Reflections and goals for the end of the year

It’s Fall Break here at Penn State and things have been extra quiet in the library. For me, this break means shifting my focus to some bigger projects (like undergraduate research) without being pulled in a million different meeting directions. It’s a needed lull, but I will say that I miss the students and chatting about this project with Ally!

This morning, I sent out the sixth round of recruitment emails. Up until today, Ally and I had been only emailing a handful of our potential subjects, trying to take it a few colleges at a time. We felt that was a way to keep everything manageable and it has worked well so far. However, as we look at our completed interviews (6) versus the ones still left (18), we figured we should try to kick things into a little higher gear. 18 students across 11 colleges received an email from me today. Hopefully a few will be interested and Ally will come back to some scheduled interviews. After this round, we plan on doing two more recruitment periods before December 20, the last day of finals. I’m hoping that as the semester comes to a close, more students will have free time and interest in participating. Ideally, we’re trying to have 12 interviews completed by the end of 2019. It seems possible. We hope.

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Summit Presentation & Next Steps

Hi everyone, it’s Ally! Last week was an exciting time for Mapping the Student Engagement Journey. Hailley and I had gave our first presentation on this project at Penn State’s 2019 Student Engagement Summit. We started by explaining Hailley’s motivation to create this project and my motivation for becoming an Undergraduate Research Assistant. It was awesome to share our project with the Penn State community and express our enthusiasm about this research.

Hailley and I, right after our Student Engagement Summit presentation!

Presentation Takeaways

We had our audience brainstorm variations of each student engagement opportunity type. As a whole, our audience listed many examples of Undergraduate Research, Professional Experiences, and Peer Mentoring but listed less variations of Community-Based Learning and Self-Directed Student Engagement. These results were not surprising to me, as these lists aligned closely with the opportunities I’m most familiar with. This activity made me wonder how Penn State can better advertise student engagement opportunities that are less well-known. After all, some students may be more attracted to Self-Directed experiences than more structured experiences, such as clubs and organizations. Hailley and I talked about this more when we presented Harris’ map. During the interview process, Harris told us, “That was a big problem I had with Penn State…the way social life is structured here, it’s like ‘You have to join a club to have friends.'” I’m glad we could share this quote with faculty and staff. I hope this aspect of our presentation demonstrated that every Penn State student views student engagement differently, and that’s okay! Overall, I thought the Summit was a great place for our first presentation and I’m really looking forward to our next presentation opportunity. 

What’s Next?

At this point, we have six of 24 student interviews completed so we’re one fourth of the way through! Our goal is to have 12 interviews done before winter break. To accomplish this, we’re planning on emailing students from all the remaining colleges that we need students from. Sending all these emails at once may be tricky to organize. However, we think it’ll be a helpful way to recruit six more students before winter break. Next semester, we hope to finish the other 12 interviews before spring break. After that, we’ll have lots of coding, data analysis, and writing to do! I’m definitely enjoying the interview process but I’m also really exciting for the next steps. I have some experience with qualitative data analysis but I know this project will help me take my skills to the next level. I’m also really eager to see how all 24 interviews connect to one another and what overall takeaways Hailley and I will find for Penn State and other institutions. For now, Hailley and I have more recruitment emails to send out in the upcoming weeks. I can’t wait to get the next six interviews started!

Student Engagement Network Summit Presentation

On Wednesday, Ally and I had the chance to present initial findings at the Student Engagement Network Summit. We had a packed room and lots of excitement around our work. It was exciting to share our work with a wider audience and to feel that those in the room were excited as well.

Below are our slides — feel free to reach out to myself or Ally if you have questions. We’re excited to hear your thoughts and see what’s next for our project.

The matrix interview guide

Back in June, when I was attending IRDL, I spent time to develop our interview questions. Initially, I created a standard interview guide. I had a series of questions that I planned to ask in the exact same order. However, as I worked on the guide, and reviewed our textbooks, I realized that this standard format might be too rigid for what I was hoping to do. If I asked the same questions over and over for each experience, an hour long interview would get pretty repetitive with students. When I stumbled across the matrix interview guide, I had a little eureka moment.

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Thoughts on Penn State Faculty Senate Reports

Penn State’s Progress

Hi everyone, it’s Ally! A couple weeks ago, Hailley suggested I review various Faculty Senate Reports  to learn more about Penn State’s progress with student engagement. These reports included the 2012 Task Force on Internships, the 2013 Task Force on Undergraduate Research, and timeline of Engaged Scholarship Initiatives from 2012 to 2017. I noticed three themes among these reports – a broadened student engagement definition, decentralization, and bench-marking.

Reoccurring Themes

My main takeaway from these reports is that Penn State has greatly broadened its student engagement definition over the past decade. Ten years ago, undergraduate research and internships seemed to be the focus of student engagement opportunities. Although these experiences are valuable, they do not capture other engagement experiences such as self-directed student engagement. Just four years ago, the 2015 Engaged Scholarship Update had developed only seven of the ten current student engagement categories. Overall, I think these reports demonstrate that Penn State has successfully improved upon their student engagement definition, expanding “what counts” as student engagement.  

Well Done Congratulations GIF by America's Got Talent

[Well Done Gif via GIPHY]

I also noticed decentralization as a common theme, especially with the task forces on internships and undergraduate research. This barrier was not surprising to me, given the large size of this university. These reports expressed a need for one, centralized location where students can look for internship and research opportunities.  From my student perspective, I think Penn State has followed through with this goal by creating the Student Engagement Network and will continue to grow in this area as the Student Engagement Portal is developed. However, I think Penn State still has room for improvement regarding the centralization of student engagement opportunities. Although the Student Engagement Network exists, I think new Penn Staters still feel overwhelmed and confused about where to look for opportunities. Additionally, individual departments offer opportunities through their own emails and websites. Although these department-specific announcements are useful for students, this independence also inhibits the centralization Penn State is striving to achieve. Some potential solutions to these setbacks could be introducing the Student Engagement Network at New Student Orientation and encouraging each college to get more involved with the network and upcoming portal.   

Bench-marking is also a theme throughout these reports. In almost every report, another university is mentioned for their successful student engagement practices. Big Ten universities were cited particularly often. I view this as a positive practice, as it helps Penn State to improve and model our programs after schools of similar sizes and cultures.  Bench-marking was especially evident with the Undergraduate Research Taskforce. This report suggests that centralization will only put Penn State “in the middle of the pack.” For Penn State to equal or exceed “Public Ivies,” undergraduate research must become part of the university culture through efforts such as increased grants and faculty recognition for undergraduate research.  I think this attitude should be applied to student engagement as a whole, as centralization alone is not enough for Penn State to make a name for itself in student engagement.  


These Faculty Senate reports assured me that our research project aligns with Penn State’s long-term goals for student engagement, such as centralization. Our project can also inform the university about whether current students know about and are using the student engagement resources in place. Overall, I think Hailley and I are on the right track!

Amy Poehler GIF

[High Five Gif via GIPHY]

Project Updates

Hello all! As you can see, lots of exciting things have been happening with our project. Ally and I are deep in recruiting and interviewing students. It felt appropriate to do a little update:

  • So far, we’ve gotten four interviews completed. We’re 1/6 of the way through! Each interview has been fascinating in its own way and we’ve learned a lot, about those students, their engagement experiences, and Penn State.
  • Ally and I are putting final touches on our slides for the Student Engagement Network Summit, coming up on November 13. We are going to have a chance to run through it with my department, Library Learning Services, before the real deal. We will also share the slides on this website, once they’re ready to go.
  • Beyond emailing students and setting up emails, we’ve also been reviewing a lot of the Faculty Senate documentation, starting in 2010, around student engagement experiences. This work is helping to frame our research, and better understand the work done before us that has led to the Student Engagement Network and the 10 opportunity types. It has been neat to get Ally’s take on these reports!

Ideally, we’d love to close out 2019 with 12 of the 24 interviews completed. We’ll see how we do!

Why I wanted an undergraduate research assistant

It was probably a year ago when I started thinking about this research project. The call had just opened up for the Student Engagement Network Faculty Academy positions and I knew the IRDL applications would open in December. As I put together my various essays, CVs, and budget proposals, I knew I wanted to have at least one undergraduate student research assistant.

My motivation for having a student was multi-faceted. Continue reading

Let the interviews begin!

Hi all, it’s Ally. These past few weeks have been really exciting for Hailley and I as we progress farther with this project. Interviews have officially started! Our first interview was last week with an enthusiastic student from the College of Health and Human Development. This randomly selected student is actually a good friend of mine! Penn State really is a small world once you’ve been here for a while. 

Interview Reflections

I took the lead on the interview questions and I think the process went well overall. Our questions seem to flow really nicely and elicit the information we’re looking for from students. During these next few interviews, I’m hoping to improve my probing skills by asking more intentional, off-script questions. Although our scripted questions are important for data collection, I think it’s also crucial to talk with students about their unique experiences that may not fall into our prepared question categories. For example, last week’s interviewee was a transfer student from another university. Because of this unique characteristic, I adjusted some of our questions to investigate how transfer students may experience student engagement at University Park. I’m hoping to apply this spontaneous probing to my upcoming interview this Wednesday. 
Behind the scenes of last week’s interview! We ordered tons of stickers so we’re prepared for the next few weeks.
I’ve already noticed intriguing patterns in the interviews I’ve led, which is really exciting. Many students seem to take on student engagement opportunities for practical reasons such as resume building or hands-on experience in their fields. However, students also seem to have social motives like meeting new friends or making this large university feel smaller. Hailley and I are eager to see how these motivations differ between colleges. I predict that some colleges may promote exploratory student engagement while others strongly emphasize career-related opportunities. This difference among colleges could have really interesting implications for how students present their engagement opportunities and market themselves to employers. 

This Week’s Plan

This week, Hailley and I have two interviews to complete. We’re also emailing students from our sample to schedule more interviews for October. On top of scheduling, Hailley and are preparing our presentation for the Penn State Student Engagement Summit. I’m so eager to share our research with the Penn State community. Hopefully we’ll gain some helpful feedback and new supporters for this project. We definitely have busy but exciting weeks ahead of us! 
happy full house GIF

Building our data set to recruit our participants: A work in progress

Yesterday, Ally and I sent out our first round of recruitment emails.

[Linda Belcher excitedly waving her hands, via GIPHY]

As we anxiously check to see if any have responded to our inquiry, it’s probably a good time to return to the question of: how are recruiting these students? What did we end up with for our data set?

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Coming soon: our first presentation!

Ally and I are excited to share our upcoming presentation (and our first joint presentation about this project). We were invited to speak at the second annual Student Engagement Summit, hosted by Penn State’s Student Engagement Network. This will be a great opportunity to share updates with Penn State colleagues who are interested and invested in student engagement. And of course, to share our progress on this research project!

This year at the Summit, we were encouraged to make sure our attendees leave our session with something to take back with them. In that spirit, Ally and I came up with three questions we want attendees to consider that we think will help with takeaways:

  1. What do you currently know about how students you work with navigate the student engagement landscape?
  2. How would/do these findings impact or influence the work you do with student engagement?
  3. Based on the current chart of engagement types and their variations, what variations are missing? What would you change about the definitions of each engagement type? What resonates with you?

We hope these questions will spur interesting conversations and we also hope we will have a handful of student journey maps to share. After our presentation, we will share our slides on this blog, for those unable to attend.

If you’re at Penn State and available to attend the Summit, you definitely should. Registration opened last week!