Grant funds student work on light rail mobile app

The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU has received a grant from the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication and the Knight Foundation to support further development of a student-created mobile app.

Serena Carpenter, assistant professor in the Cronkite School, and Nancie Dodge, faculty associate, 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 Adam Klawonn, ASU journalism alumnus, and Aleksandra Chojnacka, ASU business alumnus, 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, the light rail served 12.6 million riders in 2010, and a notable proportion of riders 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,” Klawonn said. “The addition of a jobs-listing 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.”