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.