Research in Action – Burden or Benefit?

October 6, 2016


By Sarah Schlappa

The Research in Action Program was part of the original charter that founders Paul Stephenson and Dan Barbour wrote for the ASK Academy in 2010. The intention was to create a project in which every scholar chose a project based on his or her own interest while becoming competent in research work. “We want the scholars to learn how to ask questions, how to wonder about things, how to gather information, and how to organize it in a way that leads you to a conclusion you can trust,” Mr. Stephenson explained.

The RiA project is required every year and it takes about three months to complete. The scholars start their project with a question about a topic they have a passion for. This structure gives the scholars a unique opportunity to work in an area of their choice. It does not have to be anything that managers, parents, or friends are interested in; it should be something the scholar is fascinated by.

Freshman Alyssa Depoy said this year her RiA project is about forensics and body farms. “We talked about it a little bit in my Biomedical Science class and it made me curious,” she said. 

The project is worth 100 points, and graded in seven categories. In general, the pupil is expected to find an original thesis for a measurable problem. The research paper should contain at least five sources and the presentation of the results should be shown in a professional and proper way. Correct spelling and grammar are obvious necessities. Moreover, the managers attach importance to creativity, design, methodology, and how well the speaker reacts and answers questions from the audience. This final grade makes up 10 percent of all of their core classes, and 25 percent of their Career Pathways/Fundamental Connections course.

For many scholars, this program has one big flaw: it is an extra burden on top of all the usual school work. “I think it’s a waste of time. We use class time to work on RiA and I can’t remember anything of the stuff I learned in that time. It’s kind of useless because I don’t find any benefit for my actual life,” said freshman Hunter Murray.

Although the self-chosen project is supposed to be interesting and fun, the importance of this one grade has mounting pressure for many scholars.

“Your favorite work is still work,” said senior Joey Mioduszewski. “It’s extra work that wouldn’t be there at another school, but we don’t get extra credit. It’s enriching because you learn more about something you are interested in, but in my eyes, it’s more of a burden than a benefit.”

It is not just scholars who are unhappy with the format of RiA; some managers would like to see some changes. In general, many managers like the idea of the program but are disappointed with the results. “The biggest issue is to ensure that students are using their time wisely,” said project manager Edward Garcia. “It is very frustrating to see that the scholars have 15 weeks to develop a project and when the time comes for presentation day, they present something they did, like, 24 hours ago. So how can you enforce that they use their time in a proper way and that they find something they are really passionate about?”

Manager Danielle Plomaritas has been in charge of running RiA the last several years. She said it can be difficult to get managers motivated, and sometimes that can influence scholar buy in. “For instance, if a manager is not passionate and excited about RiA, it’s hard for their RiA group to be excited about it. It’s easy for me because I have had research experience, but there are other managers here who have not.”

She said as the one in charge of RiA, there is only so much she can do to motivate staff members who struggle with RiA. “I am not in their classes so I don’t know how things are run, but there may be some managers here who have a more difficult time to get passionate about research themselves. I am not sure how to fix or change that, but I do think that a place where we can start is trying to get managers excited about this idea of scholars doing there own research.”

A recent survey conducted by The Catalyst was sent to scholars via email; of the 114 responses,  67.5 percent of scholars do not like RiA because of the additional work; 32.5 percent  think it is helpful.

A survey asking whether RiA was helpful or an added burden was emailed to ASK scholars.

A survey asking whether RiA was helpful or an added burden was emailed to ASK scholars.

Sophomore Adam Montoya said he finds value in the program. “I think that the idea behind RiA is great, that students get away from assignments and homework to pursue a project they are personally interested in. And we have a chance to present our projects, our findings, our creations in front of a large group of people,” he said.

He agreed that it can be a struggle to find the time to work on the project, “but that is something that teaches us time management, to organize yourself and to be oriented with what is important.”

At this point in time, scholars are required to participate in RiA. The key, said Stephenson, is finding a topic that you really enjoy. “When you see yourself doing something just for you, what would it be?” He encourages students to put some thought into it. 



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