Working with Dr. Catherine Bartch, Associate Director of the Latin American & Latino Studies Program, as a PURM summer researcher, I conducted mixed-methods research to evaluate and assess the Penn Model OAS Program. It is a community based program engaging undergraduate and high school students in experiential, academic learning to explore solutions to the most pressing problems facing the Americas through democracy, development, security, and human rights. The goal of my research was to consolidate a solid set of quantitative and qualitative metrics the department could use to measure the impact of the goals and curriculum of the service learning program.
I took an independent, multifaceted approach to my research, which I found to be highly valuable and fulfilling. My research allowed me to grapple with academic theory and literature in the field, and bridge that with practical, interpersonal qualitative research with past participants of the program later during the summer. I got a thorough exposure to the IRB research proposal submission process as I collaborated with Dr. Bartch to draft all the documents necessary to receive IRB approval for our research. Using library databases, I read extensive literature, related books, and academic articles on quantitative and qualitative measures used to evaluate and assess public service and civic engagement programs in the social sciences and psychology. Furthermore, I met with program evaluators in the Weingarten Learning Center to understand how other departments at Penn are conducting evaluation and assessment of their programs and if their methods could be applicable to my project. I combined my academic findings to write a critical literature review on the "Methods of Evaluation and Assessment to Measure Student Civic Outcomes in Service Learning Programs." Dr. Bartch is using my literature review as a supplement to her final report for evaluation of the program. I aggregated and analyzed previous data collected from pre and post surveys of the program, including running a two-paired T-tests on the data. By the time my academic and quantitative research work regarding the program’s evaluation metrics proposal came to an end, my background checks were completed. I then worked with Dr. Bartch and another LALS staff member to craft a set of qualitative interview questions, and travelled across Philadelphia to meet with 10 past participants of the program in-person to conduct 45 minute qualitative interviews. I later transcribed over 300 minutes of interview audio files to supplement my pilot qualitative research of the program. I further produced reports, analyzing related complex statistical and non-statistical measures used in the field to evaluate such service learning programs, and made my proposal for a consolidated set of qualitative and quantitative metrics the department should use to evaluate the Penn Model OAS program.
My research allowed me to further strengthen my critical writing, literature synthesis, statistical analysis, interviewing, transcription, and critical thinking skills. As a public servant, engaged with public service and civic engagement, I had always engaged with service but never the evaluation and assessment component of the programs I was partnering with. My research with Dr. Bartch allowed me to practically engage with research and evaluation-- a skill developed by students in graduate programs. By academically engaging with evaluation and assessment metrics this summer, I will be able to effectively transfer the invaluable skills I have gained in research and evaluation to my future career in public policy and the legal field, as it relates to urban education.