Interdisciplinary Action Research program

March 23, 2015

Macalester College is making a concentrated, multi-faceted effort to develop long term partnerships with East metro community organizations in order to enhance neighborhood capacity building, strengthen the academic and civic education for students, and deepen the engagement of faculty with local communities. Macalester’s action research initiative on the East Side of St. Paul utilizes various college resources including academic teaching and research, off-campus student employment, and a co-curricular student volunteer program that involves nearly half of the student body annually.

What Is Action Research?
Action research involves students, faculty and community members to work collaboratively on research that has been requested by a nonprofit, government or neighborhood organization. A unique characteristic of action research is that the community serves as an active contributor and agent of change by participating in the design, execution, evaluation, and dissemination of academic research. Action research also provides faculty with an opportunity to synthesize their mandate for excellence in teaching, research, and service.

Why Concentrate On the East Side?
The neighborhoods on St. Paul’s East Side were selected because of the community’s demographics, problems, and opportunities. Of the 30,000 people living on the East Side, one third experience serious poverty, one third are struggling, and one third are solidly in the middle class. Neighborhood-based organizations face incredible challenges: high mobility of residents; deteriorating housing stock and business infrastructure; and depleting economic resources. Although the community has been economically impaired, the possibilities for financial reinvestment and the capitalization of human resource assets are tremendous.

Action Research at Macalester
Led by the Director of Community Service and by a former St. Paul Mayor who is now a Visiting Professor of Urban Studies, the initiative works with residents to look at issues such as housing and employment and to identify priorities for future economic development. Faculty and students pursue action research projects as part of Macalester courses or senior honors projects with the expectation that the results will have broader community impact. For instance, an Urban Geography Field Seminar class recently produced an 80-page book on the economic potential of the main business district of the East Side neighborhood; the book is being used by the current mayor to secure funding for the area from the state legislature. To date, faculty and students from Urban Studies, Sociology, Geography, Economics, Political Science, Education and Mathematics departments have participated. Faculty teams focused on the natural sciences and health care issues are developing. The efforts are supported by college funding, a federally funded HUD grant, and a grant from Minnesota Campus Compact and Minnesota Higher Education Services Office through the Corporation for National Service Learn and Serve America Program.

Community Service Office web site

Macalester College - MN, Minnesota
President: Michael McPherson
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