Awards
Technology Applications: University of North Carolina General Alumni Association - Bronze Medal

Category 1G: Alumni Relations Programs: Technology Applications
University of North Carolina General Alumni Association
Student Member Scanner Technology

Contact: Rick Davis, director, enrichment programs, PO box 60, Chapel Hill, NC, Phone: (919) 962-3581, e-mail: rick_davis@unc.edu

Summary: The UNC General Alumni Association (GAA) has supported an open enrollment Student Membership Program (SMP) since 1995. Currently, the SMP has over 6000 student members and hosts multiple events each semester for students to attend. We implemented a cost effective scanner system in August of 2006 to keep better records of student attendance at events and to allow for the instant feedback on these programs. Using the student identification OneCard distributed by the University of North Carolina to all students, we have set up a scanner system that is user-friendly and time efficient.

Background:
Growth and Event Evaluation: Our Student Membership Program has grown dramatically over the last few years. We recognized that although we were creating programs that our students attended and enjoyed, we did not feel that we were capturing enough feedback regarding these programs nor did we know exactly how many students were attending each event. At the end of the 2006 spring semester we sent out a qualitative and quantitative survey to all of our student members to get their feedback on the Student Membership Program. The information from this survey was very useful for overall planning and understanding of members, but did not provide adequate event-specific data.

Membership Card Issues: While reviewing our end of the year survey data, we began planning for upcoming fall events, including our member packet distribution week. During this week, we distribute membership packets to all members from a central location on campus. One of the items in the membership packet is a student’s membership card. In previous years, we had experienced a bottleneck regarding getting membership cards printed with students’ names on them (this was due to the large number of students who would sign up in the two weeks prior to packet distribution week). The membership cards were a burden for this reason and for two others. The first reason was the cost to print these cards: $4,200 for 6000 plastic cards (not including indirect costs, such as staff time). The second reason was the fact that many of our members were not carrying the cards for entry into our events (we have found through our end of the year survey that student members tend to use their membership card solely for our discount program, only grabbing it from their room when going out for a bite to eat). Thus, we had to print out lists of members before each event to check if a student was a member, slowing up the lines at our events.

Finding Solutions: In trying to solve these two separate issues (event evaluation and membership card problems), a common ground was discovered. The OneCard, a UNC issued student identification card, has a simple barcode on the back that could be read by any scanner. The barcode contained only the student’s personal identification number (PID), which was used in our database of student members. The potential existed for a scanner system to be used at our events to determine if a student was a member and also to track which event each student member attended.

After receiving clearance from the campus OneCard office to pursue this idea (they were actually ecstatic at the idea), we brought in consultants to discuss developing a handheld scanner system that could be used at events and track our members directly from our database (the UNC campus is wireless and our database is on a password protected server accessible through the Internet). Unfortunately, these consultants quoted a price of around $30,000 to create this program and supply four handheld devices. This was not within our budget.

Further research was compiled by the student membership staff and an alternative solution was discovered. Barcode readers could be purchased for $182 per device and connected to a laptop through a USB port (the UNC GAA already has multiple laptops for use). We purchased three barcode readers to see if we could create a basic form to be used for member tracking. The initial results were very positive, though we knew improvement would be needed.

Here is the process used:

  1. At an event, the student’s barcode was scanned and their PID would appear in the “Find and Replace” function
  2. The “Find Next” button would be clicked
  3. If the student’s PID was found, the “Replace” button would be clicked and a zero would appear in place of his/her PID. The student member was let into the event.
  4. If the student’s PID was not found, we double checked against the last and first name, as we found that a small number of members had their PID improperly entered into the database – an unexpected positive as we were able to update our records.
  5. If the student was still not found, we signed them up for membership if they wanted to attend the event.

Now that we could identify student members at events, we decided to develop a more economical membership card. We developed a basic membership card that could be personalized by each student. The resulting savings are dramatic, paying for the updated technology in the first year.

Improving on the Solution: After a few trial runs with the program, we realized we had a backend problem. Before each event, we would quickly export the student database into an Excel database for use at the program. After the event, compiling the information from the Excel databases on three different laptops was a time-consuming task.

To address this issue, our IT staff was able to design a very basic Web page that connected to our database so that we could have three different laptops and scanners all pulling from the same database and compiling the same information into one form. The Web site is http://alumni.unc.edu/students/scan.

Benefits and Outcomes from the Scanner System: Although we still consider ourselves in the early stages of using this technology, the value of this scanner system has already proven itself.

Membership Cards: Our membership card production cost is dramatically lower and the scanner system makes it easier for our student members to gain access to our programs. We experienced no bottlenecks in making membership cards this year, and staff time is freed up to focus on programs to make our student members more connected to the UNC General Alumni Association.

Event Evaluation: We now have an electronic form of every student who attended an event, and we can e-mail them directly a day after the event with a survey about the program. We now receive immediate information on the program (such as whether we achieved our goal of connecting them to the GAA) as opposed to year-end surveys, when details might have been forgotten. In addition, we have an accurate count of the number of attendees for evaluation purposes-such as number of students/cost of program.

Unexpected Returns: As we are using this scanner system, we are having some unexpected positive results as well.

  1. Other organizations on campus have made inquiries and copied our scanner system for their use, thus increasing the exposure of the UNC General Alumni Association Student Membership Program as an organization representing innovation and leadership on campus.
  2. By having students fill out their membership card as opposed to including a pre-printed version with their student membership packet, students are more cognizant of our discount program because they had to focus on the card when picking up their packet.
  3. Our student member database is cleaner as a result of checking students’ PIDs against our database and correcting any data input errors.
  4. Our student leader volunteers want to work with the scanners at the event. They see it as something “cool” and want to show it off to friends and other student members who come to our programs. This reflects well on the Student Membership Program when it comes time to recruit students to apply for a student leader position.

In conclusion, this technology is transferable to other schools/programs. If the school has a university issued ID with a barcode and the ability to access their member data through a computer, then this scanner system can be implemented in some form.