This summer, I worked with Dr. Katherine Klein on a research project in the Management department. Our research focused on a 3-year initiative to radically transform low-performing public schools in a historically low-income school district. By analyzing data such as interviews with school staff and parents, test scores, and school climate reviews, we gathered information about the change process at each school throughout the three years. In particular, we noted similarities and differences among the four schools that implemented this transformation program from Fall 2015 to Spring 2018. Although our analysis of these schools is ongoing, evidence suggests the great significance of strong leadership when faced with highly challenging goals in a limited timeframe. Successful leaders begin by selecting dedicated and distinguished employees, but the success of the group over time lies in the leadership team’s ability to continuously motivate each member to achieve and adapt to unexpected obstacles. Schools that had limited success in improving student scores faced consistent internal conflicts, as staff members felt disconnected from their leadership and resented feeling micro-managed or overly stressed.
Through this experience, I had the opportunity to utilize qualitative research methods in a professional setting. Many people consider academic research to be a highly quantitative or scientific endeavor, but I realized that research can include diverse forms of analysis through my summer with PURM. I also found that applying critical thinking and writing skills I learned in class to my research was very rewarding; for example, years of practice analyzing classical literature helped me sift through hundreds of hours of interview transcripts more efficiently and identify key themes more concisely. Finally, I discovered that for a wide range of problems from education to business, qualitative research can suggest tangible solutions for people to implement and pursue.