Students Assist Local Transportation System

By Allison Nanni ’95

Students conduct surveys on South Bend's Transpo system.As part of the same community, Notre Dame students and South Bend residents can learn a lot from each other — even if it’s just during a short bus ride.

Students of Mark Gunty, the University’s undergraduate analytics program director in Strategic Planning and Institutional Research and a concurrent assistant professor of sociology, recently designed and administered a ridership survey to produce valuable information for TRANSPO, South Bend’s public transportation system. 

“The customer satisfaction survey, designed by Notre Dame students and then implemented by those same students while riding our local buses, benefits us in a number of ways,” said TRANSPO Marketing Manager Jeanette Pancoast. “Not only do we have more comprehensive information about our riders, but the presence of the students surveying riders on the bus conveyed a genuine concern for customer feedback.”

Logistics and timing were crucial to the project’s success. The schedules of 18 bus routes changed in April, midway through the semester. Gunty coordinated the schedules of 33 students to administer surveys in both English and Spanish on 54 rides — two to three students per ride — and at the central bus station in downtown South Bend at peak and off-peak times. 

Gunty needed to be able to guarantee the timeliness of the project’s completion, the quality of his students’ work, and assure that the fieldwork met his strict criteria for quality learning for his students.

Gunty utilizes community-based research principles to teach a research methods course. The short-term project was ideal as the required skills had just been covered in the course. 

Using a studio approach, Gunty brought in the client — in this case two TRANSPO employees — to make a brief presentation to his students about the type of questions they needed answered. 

Gunty described that class as “magical.” During the twenty minutes following the client presentation, 75 percent of the students participated, asking questions of the employees to better understand the project needs.

“Like good scientists, the students asked all the right questions,” Gunty said. “They were able to clarify the purpose of the project, anticipate possible issues, and formulate a plan — all skills that you cannot teach in a classroom. Learning these skills in the field is vital to their future professional pursuits.”

Timing was also important. If Gunty introduced the project too early in the semester, the students would not yet have studied the needed skills to execute the project successfully. If he waited too long, they would not have the three weeks needed to collect data from local TRANSPO customers while riding the buses and administering surveys at designated times on designated routes.

“The commitment and professionalism of Professor Gunty and his students were the biggest contributors to the success of this project,” said Pancoast, “and the mutual respect each partner displayed throughout the process was invaluable.”

 by Allison Nanni

Posted In: ND Club News