Experiential Learning: Conferences as a Tool to Develop Students’ Understanding of Community-Engaged Research
1.1. CoLab’s Story
1.2. Our Approach
- “Real-life social problems in our democracy are defined with or by the community
- These real-life social problems are investigated in scholarly ways
- Community–university partnerships are collaborative and mutually beneficial
- Knowledge to address public issues is collaboratively developed with community and university members
- Institutional resources are utilized to address these real-life public issues
- Community research or projects are integrated with faculty members’ research and teaching”
- “Are we collaboratively developing critically conscious knowledge?
- Are we authentically locating expertise?
- Are we conducting race-conscious (instead of color-blind) research and scholarship?
- Is our work grounded in asset-based understandings of community?”
2. Interventions & Implementation
2.1. Developing Community-Engaged Researchers
2.2. Technical Implementation Considerations
2.3. Intervention Design Considerations
[W]hen school started up again in the fall, I was forced to drop my restaurant job to continue my internship through December. With no income and no shortage of expenses, I knew I could only spend on essentials even if it meant missing out on impactful opportunities or exciting outings. As a result, I initially declined the chance to participate in the All-In Conference,(despite its relevance and alignment with my coursework and professional interests) until I was informed that funding was available.
2.4. Pre-Conference Preparation Event
I think the in-depth preparation for the conference and having a friendly support system and community of practice through the cohort is what made the experience so deeply rewarding and what encouraged me to feel comfortable making connections, networking, and asking questions alongside the researchers, practitioners and activists present.
I worried if I had the right clothes, enough knowledge, or the appropriate cultural competence to avoid sticking out from the crowd as someone who might not quite belong there. […] Within our group, I quickly built connections and relationships, and learned that some of my concerns were shared among others. I benefited from the experience and advice of my colleagues with more familiarity in conference environments, who guided me in managing my expectations, as well as the social support of friends in the group who facilitated and elevated my participation through their encouragement.
2.6. Post-Conference Debrief Event
3. Learning from the Project
3.2. Student-Author Vignettes
- Student-Author A
I have always lived in circumstances that have required me to work while I am in school. So, when I moved to begin my graduate studies at MIIS, I also found work as a server at a local restaurant. I continued to work nights and weekend shifts through the spring and then over the summer to complement my internship, which was unpaid, in the absence of classes. However, when school started up again in the fall, I was forced to drop my restaurant job to continue my internship through December. With no income and no shortage of expenses, I knew I could only spend on essentials even if it meant missing out on impactful opportunities or exciting outings. As a result, I initially declined the chance to participate in the All-In Conference, despite its relevance and alignment with my coursework and professional interests, until I was informed that funding was available. With this financial assistance, I was able to take advantage of the opportunity and further invest in my learning, professional network, and personal growth.This was the first academic or professional conference that I have attended, and in the weeks leading up to the event I was growing increasingly nervous. I worried if I had the right clothes, enough knowledge, or the appropriate cultural competence to avoid sticking out from the crowd as someone who might not quite belong there. This is where the cohort became such an impactful feature of my experience. Within our group, I quickly built connections and relationships, and learned that some of my concerns were shared among others. I benefited from the experience and advice of my colleagues with more familiarity in conference environments, who guided me in managing my expectations, as well as the social support of friends in the group who facilitated and elevated my participation through their encouragement. Finally, cohort discussions of key themes and interesting new ideas were highly engaging, and often I found myself learning just as much from my peers as I did from the speakers throughout the conference.The cohort and CoLab organizers also made the logistical pieces of the puzzle fit seamlessly with regards to factors of access such as transportation, hotel selection and reservations, and dining. By establishing communication lines within the group early, we were all able to organize shared rides to and from the Conference, split the cost of hotel rooms, and take advantage of each other’s local knowledge when it came to food. I have no doubt that the cohort model contributed greatly to my experience at the Conference—I am grateful to all the other participants involved in the group, and I shudder at the thought of having attended as an individual knowing, now, the benefits of attending as a cohort.From the food provided at pre- and post-conference meetings, which could only be held around lunch time due to scheduling needs of the group, to the financial and logistical support from the facilitating institutions, it is clear that CoLab is deeply committed to the principles of equity and student and engagement that we explored throughout the Conference. I did not really know what to expect going into this experience, but more than anything else I left feeling inspired and proud. I met so many brilliant minds and kind souls who are working tirelessly to make our communities safer, more prosperous, and more inclusive that I felt a surging hope for positive change. In sharing my feelings with the cohort, I learned that many of my peers felt it too. It was a special thing to explore concepts and practices learned through our coursework by engaging with professionals and academics in public, private, government, and university spaces.
- Student-Author B
In addition to getting to attend the Conference as a student, I was responsible for assisting the CoLab team with the planning and execution of the conference attendance and preparation, as their current Graduate Assistant (GA). This GA role involved recruitment of participants, handling logistics, and developing and coordinating the programming for our pre- and post-conference events. During the conference itself, I also juggled attending sessions and serving as a resource for my peers, facilitating carpooling and coordinating a cohort dinner. Holding these numerous roles and positionalities, I felt like I was able to learn so much more from the experience, both building my knowledge and skills in community-engaged research but also in terms of facilitating learning and engagement for others and for myself. Writing this paper has also given me a more holistic understanding to reflect on how this conference learning experience impacted my growth relating to social justice practices and professional development.Firstly, developing the CoLab events allowed me to take a deep dive into the field of educational and professional development, such as with the “Conference as Curriculum” framework. At MIIS, I am pursuing a Masters in Public Administration, hoping to work in social change and community development, with a focus on marginalized youth. The conference was truly inspirational and I felt grateful to be exposed to and engage in dialogue with so many amazing people, projects, and organizations from across the country. For me, the conference reinforced my belief that true social justice work begins at the local level and engages in equity and authenticity. I learned key skills and insights on everything from allyship to high-leverage partnerships. It also raised various questions for me about my career, in the sense that I am still exploring whether I want to focus my work domestically or internationally; I was drawn to many of the attendees’ commitment and connection to their communities and have since been in the process of grappling with where and how I define my sense of community and place.Ultimately, like many other students, I would not have been able or had such a strong incentive to attend had it not been for the funding that CoLab provided. Additionally, this experience was initially new and daunting, as I only had experience with attending an online undergraduate research conference in the past (due to the COVID-19 pandemic). I think the in-depth preparation for the conference and having a friendly support system and community of practice through the cohort is what made the experience so deeply rewarding and what encouraged me to feel comfortable making connections, networking, and asking questions alongside the researchers, practitioners and activists present. I am really inspired and excited to apply some of these new pieces of knowledge and connections in community-based work through upcoming projects and after I graduate!
Institutional Review Board Statement
Informed Consent Statement
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
CoLab Planning Grant. 2016. Submitted to Community Foundation of Monterey County by faculty and staff at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies and Cal-State Monterey Bay.
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|Elements Adopted and Adapted from |
Campbell et al. (2021)
|New Elements in Our|
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Zaharatos, M.; Meyer, C.T.; Hernandez-Webster, J. Experiential Learning: Conferences as a Tool to Develop Students’ Understanding of Community-Engaged Research. Soc. Sci. 2023, 12, 352. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci12060352
Zaharatos M, Meyer CT, Hernandez-Webster J. Experiential Learning: Conferences as a Tool to Develop Students’ Understanding of Community-Engaged Research. Social Sciences. 2023; 12(6):352. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci12060352Chicago/Turabian Style
Zaharatos, Maria, Carolyn Taylor Meyer, and Julian Hernandez-Webster. 2023. "Experiential Learning: Conferences as a Tool to Develop Students’ Understanding of Community-Engaged Research" Social Sciences 12, no. 6: 352. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci12060352