Piles of books

Innovating Engaged Scholarship

Students from Penn State Altoona and University Park collaborate to contribute to the Engaged Scholarship Academy.

By Penn State Students: Matthew Adams, Altoona; Christian Lucia, University Park, Sarah Mohammed, Altoona; Shuvanon Shahid, University Park; and Cooper Wills, Altoona

It is 9:13 a.m. on September 21, 2017. Nicholas Rowland, associate professor of sociology and environmental studies at Penn State Altoona, and faculty scholar in the Engaged Scholarship Academy, texts the group:

"This is last minute, but important. Could you do a one-time, Friday morning meeting tomorrow? We would all meet at the Pattee Library by 8:30 a.m. and would be done around 10:00 a.m. Can you make it? It is like job orientation. If you need an excuse to get out of a class or classes, just ask."

Sure enough, Friday morning, Sep. 22, the multi-campus team met with Hailley Fargo, student engagement librarian, in the Paterno Library's fourth floor classroom to learn how to use library resources in order to tackle the topic Dr. Rowland had assigned the group—how best to do and showcase innovative engaged scholarship. The irony was not lost on a single one of us. We were doing engaged scholarship on engaged scholarship at Penn State!

From there, we met every week, either online via ZOOM or in person at Penn State’s Rider Building, all of which would not have been possible without the generous support from Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence. As paid research assistants, we, the students, completed this research outside of our regular course schedules and other obligations, often for 10–15 hours per week.

Throughout the 2017-18 school year, we worked on two projects. The first was learning about an innovative form of engaged scholarship that Dr. Rowland has been developing for nearly 10 years: collaborating with students and librarians to co-author book reviews. Librarians have developed a framework that lends itself well to having students see themselves as co-authors. In thinking about “scholarship as a conversation,” we were able join the academic conversation that other scholars were having regarding the secret to getting published. As students, we are led to believe that we should study what we are passionate about or interested in, and, of course, we still want to do that, but we now realize that we can more effectively pursue our passions and interests if, in the process, we join the scholarly conversations in our respective fields.

Once we understood the project, we were able to get to work. We created a rubric for assessing the quality of book reviews, analyzed book reviews for objective measures (e.g., use of citation, quotes), and, ultimately, presented the project at the Penn State Altoona Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities Fair and University Park’s 2018 Undergraduate Exhibition.

We believe students should be more involved in the book review process because it can provide an engaged teaching and learning experience, especially in disciplines where book reviews are more common (i.e., social sciences like sociology and psychology). We also believe that working alongside librarians serves to palpably improve the quality of reviews written. We are especially proud of our work in this area because this could be a way to help President Barron’s call for ensuring that every Penn State student has the opportunity to participate in an engaged scholarship experience before they graduate.

Our second project was discovering the best ways to showcase engaged scholarship. During our session in the library, we began to look at the literature around the ways scholars and practitioners are showing the results and impact of student internships. Imagine our surprise when we found relatively scant literature on the topic. After all, we were always told that a great internship is like the emerald of a college education, and yet, when we went to look for how to showcase, celebrate, and draw attention to internships on college campuses, we found very little.

After reviewing more than 150 peer-reviewed, scholarly articles as a group, we learned that there is almost no empirical research on showcasing internships. Much of what is out there is around best practices for providing internships or internships in the medical field (and often not for undergraduates). The initial results of this literature review were also presented at the Penn State Altoona Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities Fair and University Park’s 2018 Undergraduate Exhibition.

Future work on both projects will be continued by the next team of student researchers in 2018-2019. Regarding next year’s team, Cooper Wills, a junior, said, “I can join—I’ve still got a lot to contribute.”