Ensuring that policymakers and leaders understand the importance of undergraduate research and scholarships is essential to all college students. This is why it’s important that Dr. Carrie Smith and Tatiana Pashkova-Balkenhol, along with five students at MU, were accepted to be part of the Council of Undergraduate Research’s Scholars Transforming Through Research program.
The program allows participants to learn and understand how to communicate to stakeholders the importance of their research and scholarships through both virtual and in-person events. As team leaders, Dr. Smith and Pashkova-Balkenhol represent MU through two programs, the Center for Public Scholarship & Social Change and the McNairy Library Music Research Fellows program. They offer guidance to their students, Tehya Walters, Ty Geiger, Sydney Rauchut, Sarah Qundes and Julissa Rodriguez to actively engage in the Scholars Transforming Through Research activities.
In order to be part of the program, teams had to submit an application that was reviewed against others from across the country, making for a competitive application process. Each application discussed how team members have been impacted by undergraduate research.
Smith, coordinator of the Center for Public Scholarship & Social Change at MU, explains why she wanted to be part of the program. “I work with and mentor students in conducting community-engaged research. For community-engaged research to be truly effective, it requires an understanding of how to explain sometimes complex and obtrusive findings to various stakeholders.”
The students involved in the program have completed research or are in the process of completing research. The program will allow them to learn how to communicate with leaders. “The STR program is focused on enhancing undergraduate students’ communication and advocacy skills so that they can convey the value of their undergraduate research experiences to various stakeholders, such as funding agencies, elected officials, future employers and community members,” Pashkova-Balkenhol explains, an Undergraduate Research & Instruction Librarian.
The students will present their research at Made In Millersville. Pashkova-Balkenhol notes the connections between Scholars Transforming Through Research and Made in Millersville. “Both STR and Made in Millersville are focused on promoting the undergraduate research experience. Both encourage students to translate their research projects into comprehensive and accessible summaries and communicate the value of their projects to diverse audiences.”
Recently, both teams attended the in-person training event where they participated in networking events with faculty and staff from other universities. They also visited Capitol Hill to meet with staffers from Senator Bob Casey, Senator John Fetterman and Representative Lloyd Smucker’s offices where the students put their training to work, advocating for funding undergraduate research, university-community partnerships, arts and humanities and youth mental health.
Pashkova-Balkenhol understands the importance of undergraduate research and the skills students gain from engaging in it. “Students who participate in undergraduate research opportunities are better prepared for graduate schools or professional careers. Students improve transferable skills, such as critical thinking, presentation and written communication and time management skills. They build overall confidence in their abilities and create communities of practice where they learn with and from each other.”
By completing the program, Pashkova-Balkenhol hopes to accomplish one main goal. “Upon the completion of the program, we will be able to put our advocacy skills into practice by advocating for sustainable funding to support the future students’ participation in the library’s research fellows’ program,” Pashkova-Balkenhol says.
Overall, Smith hopes to create new policies to help make a change by completing the program. “I hope that we will come away with valuable skills in learning how to communicate community-engaged research to various stakeholders. In particular, I hope that we will learn how to translate our work into concrete policies and change on the ground.”