The University of Alabama

Translating Research into a Campus Conversation

“It’s almost like having a conversation.” That’s how Dr. Arthur Allaway described the campus master plan update survey that he and a team of marketing graduate students devised.

Allaway, the James and Doris Nelems Professor of Marketing in Culverhouse College of Commerce, teaches marketing research to master of science in marketing and master of business administration students. His team for this project – two MBA and six MSM students from last fall’s Advanced Marketing Analysis class – will analyze and summarize survey answers as one step in revising the plan.

The campus master plan provides guidance for changes and improvements in the UA campus as the University grows in both quality and size. The survey, along with meetings between groups of UA constituents, will give the University administration and KPS Group, the firm working with the University, insight into what the UA family feels is most important about campus.

The survey is open to everyone. “Faculty, staff, students and their families, alumni, retirees, Tuscaloosa residents, Alabama residents who love the University – anybody who wants to have input is invited to have input,” Allaway said.

Working on the survey was a perfect opportunity for the graduate students to engage in real-world, advanced market research. For some of the students, the project is an independent study class; for others, it’s an extra project. For all the students, Allaway said, the opportunity is an exciting one, a chance to gain experience while at the same time assisting the University community.

Securing input online is not a new approach for University Planning, said Dan Wolfe, University planner and designer.

“We did a survey in 2007, the last time the master plan was updated, and the survey was quite effective,” Wolfe said. “We wanted to do another survey, but this  time take it to a new level of engagement with more opportunity for comments.”

Dr. Arthur Allaway

In designing the survey, Allaway and his students took questions provided by Darrell Meyer of KPS Group and UA President Dr. Robert E. Witt and customized the wording for the kind of qualitative research they were planning. It was important to everyone involved that  the survey invite open-ended responses rather than picking answers from too-precise questions. The team didn’t want the questions to suggest certain responses. Allaway’s students will do a qualitative analysis of survey responses using key words. For this analysis, they will use Qualtrics, a software program for questionnaire development and data collection. The analysis should reveal recurring themes. After completing the analysis, students will write summaries of the responses to each question as well as differences in responses across the different constituencies that make up The University of Alabama community.

The analysis will probably take several weeks to complete. While Allaway and his students study survey responses, Wolfe and others will be having meetings with different groups of UA constituents for some face-to-face discussion.

“It’s important to have input to know what’s best for the University. All of us are the University,” Allaway said. “We need everyone to tell us what they think as the University grows toward the enrollment goal of 35,000 students and we get ready to incorporate the Bryce Hospital property into the plan.”

Survey respondents are invited to comment on issues ranging from pedestrian traffic and parking to what parts of campus are most personally important to them. “This survey will help us identify the heart of the campus,” Allaway said. “We want this process to be meaningful.”

Allaway and Meyer have known each other for several years, and the professor felt this was the perfect opportunity for them to do a project together, one which benefitted the University while giving graduate students invaluable experience in advanced market research.

Two of Allaway’s students, Rachel Lothspeich and Mallory Cooley, crafted the language in the survey questions and will also help analyze responses. They are MSM students who enjoy market research. This survey, however, is more than a chance to gain experience in survey analysis.

“This survey is important because people should have a say in how the University develops, even people who don’t live in Tuscaloosa. What we find out will affect the whole UA community,” Lothspeich said.

Besides Lothspeich and Cooley, marketing graduate students working with Allaway and analyzing the survey responses are Katie Hancock, Michael Hughes, Justin Luquire, Kevin Garver, E.C. Gibbs and Ellis Ponder.

The survey is anonymous, and does not have to be finished in one session. Respondents have until March 11 to answer the survey, located at http://www.uafacilities.ua.edu/ under the Campus Master Plan quick link.