Since its Duke debut in 1998, research service-learning (RSL) has expanded to become a critical component of the Hart Leadership Program’s philosophy. Now a key feature of Hart’s leadership pedagogy, RSL challenges students to identify and pursue deeper societal problems in an intellectually rigorous way, be it through exploring policies related to animal euthanasia in shelters or working with community partners on a controversial land transfer debate.

The Hart Leadership Program (HLP) has worked since 2006 with professors in Duke’s public policy department to help them design and implement elective RSL tracks within their existing courses. In fall 2006, the program created a gateway option in PPS 114: Political Analysis for Public Policy, one of the core courses for the public policy major. Since then, at least one public policy course each semester has featured an HLP-designed RSL component.

This spring, a public policy faculty member, an RSL student, and two leadership staff members presented the signature pedagogy at the Teaching and Learning Conference of the American Political Science Association in San Jose, California. Focusing on the HLP’s efforts to integrate RSL into core public policy courses, the presenters made the case that RSL plays an important role in fostering civic engagement among undergraduates. Their goal was to give workshop participants a framework for integrating RSL into public policy and political science courses.

The presentation was given by Kristin Goss, an assistant professor of public policy studies and political science who integrated an RSL component into her spring 2007 PUBPOL 114 course; Seema Parkash, RSL coordinator for the HLP; David Gastwirth, program analyst for the HLP; and Dan Frendl, a Duke senior who was enrolled in the RSL gateway component of Goss’ policy analysis course.

“Large lecture courses can feel very anonymous and alienating, not only to students but also to faculty members. RSL is a terrific way for faculty members to get to know at least some students, making the classroom experience more rewarding for us, and I hope for them,” Goss said.

Goss also stressed the fact that RSL gateways make course content more real and more accessible to students, allowing for a greater appreciation of the material inside and outside of the classroom.

The conference team presented the results of a comprehensive survey administered earlier in the year to all PPS 114 students-both RSL and non-RSL participants-from fall 2006, when the pilot first began, through fall 2007. Results showed that the RSL track deepened students’ appreciation for the complexity of an issue and for the community; empowered students to pursue research and service opportunities; and helped them develop skills to enhance their future goals and careers.

In addition, 65 percent of surveyed RSL students expressed that their perception of the Durham community changed after engaging in the curriculum, and 74 percent reported that they felt more encouraged to engage with and learn from peers as a result of the gateway-more than all other PPS 114 comparison groups.

Additionally, Goss and Parkash provided participants with practical guidance for successful program design. Conference participants from around the country were given a chance to interact with the presenters and other attendees by brainstorming a mock RSL experience for an attendee’s current course.

Frendl discussed the impact of participation in RSL on his learning experience as a whole, emphasizing the importance of research and the direct translation of learned skills to the world outside the classroom. “I think it was a lot more real compared to the other [core public policy courses] because the concepts stuck with me a little more,” he said in an interview. “It was also probably one of the more positive group experiences I’ve had at Duke.”