Autoethnography and Undergraduate Research

Written by Sarah Singer, GRC and graduate student in the Department of English and Comparative Literature

Here is the second installment of Sarah’s blogging about  Dr. Jane Danielewicz’s ENGL55H: Reading and Writing Women’s Lives course. For the first blog post, see here. Thanks to Sarah for providing these continuing reflections about the progress of the course and her experience with it.


The students read Susanna Kaysen’s Girl, Interrupted to learn about the genre of autoethnography. This text served as a guide; it is one of many examples that they might use as a model as they write their own autoethnographies. Dr. Danielewicz reminded the class that autoethnography is a genre of autobiography that, as Francoise Lionnet argues, “opens up a space of resistance between the individual (auto-) and the collective (ethno-) where the writing  (graphy) of singularity cannot be foreclosed” (391). After students completed the opening writing exercise, Dr. Danielewicz asked them to break off into small group discussions to ensure that everyone would have a chance to share their ideas about Kaysen’s story. As usual, wearing my GRC hat, I walked around and listened to snippets of conversations.

One group focused on senses and visceral reactions. Based on close textual scrutiny, they thought they really knew that it felt like, looked like, and smelled like to have been in Kaysen’s place: a 1960s Boston hospital where many great artists and thinkers were diagnosed and treated for mental illness. These students were particularly struck by the sight of the hospital that Kaysen depicts – the patients on the left side of the halls, the nurses on the right – and the smells of patients in isolation, covered in their own excrement. I considered throwing myself into the conversation, as usual, but I was too impressed by the maturity that they brought to the discussion to say much of anything.

As the students considered the themes and perspectives that are presented in the memoir, they grappled with a variety of binaries: “crazy”/not “crazy,” ill/not ill, man/woman, nurse/patient, and more. A student pointed out that Kaysen is an unreliable narrator, and one group debated about which character in the memoir is the most “normal.” As a class, the students considered how Kaysen is “technically crazy,” yet simultaneously “somehow sane,” which makes her both an outsider and insider in her various communities – the hospital, Cambridge (MA), her parents’ home, her home with her husband, etc. I wanted to bring up the multivocality of the text, which is peppered with psychiatrists’ notes and other records and further complicates the insider/outsider deliberation. But I waited, knowing that this will be addressed next class.

Thus, the students used Kaysen’s story to think through binaries present in their own autoethnographies. As they peer-edited their working drafts near the end of class, the students seemed to take a step back. Kaysen prompts us to wonder if we, too, would be considered unreliable narrators and if outside readers would think our experiences were normal. She negotiates intellectual and physical border crossings that inform her identity and prose. One student, who was writing about her experience as an African American woman with happily married parents, chose not to think about outside audiences in this writing stage. She planned to think about her writerly authority in future drafts. Another student was writing about how growing up as an only child molded her perspective. She worried that some of Kaysen’s ill behaviors were too familiar. As a GRC, I think about encouraging the students to think about their audiences and be critical of their narrative arcs. As a researcher, I think about how an intersectional approach and early black feminist theory might be useful starting places for some students. As a writer, I think about the fun of playing with binaries and how they can help frame and balance a text. As a human, I think about how much I want to believe Kaysen’s version of her truth and that it will be hard for me to be critical of any of the student’s truths. But above all, I realize that I’m lucky that I get to play so many (opposing?) roles. ​

Works Cited:

Kaysen, Susanna. Girl, Interrupted. New York: Random H, 1993. eBooks file.

Lionnet, Francoise. “Autoethnography: The an-archaic style of dust tracks on a road.” Reading Black, Reading Feminist: A Critical Anthology. Ed. Henry Louis Gates. New York: Meridian, 1990. 382-413. Print

Research and Performance in a Communications Studies Course

Written by Rebecca Nesvet, GRC and former graduate student in the Department of English and Comparative Literature

As the Graduate Research Consultant for the inaugural run of Prof. Joseph Megel’s Communications 566: Media in Performance (MiP), I got to watch our brilliant, original, and self-motivated students create the universe. Like any process of creation, theirs involved a great deal of preliminary research, and presented opportunities for further research. Although I have an MFA in Dramatic Writing and considerable experience creating and teaching live performance, the GRC experience taught me vital lessons about the relationship between scholarly research and artistic practice.

The course was offered by permission of the instructor, and Prof. Megel, together with his co-teacher Will Bosley, Beasley Lab Manager at the James M. Johnston Center for Undergraduate Excellence and OASIS, selectively admitted a group of students with special, tried talent and experience in performance, musical composition, design, directing, and technology. In each of four project-based units, four groups of students created a performance piece. The technology that they learned to support these pieces was frequently generated using Isadora, and included playback control and distribution, telephony, VOIP, HD Video, Digital Projection, LCD displays, Digital Audio technologies—often for the performance of original musical compositions—PhotoShop, theatrical lighting design, and live puppetry — in one case involving balloons.

At the start of each unit, Prof. Megel and, organized students into new groups, so that each student got to work with all others at least once. I researched and supplied texts for adaptation, indicative process articles for students to emulate, and videos of historically significant performances. I also had the opportunity to give a few talks about dramatic structure, process writing, and other relevant skills. Then, I worked with individual groups as their ‘dramaturg’: the theatre practitioner responsible for guiding performers’ and especially directors’ and playwrights’ exploration of the contexts of their pieces and fine-tuning of their structure. As such, I recommended reading and viewing materials, read scripts and gave formative feedback, and did the same, upon request, with process journals. 

I also liaised with the Renaissance Computing Institute (RenCI) on campus to obtain their Social Computing Room (SCR) at the Odum Institute’s space in Davis Library, as an experimental performance space. In this panoramic, immersive projection space, one student group created the term’s most innovative, magical, and even mystical performance. Trevor Phillips, Elliot Darrow, Kevin Spellman and Ben Elling devised a piece in which two performers seemed to “create the universe,” by seeming to throw, pinch, swipe, mow, and finger-paint unrecognizable galaxies onto the darkness upon the proverbial “waters” of the SCR. At the end, they turned, reminiscent of Leonardo’s Adam and God, to discover—and perhaps imagine or reveal—each other. The concluding piece of the course’s final, public showcase, this work was not only creative, it was reflexive. It seemed to incorporate ideas from the extremely talented collaborators’ individual previous work, for instance, by silently, partially echoing Darrow’s 2013 College Slam Unions Poetry Invitational (CUPSI)-winning performance poem (“I mean what else is our planet,” Darrow asked, “but the pinnacle of exterior design?”). However, dominatedNesvet SCRWipe (2) by no individual collaborator, the piece dramatized the process of collaborative creation that its creators had been studying and honing throughout the term.

From MiP, I learned that performance research is a cyclical process. The course exposes students to published, peer-reviewed research on live performance that incorporates various kinds of media, primarily, but not exclusively, digital. But students do not act only as critics: they channel their critical inquiry to inform creative performance. By critically analyzing their own performance processes, students are able to continue their experimentation in an informed manner. They learn not only about how to develop various sorts of mediated performance, but to incorporate published research, test its assumptions, collaborate with other artist-researchers, and, perhaps most importantly, reflect upon their own ways of working. As many of the students currently have professional work in the performance arts or are pursuing it, this course demonstrates why research need not exist outside practice. Instead, research skills generate best practice.

Two Perspectives on History 398: Stalinism in Historical Perspective

Written by Trevor Erlacher, GRC and graduate student in the Department of History and Don Raleigh, Jay Richard Judson Distinguished Professor in the Department of History

From Trevor:

Having worked as a Graduate Research Consultant this past semester, I am convinced of the great value of the GRC program for students honing their research skills. The GRC format allows for one-on-one coaching, which provides an effective complement to the normal in-class instruction. In my experience, students who were otherwise reluctant to share and develop their thoughts in class spoke freely about their ideas with me. Most relished the extra attention on their projects. They took my suggestions and criticisms seriously and gratefully, and seemed to genuinely appreciate hearing my perspective, which I offered as a supplement to the valuable feedback of their peers and Professor Raleigh. Nearly everyone got excited about the projects they were working on, and I shared their enthusiasm. It was a real pleasure teaching them what I know of the historian’s craft and the history of Stalinism, challenging them to look for sources in new places, and inspiring them to think about their subjects in new ways. They also taught me a lot about the diverse and fascinating topics of their own original research. I would welcome the opportunity to serve as a GRC again.

From Don:

I greatly appreciated the opportunity to have Trevor Erlacher serve as GRC for my undergraduate research seminar, HIST 398: Stalinism in Historical Perspective. His involvement greatly enriched the course not only because he offered so much sound advice based on his own rich and diverse research experience, but also because he connected with the students in a way that made it possible for us to attend to each student’s personal research needs. Trevor held private consultations with them throughout the semester, which nicely complemented the seminar sessions and my own one-on-one meetings with them. The experience—and the end result as reflected in the student papers—proved so positive that I look forward to working with GRCs again when I next offer a research seminar. In fact, I’m now seriously considering adding a major research component to a 400-level lecture and discussion course I will teach this fall.

Undergraduate Research in English 438: Nineteenth-Century Women Writers

Written by Rachael Isom, GRC and graduate student in the Department of English and Comparative Literature

What if Jane Eyre had decided to live in sin with Mr. Rochester? Would Frankenstein’s Creature have been less destructive if his maker had been a woman? What if Sir Thomas Bertram had satisfied Fanny Price’s curiosity about the slave trade by taking her to his sugar plantations in Antigua? These are some of the questions posed by students in English 438, Nineteenth-Century Women Writers. During the Spring 2014 semester, I had the privilege of working with these students as a graduate research consultant for Professor Jeanne Moskal. The readings and assignments for this course encouraged students to engage critically and creatively with the nineteenth-century “novel of vocation” as represented by four key texts: Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Valperga, and Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. The two major written assignments for this course were a targeted research essay and a creative essay, each allowing students to choose topics of interest.

For the targeted research essay, students were to summarize and respond to either a critical interpretation of Mansfield Park or a historical essay. In conferencing with students, I was impressed by their deep engagements with these sources. Undaunted by scholarly critiques of Austen’s work or essays on subjects removed from their own twenty-first century experiences, these students confidently approached complex issues and contributed their own voices to conversations that could be intimidating even to graduate students. Their work demonstrated nuanced readings of secondary texts and fresh perspectives on Mansfield Park. One student, for instance, analyzed a landmark essay on Mansfield Park and pursued a gap in its argument by using her own knowledge of Austen’s novel. Other students tied aspects of the Romantic period to current events or social customs, creating more tangible connections and thereby making the texts relevant to their own lived experiences.

In the creative assignment, I was fascinated by the students’ investment in the project and the interesting ways they rethought and rewrote passages from the course’s key texts. Many students composed imitations altering single elements of original passages to address latent religious, economic, and gender issues. One student chose to consider Jane Eyre alongside James Frey’s recent book A Million Little Pieces as fictionalized autobiographies. By drawing attention to Jane Eyre’s subtitle and placing the novel in context with a controversial book from our own culture and time, the student was able to effectively demonstrate how genre labels inform readers’ approaches and reactions to texts.

As students constructed these projects, I was able to conference with them individually, but I also had a chance to interact with them as a class. Early in the semester, Professor Moskal allowed me to deliver a guest lecture on my own research interests and lead a discussion of a topic associated with Mansfield Park. Professor Moskal encouraged me to talk openly about my own experiences as a way to initiate undergraduates, many of whom expressed interest in further study, into the realm of graduate-level research in literature. As I approached this talk, I realized that, although I had often discussed my academic history informally and presented conference papers on my interests, I had never related to a group of students the larger body of my research in the context of my own entrance into the field. The experience proved extremely rewarding: I was able to step back from the immediate projects I have been pursuing and reflect on my larger trajectory and goals as a scholar. I was also challenged by students’ perspectives on the topic we discussed in Mansfield Park, and I received constructive and encouraging feedback from them after my guest talk.

In working with Professor Moskal and her wonderful undergraduates, I was able to witness the cultivation of interest and the fruits of active engagement with a set of texts within my own sphere of interest. The students interacted with landmark texts through innovative scholarly and creative projects, and I was able to learn from the new perspectives they brought to discussions and assignments.

History 302H: History and Film

Written by Andrew Ringlee, GRC and graduate student in the Department of History

During the spring semester 2014 I had the opportunity to serve as a Graduate Research Consultant for an honors seminar titled “History and Film” taught by Professor Louise McReynolds. Numbering only fifteen students, this course was a discussion-based seminar that covered the evolution of cinema as a cultural medium in the United States and Europe during the twentieth century. I attended all meetings of the course, completed all of the required readings, and watched all of the assigned films. When students were placed in small groups for discussion—an activity that happened each Tuesday session of the class—I joined one of the groups and helped guide the conversation on the film and readings. For the final research projects, each student was required to give a presentation on a cinematic theme or trend and to connect this cultural development to the historical period from which it was produced. I assisted the students in coming up with ideas for the projects, determining lists of films to use as evidence, and relating these films to the history of the twentieth century. Examples of projects included an analysis of the relationship between Cold War-era anxieties and science fiction films, a psychoanalysis of femme fatale characters in postwar film noir titles, and the portrayal of Muslim immigrants in contemporary British cinema. The students ended the semester by giving fifteen-minute Powerpoint presentations that incorporated film clips showcasing the strongest evidence.

Serving as a Graduate Research Consultant in this course, I helped the students frame research questions, think critically about evidence in print and on film, and draw conclusions on the relationship between film and history. As a graduate student, I gained valuable pedagogical practice on how to assign film in a history course, how to integrate technology in the classroom, and how to lead an upper-level seminar that requires students to share ideas and to collaborate with their peers.      

Undergraduates Curate an Exhibit: ENGL 444 Imagining the U.S. Civil War

Written by Leslie McAbee, GRC and graduate student in the Department of English and Comparative Literature

For the past few days I’ve been looking back at the photos of the ENGL 444 students standing alongside their cases for the opening of their Civil War exhibit at the Wilson Library on April 24th. In nearly every photo, students are guiding visitors through the materials they have researched and curated. They wear smiles that show their sense of pride and accomplishment, but most of all they look full of stories to tell: about their forays into the Wilson Library archives, their quick transformation from a class to a tight-knit, energized community, and about the items they carefully selected and researched for the exhibit. I had the honor of contributing a small part as GRC to making this experiment in undergraduate experiential learning a tremendous success.

Courtesy of UNC Library. Photo by Kelly Creedon

Courtesy of UNC Library. Photo by Kelly Creedon

Dr. Eliza Richards’ course, Imagining the U.S. Civil War (ENGL 444), challenged students to shuck any expectations for a traditional literature class model. This meant taking reading and analysis to the next level by directly sharing it in a public exhibit of Civil War literature: stories, poems, diaries, letters, memoirs, photographs, and illustrations. With the help of research librarians, especially Emily Kader of the Rare Book Collection, students dove deep into Wilson library’s holdings of Civil War literature and textual materials. They discovered little-known texts and explored topics that provide a textured history of the Civil War that goes beyond the predominant cultural memory of the war, which focuses on mass-casualty battles and famous military leaders. After their thoughtful selection of texts for the exhibit cases, students researched the authors, content, and context of each piece. Tommy Nixon, a research librarian with Davis Library, steered students to relevant sources that might illuminate the histories of even the most obscure authors and poets.

Dr. Richards and I worked closely with students as they composed the labels for the items and the cases that had themes chosen by the students, like “Life on the Frontlines,” “Prisoners and Suffering,” “Confederate and Union Poetry,” and “Women in War.”  Though most students worked in groups or pairs, we mentored students on a one-on-one basis to discuss research strategies and how to incorporate their findings into their writings. Writing for a public exhibition provided a unique opportunity to teach students to write clearly, concisely, and engagingly, an achievement only made possible through extensive revision. I had the pleasure of working intensively with the pair of students mounting the case on children’s literature of the Civil War, Anna Spivey and Wan Ting Lin. Both students–one a foreign exchange student from Taiwan—dedicated themselves to the difficult task of revision. At each meeting, we read aloud the label drafts and talked through the changes that would make the writing and content appeal to a general audience. What was most wonderful to see was that with each meeting, these students became increasingly independent in practicing rigorous revision on their own.

Courtesy of UNC Library. Photo by Kelly Creedon

Courtesy of UNC Library. Photo by Kelly Creedon

On the night of the exhibit’s opening, the Saltarelli exhibition room hummed with the confident voices of students presenting new ways of understanding the Civil War in the year of its sesquicentennial anniversary. I am certain that as I develop my own teaching philosophy and course designs, my time working with this class, with its unique focus on experiential learning will prove invaluable.

Inquiry-Based Teaching and Learning

Senior leaders contributed reflections on the many high-impact experiences currently offered at Carolina.

High Impact Carolina Senior Leadership Panel

In February, UNC hosted a conference on High-Impact Practices where attendees had an opportunity to learn what practices are high-impact, what research shows about their effectiveness and how we might begin to think about implementing them at Carolina. Undergraduate research is one of those high-impact practices. OUR Associate Director Donna Bickford served on the planning committee for the conference (led by the amazing Candice Powell), and presented on the Senior Leadership panel. OUR also had a poster in the poster session. You can find many of the conference materials here.

Faculty across the Carolina campus have begun to embed research components in their courses as a way to help students engage in inquiry-based learning, many with the support of our Graduate Research Consultant program. As a follow-up to the HIP Conference, OUR, in partnership with the Center for Faculty Excellence and its Associate Director and Teaching & Learning Coordinator Molly Sutphen, wanted to provide an opportunity for interested faculty to hear from their colleagues about what approaches they’d found to be successful. We organized a workshop, originally scheduled for February 14. Some of this year’s interesting winter weather interfered, and we were finally able to hold the workshop on April 4.

Several generous faculty members agreed to serve on our panel, including Dr. Patrick Curran, Professor of Psychology; Dr. Anne Mitchell Whisnant, Deputy Secretary of the Faculty and Adjunct Associate Professor in History and American Studies; Dr. Chérie Rivers Ndaliko, Assistant Professor in the Department of Music; and Dr. Michelle Robinson, Assistant Professor in American Studies. Each panelist shared some of their experiences embedding research into undergraduate courses and a robust discussion session ensued.

Several of our presenters used team-based assignments for the research projects, and they discussed their strategies for helping students work effectively in those teams. Dr. Ndaliko recognized the difficulty groups had in arranging for meeting times outside of class, so she devoted class time to group meetings. Groups also self-appointed a coordinator, and created a timeline and their own strategic plan. Dr. Ndaliko has taught several research-exposure courses related to the Yole!Africa project.

For her student teams, Dr. Whisnant provided a range of pre-identified topics and selected resources so that students wasted less time floundering around in the early stages of the project. Her students worked on The Unbuilt Blue Ridge Parkway, a project that is related to the larger Driving Through Time: The Digital Blue Ridge Parkway digital humanities site. One important thing that Dr. Whisnant’s students learned is that you can’t always find the answers you seek when you attempt to answer a research question.

Dr. Curran noted that part of the value of incorporating research into the classroom is that students have the experience of failing and thus learn the importance of failure in problem-solving, something that has been discussed in other campus settings as well. This serves to normalize failure, and acknowledges that all researchers experience challenges. You can read more about Dr. Curran’s experiences embedding research in his quantitative psychology course here.

In Dr. Robinson’s class, her students produced an intellectual autobiography incorporating the genre conventions of the graphic novels they had been studying. You can read Dr. Robinson’s reflections on this course – along with thoughts from one of her students – here. Dr. Robinson has also blogged about a second research-exposure course, and you can see an example of yet another course’s digital humanities project on Nancy Drew here. She finds that when students are writing for a real audience, the work seems more important to them and they take it more seriously. Dr. Robinson uses a grading rubric on these projects; Dr. Ndaliko incorporates a grading rubric as well.

Dr. Ndaliko summarized the thoughts of our participants when she noted that when we find ways to incorporate research experiences in our undergraduate classrooms, our students are able to “focus on creating and experiencing the research process rather than reading about someone else’s project.”

If you are interested in incorporating inquiry-based learning and undergraduate research in your courses, you may find these resources (including a bibliography) helpful. You can also read more about the experiences of other faculty members and GRCs on the GRC Blog. If you’re interested in transforming one of your courses into a research-exposure course, the deadline to apply for a GRC for Fall 2014 is July 15.

Undergraduate Research and Community Partners: ENGL304 Advanced Expository Writing for Business

Recently I had the pleasure of attending final student team presentations in Dr. Susan Irons’ ENGL304 Advanced Expository Writing for Business course. Parisa Salkhordeh served as the Graduate Research Consultant in this research-exposure course. Throughout the semester, four student teams worked with four community partners: SECU Family House, Johnson Intern Program, Charles House, and Augustine Literacy Project. The assignment was to serve as a consultant to the assigned non-profit in order to make recommendations about how to use social media more effectively to achieve their goals. The recommendations were to be evidence-based and thoroughly researched.

I was very impressed by the high quality of the products the students produced as well as by their professional presentations, which were well-organized with effectively designed powerpoints. The students had obviously invested substantial time in rehearsing their presentations, which were pitched to persuade the community partners to act on the team recommendations. The student teams also fielded questions in a poised and extremely informed way.

There were several common threads across the presentations as the students shared research about the effectiveness of using social media to raise awareness and visibility, the connections between social media and donor giving, the importance of demonstrating the impact of donations, and the need to have very strong messaging about how the community partner is making a difference in the community. The student teams were also attentive to the limited budgets and staff of their assigned organizations. Some included a recommendation to hire an unpaid student intern, and there was a conversation in the Q&A about the best mechanisms for reaching UNC students with internship opportunities. In addition, some teams recommended social media management platforms, like Hootsuite, as a way to limit the staff time needed to maintain an active social media presence.

However, the student teams were very attentive to gearing their recommendations to each community partners’ specific situation. Some community partners had more established and robust social media practices; others had virtually none. Some community partners serve demographics with high email usage, so their recommendations included a semi-annual email newsletter. One student team benchmarked their community partner with other similar community organizations to identify where their social media gaps were. One student team provided data demonstrating that 40% of donor giving happens on-line, but in their community organization only 10% of giving was happening on-line – their recommendations included attention to what social media strategies could be effective in closing that gap.

The students had clearly developed a strong sense of connection to their community partners and to the missions of the organizations with which they were working. This assignment, which Dr. Irons noted would not have been possible without the assistance of the GRC, gave the students an engaged learning experience where they produced a product with real value to non-profit organizations involved in important work in our communities. The students developed a range of transferable skills and a new sense of confidence in themselves as learners, thinkers and knowledge producers.

Life Writing and Undergraduate Research

Written by Christina Lee, GRC and graduate student in the Department of English and Comparative Literature

I had the privilege of being the Graduate Research Consultant for Dr. Jane Danielewicz’s Life Writing (ENGL 283) this semester. Students explored the different forms that life writing can take such as the memoir, autoethnography, and biography. Dr. Danielewicz wanted to stress to the students that even though they may be writing about their own experiences, they still need to anchor their stories in the cultural milieu of the time period in which they are writing about. Thus, I was brought on board and I worked behind the scenes and one-on-one with students to meet their research needs.

For the biography unit, in which students had to write about somebody else, I arranged for the students to be introduced to the vast collection of primary resources at the Wilson library. Dr. Danielewicz and I asked the students to brainstorm topic ideas ahead of time, and I took these topic ideas to Emily Kader, the Rare Book Research Librarian at The Wilson Library, who then prepared an exhibit of resources tailored to the students’ interests. One student became thoroughly enamored by the story of Loreta Janeta Velazquez, who disguised herself as a man and joined the Confederate cause while another student was struck by the voice and stories of Leon Johnson, a Moonshiner who grew up in Wilkes County, North Carolina in the 1930s.  Loreta Janeta Velazquez’s book The Woman in Battle is available in the Rare Book Collection and online on DocSouth while Leon Johnson’s oral history is available through the Southern Oral History collection.

Since the students’ interests were quite wide-ranging, Dr. Danielewicz and I decided that meeting with students one-on-one would work best in order to help them with their research needs. One student who was writing about a family member with a drug addiction needed more background research on the effects of that one particular drug. I worked with her to identify search terms and subject headings that may be useful for her purposes and we also discussed how she might integrate her research into her biography without it taking over the story itself. For another student, it became clear during our consultation session that she had done so much research on Jackie Onassis that she no longer knew what her point of view was; in this instance, I helped the student sift through some of her research and find her work’s place as a biography among the many biographies of Jackie Onassis already published.

It has been a tremendously rewarding experience to be a GRC for Dr. Danielewicz’s Life Writing course and I would highly recommend the GRC program to other graduate students and instructors!

The Graduate Research Consultant Program From Two Perspectives: Part One, Instructor

Hello!  My name is Dr. Steven Buzinski.  I’m a social psychologist and the Director of Undergraduate Research in the Department of Psychology.  I am also a lecturer and in that capacity I became interested in the Office of Undergraduate Research’s Graduate Research Consultant program.  For approximately four years now my colleague, Dr. Scott Roberts (Director of Undergraduate Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park), and I have taught courses on the psychology of attitude change & persuasion featuring a large-scale civic engagement project.  The project, which we direct at our respective institutions, involves student teams identifying a social problem (e.g., binge drinking), empirically supporting its deleterious effects, creating a persuasive public service announcement video (which is placed on YouTube©), marketing it to as wide of an audience as possible, evaluating its effectiveness in changing attitudes and/or behaviors, and defending the entire campaign to a board of social psychologists.  If you are interested in viewing a selection of the PSA videos, please click on the following for videos created by UNC students or for videos created by UMD students.

After years of intensive work creating, structuring, and refining the project with Dr. Roberts, I assumed that we were near a point of diminishing returns.  The project was consistently producing efficacious videos, student reviews noted its impact on their self- and academic-efficacy, and administrators approved of the civic engagement component.  Was there really much else that we could do to improve on the project?  I was not sure, and the reason that I initially applied for a GRC was simply to have another skilled researcher on board to manage the project, as is. 

What my GRC, Kristjen Lundberg, turned out to be anything but a project manager.  Rather, she was a strong stimulus for improvement.  Kristjen approached the project with fresh eyes, a host of outstanding ideas, and the motivation to put them into effect.  Her enthusiasm reinvigorated my own approach.  The parts of the project that were previously good enough no longer were, and together we mapped out how to make the project more rigorous, intellectually and experientially more demanding yet more time efficient.  What resulted was a series of “project phase worksheets” (with accompanying mini-lectures) that scaffold the development of each team’s project.  Students are currently spending more time and energy on what they need to and less on what they do not.  I am more excited every new semester to start these projects, our students are even more engrossed in their campaigns, and I credit these improvements entirely to the presence, determination, and skill of my GRC Kristjen.  If you are reading this blog then it is likely because you are interested in, or at least curious about, the GRC program.  Take the leap.  It is well worth it…for you and your students.  

I would like to say that I have benefited Kristjen with my guidance and experience, but I know that she has done more for me than I could have possibly done in return.  So, I will let her tell you about her experience in her own words in Part Two.