Samantha Hartford's Summer Research Reflection
My original concept of how my summer research would go turned out to be very different from the reality. After all, I had no idea what I would actually be researching – not to mention that I’d never heard of business students doing research, even though my advisor, Steve Hurlbut, was a business professor. And while I found my research extremely interesting, I found it hard to communicate what precisely I was doing to others (especially because I’m not a business student, nor do I plan to be, so no one could understand why I’d be there in the first place).
The project, however, turned out perfect for a student not in the business school yet also not involved in science. It started out quite simply: Westminster’s Center for Civic Engagement (i.e., Julie Tille, its director) was applying for the Carnegie Elective Classification for Community Engagement, and I was to help. This involved rounding up data on all the service partnerships professors at Westminster had run, or kept running, in the past year – as well as helping on the off question, looking up quotes about volunteering, and crunching numbers related to service learning classes. This kept me very busy for a month or so. As I began collecting my final emails (or writing off ones with no reply) I got the chance to shift my attention from what the CCE is doing to what it could be doing. Working with Steve, I outlined a survey that touched on topics that had been revealed as weak spots through the Carnegie application – for example, forming a faculty/community governance board for the center. With about twenty questions on four different areas in hand, I called eleven Western schools (big universities and private colleges) to see what they were doing. This is where the uniquely business part of the research came in. From what I’d gathered in the interviews, I collected a list of best practices: things that worked well enough to imitate in our own school. Hopefully, this list will be helpful to anyone working to reform the CCE in the future.
In the end – and in addition to the business of best practices - a lot of what I learned was communication. Emailing, calling, and meeting people I didn’t know became a daily part of life. However, in my moments alone I did a lot of reading. This gave me a great sense of perspective on the service learning movement and studying organizations, as well as college community engagement in the context of national political trends. This last part was what especially interested me: not because it was “rocket science,” or anything I hadn’t expected, but because it helped me to connect the project to something outside of the college. For me, seeing those trends and movements was as worthwhile as any help I may have been able to give the CCE – and I guess that makes sense, because the one last thing I learned this summer was the major I’ve decided to declare: history.