The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Engaging Students As Researchers

Thursday, January 17, 2013: 3:30 PM-5:15 PM
Executive Center 3A (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
Cluster: Organizations and Management
William F. Dabney, MSW, Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge, Elaine M. Maccio, PhD, Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge and Younghee Lim, PhD, Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge
Many graduate social work students are reluctant researchers, yet their potential for developing and implementing novel empirical work is great. Thesis projects are rarely required in social work education, so the likelihood of Master’s-level students engaging in research is also rare. However, most faculty would agree that empirical investigation is a valuable skill for students to have, so the dilemma, then, is how to engage them. This workshop carefully walks participants through one such approach—community-based research (CBR). Three presenters, two associate professors and a doctoral student well-versed in managing large groups of students involved research, will discuss the steps and techniques involved in engaging students as researchers.

In keeping with the conference theme, CBR has the potential to “make visible” those in the community who are most often invisible, those to whom social work practice, policy, and research pays particular attention. Ideally, then, CBR begins with a community-identified research need and, with faculty guidance, students take ownership of the entire research process, from design to dissemination. Workshop participants will learn how to 1) identify and approach community organizations most in need, 2) introduce students and the community partner to the research process, 3) engage students in designing, implementing, and disseminating the research, 4) and assist the community partner in making the most of the research findings.

To convey methods and promote comprehension, faculty panelists will present their own experiences with CBR. In one example, 60 students examined bankruptcy filers’ data using Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) to assess the degree of impact of small-dollar, short-term, high-interest loans (commonly known as “payday loan” or “cash advances”) on bankruptcy and overindebtedness among bankruptcy filers in their state. These payday lenders exploit the need among the low- and moderate-income working households for cash advances to make ends meet. Due to astronomically high interest rates, administrative fees, and exorbitant penalties for rollover or refinances, consumer advocates consider these loans predatory or loan sharking. Students presented the findings to the community partner (a local association of nonprofit organizations), a state senator, and other stakeholders who have been committed to poverty-reduction work for the purpose of developing better consumer protection legislation.

In a second example, 15 students partnered with a local non-profit LGBT education and advocacy organization to study, at the organization’s request, quality of life among LGBT residents of the greater metropolitan area. In conjunction with the community partner, students developed survey items, constructed the survey online, recruited participants, analyzed data, and disseminated the findings. Fifty-two survey items were spread across six domains: available and needed resources, level and extent of identity disclosure, experiences with anti-LGBT discrimination and violence, attitudes toward marriage equality, political awareness and involvement, and demographics. Results were presented to the community partner, who will use the data to better meet the needs of its constituents.

Throughout the discussion, the presenters will distribute supplemental handouts and invite questions from workshop participants to help them apply student-led CBR methods in their own work.

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