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Communications and Marketing

Students get real-life focus group experience

When City Manager Bob Kiely ’79 decided to work a conversation about changing generational needs into the City of Lake Forest’s strategic plan, he approached the College for help.

The long-time city administrator turned to Chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and Chair of the Urban Studies Program Holly Swyers, whose specializations include work on generational change in the U.S.

She proposed having students in her Social Research: Qualitative Methods class conduct focus groups with community members. “I’m always on the lookout for for opportunities to do focus groups that are more than just classroom exercises,” Swyers said about why the opportunity was so beneficial for her students. 

On Tuesday evening, February 7, Swyers’ students worked with Kiely and city planners to collect data from residents about the direction of the city’s new strategic plan. Each student led a focus group discussion at their table. 

“We were moderators and note takers,” said Jakobi McClellan ’18, who is double majoring in sociology/anthropology and business. “It was interesting to see how a focus group should be run, to actually control the dialogue, and to encourage everyone to share their ideas.”

Hands-on experience for her students is something Swyers seeks. In the past, her methods class students have conducted focus groups for the College’s Career Advancement Center, the In the Loop Program, and the Registrar’s Office.

This experience was different.

“This was the first time that I was able to give my students a chance to run focus groups outside the College community,” Swyers said. “The value of this opportunity for my students to get this real, professional experience is huge. They recognize that the level of attention required for tasks is higher than if it’s ‘just for class’ and that they are more professionally capable than they realize.”