That 4-H Alberta is committed to youth leadership and development will not come as a surprise to many. But what people may not know as much about is 4-H Alberta’s extensive scholarship program, which provides over $290,000 annually across 285 scholarship opportunities for Alberta youth seeking post-secondary education.
If you’re a farmer in Canada, chances are someone at AgCall has contacted you at one point or another. Founded in 1988, AgCall has become the leading provider of outsourced project management, data services and digital marketing in the agriculture and agri-food industry. When our clients need to understand and connect with their customers, we help them do that with customized solutions that help them achieve their business goals.
The Problem with Paper
Prior to 2012, 4-H Alberta scholarship applicants had only one way to apply: on paper.
At that time, applicants couldn’t even download the 20-page application form – 4-H Alberta had to mail it to interested parties, who then filled it out by hand and mailed it back to 4-H.
Staff then transferred, by hand, information from the application forms into internal analysis documents. This transfer process was necessary to anonymize the applications and sort them into categories based on a number of criteria including, but by no means limited to, student GPA, geographical region, club level, volunteer work, and more.
Once that was done, adjudicators could properly analyze the applications using points-based criteria to select winners and notify them – again by mail.
It was a very slow, arduous process that took months, was expensive (in terms of both man-hours and postage costs), was stressful for applicants and adjudicators alike, and most importantly, was utterly out of step with the connected, keyboard-driven world that applicants, and indeed 4-H Alberta, lived in.
Applicants wanted an easier way to apply for 4-H Alberta scholarships, as well as the means to know that their application had arrived, been received and was in the system.
4-H Alberta staff wanted to streamline the entire process from beginning to end – have a system that would reduce the sheer labour involved in receiving and categorizing applications, as well as shorten the time required to assess them and announce the winners.
In 2012, 4-H Alberta was not an AgCall client. At the time, however, AgCall’s president, Arron Madson, was Chair of the Board of Directors for 4-H Foundation of Alberta. In this capacity, he learned about the frustration surrounding the scholarship program.
Immediately, he knew AgCall could help. Not only did the company have deep roots in the agricultural communities of rural Alberta, it also had the IT expertise necessary to develop a modern, streamlined scholarship application process and create a better experience for everyone.
The first step was to consult with staff members at 4-H Alberta to find out what they wanted from a new system – what did they need it to do, what were they hearing from applicants, what made sense based on what they wanted to accomplish.
This consultation was important to AgCall. The goal was to build scholarship application system that was tailor-made for 4-H Alberta, and not simply try to adapt an existing system of some sort and try to make it work. The new system had to be easy to use and, more importantly, make sense to everyone using it – whether they were applying for a scholarship, or awarding them.
AgCall designed a digital solution that answered everyone’s needs. AgCall’s IT experts modernized the database and the new system allowed applications to be accepted electronically and sorted regionally, plus it established a point-based system for each section of the application form.
AgCall provide ongoing support and upgrading based on 4-H Alberta need. The system they built is very flexible so when 4-H Alberta identifies an area for improvement or a new function that would be useful, AgCall can build it.
The scholarship application and assessment process is, by its very nature, not a year-round task. In the months before the process begins, AgCall works with 4-H Alberta to assess and update the tool and get it ready for application season. Once it’s live, AgCall provides ongoing support as students and assessors use the system.
Today, students are able to download and fill out the scholarship application form online and, if they need time to tackle each section bit by bit, they can save the document numerous times before finally clicking the submit button.
Students also now receive confirmation when their application successfully uploads and can see the status of their application in real time.
Students can also set up their accounts so that they don’t have to continuously re-enter information about themselves that doesn’t change year over year. All they have to do is enter new data, such as work or volunteer experiences, every time they apply for a scholarship, which saves them an enormous amount of time.
The process is easier, more transparent and far quicker than it has ever been.
For 4-H Alberta
On the 4-H Alberta side, what once took months now takes a few hours.
Applications enter the system and are automatically anonymized, the points-based data is quantified and all 4-H staff have to do is download a spreadsheet where they can view all the relevant information quickly and easily and winning applicants are notified quicker.
Not only that, administrators can see the status of applications throughout the season and, as deadlines approach, remind students to finish up and submit.
Over the last eight years, AgCall has donated nearly 800 hours of IT time (over $115,000) to the development and maintenance of, and improvements to, the 4-H Alberta scholarship digital tool. It is a contribution we are only too glad to make to support rural youth and the non-profit organization that serves them so well.
We continue to work with 4-H Alberta to improve the system:
This project is a showcase and point of pride for our team of developers based in Calgary and Vancouver. This dedicated group of individuals has shown what excellence in IT services really looks like when client need is put at the forefront of any project.