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AEJMC/Knight Grant Funds Work on Light Rail Mobile App

November 9, 2011

Two Cronkite School professors are receiving a grant from AEJMC and the Knight Foundation to support further development of a student-created mobile app.

Cronkite Assistant Professor Serena Carpenter and Faculty Associate Nancie Dodge will lead the project, which will use student-conducted research to add a new feature to CityCircles, a mobile app centered on the Phoenix light rail system.

The hyperlocal app, launched in July of this year, features train schedules, business listings and an event calendar for all 28 light rail stops. CityCircles, which is available on iTunes, was developed in the Cronkite School’s Knight Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship by Cronkite alumnus Adam Klawonn and W. P. Carey School of Business alumna Aleksandra Chojnacka, who won a $95,000 Knight News Challenge grant in 2009 to develop the project.

The goal of the new project is for students to conduct research that CityCircles developers will use to create a new feature for the app – a listing of job opportunities along the light rail route.

According to Valley Metro, in 2010 the light rail served 12.6 million riders, a notable proportion of whom were students. Carpenter said many ASU students rely on the light rail for transportation within Phoenix and to and from Tempe.

“Everything is very light rail–oriented for our students,” she said, and many students are interested in jobs that they could reach via light rail.

In the first phase of the project, students will conduct surveys to collect information on passengers’ employment needs and transportation constraints as well as what features they’d like the app to provide. During the second phase, students will interview owners of businesses along the light rail route to determine their employment needs and their willingness to participate in the project.

After the students complete the research, they will present their findings to CityCircles, which will work with a programmer to design a job listings feature for the app. The team also will create an online form so that business owners can submit job openings directly to CityCircles.

"This new feature will help make the CityCircles mobile app experience more robust and make the light rail community more cohesive,” said Klawonn. “The addition of a job listings element is another sign that light rail users are a viable community within a community."

Carpenter said the project will teach students how to conduct research and use it to identify citizen needs.

“Research is an integral part of learning how to become an entrepreneur,” she said.

Plus, she said, the project is “an opportunity for students to connect to the community and provide a service to the community.”

AEJMC, the oldest and largest membership organization for college-level journalism and mass communication educators, received a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to support further development of projects initially funded by the Knight News Challenge, a media innovation competition that awards as much as $5 million a year to ideas that develop new ways of news and information gathering and distribution.