by Todd M. Jensen, MSW
School of Social Work
During the Spring 2016 semester, I joined Drs. Aaron Shackelford and Mimi Chapman in their undergraduate American Studies 398 course as a Graduate Research Consultant (GRC). This was a service learning course with a focus on the arts and social change. Students in the course had the opportunity to develop a research project in which they proposed an arts-based intervention to address a particular social problem or challenge related to their field-placement work. My role for this project, and throughout the course, was to serve as a mentor, source of support, and consultant with respect to the research process. In addition to meeting one-on-one with students, I made a presentation in class centered on the nature and value of research. I also highlighted some of my own research in an effort to provide real-world illustrations of how research can impact individuals and organizations.
As a social work researcher and doctoral candidate, I am passionate about helping others become wise consumers, appliers, and producers of knowledge. Serving as a GRC provided a great opportunity to work with undergraduate students and to foster within them an appreciation for research and evidence-informed decision-making. I believe exposure to research should be a central component of the higher-education experience, and the GRC role provided me a meaningful opportunity to engage undergraduate students in that capacity.
My time serving as a GRC also provided me with several lessons. For one, I quickly learned that undergraduate students at UNC are generally very competent, capable of engaging in thoughtful discussion and critical thinking. The students with whom I worked were able to take in and process relatively complex information and explore new ideas with enthusiasm and excitement. In addition, I learned (or perhaps re-learned) that you can never start too early in terms of fostering critical thinking, healthy skepticism, curiosity, creativity, and an understanding of varying epistemologies—abilities and features that will serve young undergraduate students well as they move forward in their academic and professional careers.