Federal Cuts Go Deep

Earmarked grants lead to cuts in service-learning funding

In high school, Adam Yoffie's interest in gun control advocacy was limited to fund raising and marches. But when Yoffie arrived at Duke, he took his policy interests to a new level by combining service with research. He spent a summer volunteering for Gun Free South Africa, doing research to help the organization develop a plan to educate youth about South Africa's new firearms control act. Then he returned to Duke to assess youth access to guns in the United States and what policy changes would have to be made to reduce that access.  "It definitely was the best experience I had -- intellectually, emotionally, even socially," said Yoffie, a junior majoring in political science. "The biggest difference between research service learning and service learning is there's a much deeper reflection on service itself. You're no longer simply doing volunteer work. You become a more valuable contributor to an organization."  The program Yoffie participated in -- Scholarship with a Civic Mission -- was born at Duke three years ago, thanks to a grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE).  Elizabeth Kiss and Alma Blount, the program's co-directors, wanted to enable undergraduates to pursue rigorous academic research in partnership with a community agency. As director of the Hart Leadership Program, Blount had already seen how summer internships with community partners could leave a profound impression on students.  Beyond expanding and enhancing research opportunities for Duke undergraduates, Kiss and Blount envisioned sharing this approach to service learning with other universities around the country. That will now be more difficult.  The FIPSE program has been cancelled, federal officials have told Duke, because the program's budget has been earmarked for projects sponsored by members of Congress. This leaves Kiss and Blount disappointed -- not just because they must find funding to continue the program when the initial $454,000 grant runs out in 2006, but because they now can't apply for a new grant to share their curriculum.  "We positioned this project as something that fits the mission of a research university," said Kiss, director of the Kenan Institute for Ethics. "We thought that if Duke could develop a successful model, others could adopt it. When you look at the things FIPSE has provided seed funding for, it just makes me so mad that they have destroyed it."  Duke President Richard H. Brodhead sent a letter in January to U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and U.S. Rep. Ralph Regula of Ohio, urging Congress to reinstate the FIPSE's annual grant competition. (See accompanying story.) Both head subcommittees governing education appropriations.  Duke's Scholarship with a Civic Mission program -- run by the Kenan Institute and the Sanford Institute's Hart Leadership Program -- involves three stages that help students become sophisticated researchers. In the first, a "gateway" course, students learn basic research skills. In the second, students design and conduct a research project with a community partner, all the while reflecting in a journal on the intellectual, ethical and civic issues they encounter in their work. In the third, a capstone course, students write a comprehensive research paper and present it publicly.  Students can take courses in one of three interdisciplinary pathways: human rights and humanitarian issues; public health inequalities; or human development and education. Plans are underway to create disciplinary pathways in public policy studies and political science.  The FIPSE grant has provided funding for professors to develop new courses around this approach, and for students to conduct field-based research.  Betsy Alden, hired in 1997 to coordinate Duke's many service learning programs, said students are having more "substantive intellectual experiences" when they learn to use research skills to address community challenges.  "In service learning, the service can be to mentor an at-risk teenager once a week for two hours," said Alden, who is also a lecturer in public policy. "But our students don't always get into the underlying causes of why the student is at risk or the potential long-term impact of their mentoring."  In the past few years, nearly 1,000 students have participated in research service learning (RSL) courses that involve 14 academic departments, 24 faculty members and 56 community partners.  For example, students in Sherryl Broverman's biology courses researched HIV/AIDS education in African to develop more effective textbook materials for Kenyan universities.  This semester, students in Kathy Rudy's class on gender, immigration and labor issues in the 21st century will work with Latino families at E.K. Powe Elementary School on Ninth Street.  In Phil Rubio's class, students will write oral histories on people involved in civil rights or labor struggles at Duke or in Durham.  And Ellen McLarney's students will study the local Muslim population by partnering with a mosque.  Rudy and McLarney both received Scholarship with a Civic Mission grants to develop their courses, which are new this semester.  "The materials we read are so much richer for the students when they're out in the community," Rudy said. "It's a real important and vital way to teach."  Kiss and Blount hired an external evaluator to determine whether the research service learning pedagogy makes a difference in the classroom. In surveys and focus groups, students and faculty agreed that research service learning courses help students appreciate different points of view, think critically, improve their writing skills and develop a richer understanding of research.  The project directors agree that while it is disappointing to have the FIPSE funding come to an end, they are convinced the RSL model makes sense and will have a future at Duke.  "With Duke's commitment to expanding research opportunities for undergraduates, we are hopeful that what we've started will continue to flourish in the next few years," Blount said "Student demand for RSL is strong. We will find new sources of funding."  Suparna Salil, a sophomore, is one such student who found her research experience rewarding. She was introduced to RSL in her FOCUS program, Humanitarian Challenges at Home and Abroad. Last summer, as an intern with the Hart Leadership Program's Service Opportunities in Leadership, she worked with a Chicago agency that serves refugees and immigrants. Part of the time, she helped an attorney file cases. But the more rewarding experience was interviewing children and parents to assess how well the agency was meeting the families' needs.  At her recommendation, the agency developed a martial arts program to help boys release some of their aggression. The agency also began a personal hygiene workshop to acclimate children, primarily from the Sudan and Somalia, to American practices.  "It was more than just helping -- it was addressing how best an organization can help the people it serves with the resources it has," said Salil, an English and public policy major. "Through the research, I got a deeper understanding of a complex issue."  For more information, visit this site.