Relationship Building through Community-Guided Research Reveals Opportunities for SW- Madison Youth Engagement with the UW-Madison

by Marian Slaughter

One of the most exciting outcomes of collaboration between the CUE program and professors engaging in research with community groups is the opportunity they afford for building relationships between the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW- Madison) and communities less connected to the university. The work between CUE and the Capstone Experience-CBR course (Community and Environmental Sociology 500) represents one such collaboration. Taught by Professor Randy Stoecker, the course is designed to engage senior undergraduates in research projects to produce needed information and resources to support various Madison communities.

During the fall 2012 semester, the Theresa Terrace/ Hammersley neighborhood group along with the Meadowood Neighborhood Center (MNC) guided a wide variety of data gathering activities carried out by the Professor Stoecker and his class. There were multiple goals for this data collection work: identifying grants, other funding resources, and skills and knowledge of the neighborhood.

One of the opportunities was working with Terrace/ Hammersley middle and high school youth who regularly attended the MNC. Stoecker and four of his students (Beth Nitz, Kelsey Schroeder, Joe Shook, and Laura Thiessen), supported by CUE Engaged Graduate Fellow Marian Slaughter, worked with the MNC youth to create and administer a survey to identify the services and resources that the youth felt the MNC and other community centers should offer. However, instead of viewing these youth as merely a source of data, the students engaged the MNC youth as researchers who gave input and feedback into the survey design, and administered the survey to their peers at the MNC. The participatory youth-researcher design model provided these middle and high school students with an opportunity to develop research skills while helping to generate information that could significantly impact their communities.

During early conversations about the MNC survey, only two of the six youths participating had ever visited the UW-Madison. This sad circumstance struck all involved as a powerful opportunity to begin building a stronger relationship between the UW-Madison and underserved families and communities living in southwest Madison. So, on November 5, 2012, three of the MNC youth (Alisha C., Roosevelt C., and Savannah W.), MNC administrators Susan Jackson and Beatriz Canas and the four students were hosted to a brief tour of the UW-Madison by CUE Fellow Marian Slaughter. This tour included a visit to the Morgridge Center for Public Service, lunch at the UW-Madison Multicultural Student Center, a hands-on science workshop at the Wisconsin Institutes of Discovery and a trip to Babcock Hall for some delicious ice cream. The group then headed to Agricultural Hall so that the youth could continue working on the MNC youth activity survey with the students. Although the youth were a bit worn out at the end of the day (and they weren’t the only ones!), they all indicated how much they enjoyed the visit and expressed a desire to return. Their enthusiasm encouraged all involved to think about how to provide more opportunities to engage youth from southwest Madison in campus-based activities and events.

The UW-Madison is one of the most prestigious public research and education institutions in the world. All young students, particularly those living in Madison should regard the University as a positive, constructive and – yes, fun – part their lives. The sooner the University becomes a real, active and constructive part of the lives of all Madison youth, including youth from underserved neighborhoods like Meadowood and Theresa Terrace, the greater the chances that these youth will not merely visit the UW-Madison – they will attend and become graduates of this great educational institution. ■

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