The first night of the competition, we wound up talking to Sam Rebelsky about the experiences of a low income student in his MAP group from the past summer. The student faced social pressure to contribute money they didn't have to a gift for Sam or T-shirts. The conversation got us thinking about some of the difficulties faced by low-income students, which the majority of the student body might not be aware of. We wanted to create a project raised awareness about some of these challenges.

One feature of the Grinnell College experience is the Student Activity Fee, a fee which each student has to pay on a semesterly basis and goes towards student activities on campus, student publications, and running SGA. The fee was $225 in the fall of this year and is slated to increase for next year. We want to make sure that students know where their money is going and enable them to take advantage of events that they're paying for. Especially for students who don't have extra resources to spare and could probably use the money for other aspects of their life, we want to make the process more transparent and make sure they're getting their money's worth. We also want to encourage responsible spending by SGA and get the student body to engage with how their money is being spent.

What it does

It gives an interactive experience to understand the expenditures of the student activity fee on both an aggregate and individual level. Now, students can understand where their money is going and get involved to change the way their money is spent.

Note: Browsers might treat the visualizations as "unsafe code." You may need to allow the browser to display JavaScript to see the visualization.

How we built it

  • Got data from the SGA Treasurer
  • Did automated and manual cleaning of the data (see GitHub for R scripts)
  • Worked with JavaScript frameworks to display the data
  • Constructed webpage to build the surrounding narrative for the data so that students could understand it

Challenges we ran into

  • We gave up on our first project because it was not meaningful enough
  • We were all new to web development
  • The data from the SGA treasurer was very messy
  • We had to accommodate for ambiguous and conflicting data

Accomplishments that we're proud of

  • We made a great visualization that provides real, verifiable insights into the budgeting of GC college affairs
  • We put our visualization somewhere accessible to Grinnell College students
  • SGA Treasurer Zachary Steckel called it "amazing and super helpful for the future student body!"

What we learned

  • How to build a webpage
  • New data visualization framework
  • How to work in a high-pressure competitive time-constrained environment

What's next for GC-activity-fee

  • Add data for other semesters
  • Find trends in data and predict what kind of activities were important to Grinnellians at certain times

  • Make the webpage accessible to phones

  • Incorporate real time updates for event costs to the students (as the budget is updated at weekly SGA meetings)

  • Potentially translate this functionality into an app: students can use it to know which events they've paid for each day, which might encourage them to go out to more events or just be more engaged in the SGA allocations process

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