Ellison wins competitive Gates Foundation grant

Nicole Ellison

High school students aspiring to attend college will be getting some peer group support via Facebook friends, thanks to an app envisioned by UMSI associate professor Nicole Ellison and colleagues at the University of Oxford and Michigan State University. The College Connect app is designed for low-income and first-generation college students who may lack resources to help them gain information about their options for higher education.

Development of the app is made possible by a $100,000 College Knowledge Challenge grant that the team has received from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This competitive grant fund encourages innovative Facebook applications that help students apply to, attend, and stay in college. Ellison and her colleagues Christine Greenhow, assistant professor at Michigan State University, and Bernard Hogan, research fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute, are recipients of one of 21 grants the Foundation recently announced.

The College Connect app will help identify people within a user’s Facebook network who are likely to be sources of college-related information, such as those who list an alma mater on their profile or “like” a university’s Facebook page.

Where some students may not have close friends or immediate family members with knowledge about obtaining a college degree, College Connect could help them find Facebook friends of whom they could ask questions about college experiences or particular schools. The app will display a visual network of Facebook friends with various types of college affiliations, creating a pathway to identify useful connections and information resources.

This will be the first Facebook visualization to address college access issues and expands a social network program first developed at Oxford. Ellison and her colleagues will partner with national college-access organizations like College Possible and with school districts that serve high percentages of low-income, under-represented students.

Posted on Thursday, January 31, 2013