmetsky Memorial Student Challenge—aiming to produce innovative ideas for consideration by the city leaders.

Fueling these projects is a series of data that was collected by IC² over the summer.  Working from June through August, the IC² researchers and students conducted close to 1000 interviews and gathered almost 8000 individual online surveys, despite the pandemic limitations on mobility and access and the resulting economic crisis around them and their communities. Our students stayed determined and overcame many challenges to remote data-gathering. From this research, the institute created individual reports on 68 Texas and Louisiana communities, as well as a large report on the state of the entire State of Texas for context.  The reports have been shared with the community leaders and passed on to our problem-solving UT Austin student teams who will now work towards research-driven solutions over the next weeks. 

Mid-March, shortly after the quarantine began, IC2 launched the Regional Economic Recovery Initiative to address the need for information on how our region was handling the pandemic at the local level and research-driven strategies to address those challenges. We began the data-collection project immediately.  By June 1, IC² had brought on a robust UT student workforce to collect the needed survey data.

Thanks in part to a generous donation, IC² was able to hire 60 part-time student associates for June and July.  A large number of these students were part of the University Leadership Network or were student veterans looking for safe summer work that could be accomplished from home.  Coupled with the research of 35 student participants in summer internships through the Home to Texas program, this new workforce arranged and conducted interviews, advertised and analyzed surveys, and drafted reports of findings that were then edited by the IC² research team.  And many of them did this despite challenges and disruptions in their personal lives.

Remarkably, all of the student data collection occurred without travel.  Social distancing restrictions meant that students had to conduct all of their interviews via Zoom and telephone and do their best to establish credibility in communities they couldn’t visit.  Students pulled out all the stops to try to get as many survey responses and interviews as possible—calling local newspapers to advertise the program, identifying local Facebook pages of community interest, relying on network spread and snowballing contacts… and doing a lot of “cold-calling.”  For many students the process was sometimes challenging and frustrating.  Communicating with strangers during a time when most people’s work situations were changing on a daily basis was not easy.  Nevertheless, they pulled in an impressive set of data.  These data sets are currently being used by competitors in the 2nd George Kozmetsky Memorial Student Challenge and the Regional XLR8 programs.

UT students have proven that even during the pandemic and disruption to their lives, they are ready to tackle challenges, find creative ways to solve problems, and serve their communities and the State of Texas.