Ryan Leibowitz is a senior, majoring in statistics and enrolled in the University Honors Program. Outside of academics, Ryan plays drums for the Mustang Band, and is a member of the SMU Service House. Ryan’s passion for community service has continued in his role on the Engage Dallas Research and Assessment Team.
Engage Dallas is a place-based community engagement initiative via SMU’s Residential Commons to address community needs focusing on south and west Dallas. The initiative is a long-term, university-wide commitment led by students to partner with local residents, organizations, and other leaders to positively impact the community. There is equal emphasis on campus and community impact stemming from the initiative.
According to Leibowtiz, the Engage Dallas Research and Assessment Team is currently working on two projects. He shares how these two projects have led him to connect his passions for service and data.
“One is designed to measure the impacts of community service on our undergraduate population, and the other is aimed at measuring the growth of the Engage Dallas Student Directors over the course of the year in their leadership roles,” Leibowitz said.
Both projects will help inform stakeholders of the initiatives’ impact on students, both as participants and as student leaders.
“Right now, I am mostly involved in the design and implementation of survey instruments for both projects,” Leibowitz said. “I hope to also work in data analysis after we collect results from our surveys.”
To collect the data, a pre, mid, and post survey are sent at particular milestones in the Engage Dallas program.
“Undergraduates who participate in Engage Dallas will fill out three quantitative surveys throughout the Canvas course,” Leibowitz said. “And Engage Dallas Student Directors will fill out three reflections and a final summative reflection over the course of the year, mostly collecting qualitative data.”
In the planning stages of this research, the team looked at previous examples and projects put out by other universities and organizations to create a framework for the surveys.
“We started by determining what questions we wanted to answer about the impacts of Engage Dallas, which we narrowed down to our two main research focuses,” Leibowitz said. “After we had those questions, we looked at past implementations of community service programs at other universities to compose our surveys and develop strategies for conducting them at SMU.”
This framework has served as a cornerstone for the team as they continue to personalize the project to SMU’s goals and community.
“We are still working on developing meaningful questions to include in our Student Director reflections over the course of the year,” Leibowitz said. “Each of these reflections will be different in their focus depending on how much progress their Residential Commons students enrolled in Engage Dallas have made.”
The data collection taking place this year will be used to fine-tune the Engage Dallas program before its larger rollout in Fall 2021.
“Looking to the future, this research will help us fine-tune Engage Dallas programs to create the best community service experiences for both students and Student Leaders,” Leibowitz said. “Hopefully, we will gain a better understanding of what students enjoy in terms of programming, education, and community partner organizations.”
In terms of the student learning experience within this research, Leibowitz says these projects have allowed him to utilize classroom skills and knowledge to produce tangible results that impact the SMU community.
“As a statistics major, I wanted to join the research team to gain experience in the data collection and analysis processes,” Leibowitz said. “I’ve also really enjoyed my time with this group because it’s allowed me to stay involved with community service, even if I can’t physically go out to volunteer this semester.”
Engage Dallas: Test Re-Test of Place-Based Community Engagement (SMU IRB: H20-129-GRAD)
The overall purpose of this study is to determine the impact that a new place-based community engagement program has on undergraduate students at SMU. Engage Dallas, a new community engagement initiative that links undergraduate students at SMU with underprivileged communities in South and West Dallas, will be implemented beginning in Fall 2020 as an opportunity to fulfill the Community Engagement requirement of the University Curriculum. In order to measure the impact that this program has on participating students, a pre/mid/post-test survey will be designed and given to students. This instrument will be administered through Canvas, at the beginning of the student’s experience with Engage Dallas, after the student completes three engagements related to the course, and again at the conclusion of the student’s experience with Engage Dallas. An analysis of the completed surveys will allow us to determine the impact that Engage Dallas has on students’ attitudes toward community service and inform the larger higher education community.
By Laura Bell, Sarah Venables