Increasing an Organization’s Capacity: Compass

  • Increasing an Organization’s Capacity: Compass​​​​​​​
  • DFA students gravitate towards issues they care about, and preparing for the complex changes of young adulthood is a topic close to the heart of many. A team of students in Rice University’s DFA studio took on this challenge with college preparedness for some of the most at-risk populations in the city. The students continued an ongoing partnership with Breakthrough Houston, a local college-prep non-profit, to develop Compass, a web-based tool and peer mentoring solution designed to extend Breakthrough Houston’s reach. 

    Only 15 percent of students who graduate from the Houston Independent School District (HISD) obtain a college degree. Breakthrough Houston’s College Bound Program is designed to help promising students gain acceptance to college — and it works. 100 percent of their high school graduates go on to higher education. 

    But, Breakthrough Houston understands that getting in is only part of the journey. Their students must also navigate the college application process, find financial aid, and adjust to life as new college students, oftentimes as one of the few minorities on campus.

    DFA Rice’s new program addresses this challenge space to help Breakthrough Houston add a much needed service despite a small staff and budget. Through interviews with Breakthrough Houston staff, HISD students and alumni, DFA Rice realized that high school students want to connect with alumni and alumni want to give back to younger students. 

    Using this information, Rice students built a new website, which provides Breakthrough Houston with an easy, student-friendly way to stay in touch with recent graduates and share alumni advice. After collecting the stories, lessons learned, and contact information of close to 10 percent of Breakthrough Houston’s recent alumni class, DFA Rice developed a mentorship program geared towards inspiring students to make connections that can help see them through college.

    Two years into a deepening, mutually beneficial relationship with Breakthrough Houston, DFA Rice students plan to finish the program’s implementation and ensure a smooth transition for future staff and volunteers. With the potential to expand to Breakthrough in its 23 cities across the country, not only has DFA Rice brought security and confidence to the students, but to the process of its community partner as a whole.

    Team: Mayu Tobin-Miyaji, Claire Peng, Erik Yamada, Maheen Khizar, Kate Landry, Jeong Su Park
    Partners: Breakthrough Houston, Sodexo
    Mentors: Kathy Heinzerling, Kristi Theisen, Matthew Wettergreen
  • “DFA students have offered their time, research skills, and intellectual ability 
    to a non-profit that has a small staff and small budget.”
    — Kathy Heinzerling, Executive Director, Breakthrough Houston, Partner

    “Parts of my identity that I cannot control have led others to discriminate against me all my life. 
    I’m tired of it. Working on this project was a way to fight back.”
    — Maheen Khizar, Philosophy & Politics ‘20, DFA Rice

    “Compass allows me to reach out to students at the colleges I want to go to, 
    so I can ask questions that I can’t ask the admission office.”
    — Emily, Breakthrough Houston Student ‘18

    “I would like to share my career interests, and I feel like a lot of high school students 
    don’t know how to turn academic interests into a career.”
    — Crystal, Breakthrough Houston Student ‘17

    “Overall, this project allowed me to grow so much as a designer as well as a leader. 
    Learning how to become comfortable with uncertainty came along the way, and 
    DFA was the perfect place to develop the skills needed with amazing support.”
    — Mayu Tobin-Miyaji, Computer Science ‘18, DFA Rice