What is RSL? Research Service-Learning is a practice that connects service-learning with the mission of research universities to create new knowledge. Research is conducted in the context of a service-learning experience, where the research components (problem analysis, synthesis, and conclusions) become an integral part of the service provided to the community. Students produce a tangible research product for their community partner. They also participate in a structured process of critical reflection on the ethical, intellectual and civic aspects of their experience.

The Research-Service Learning framework at Duke was initiated by the Hart Leadership Program (HLP) in 1998 and was further developed by a four-year project titled Scholarship with a Civic Mission, co-sponsored by HLP and the Kenan Institute for Ethics, and funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

In 2006, the Hart Leadership Program and the Sanford School of Public Policy teamed up to bring the RSL framework to core courses and electives within the Public Policy major. Students in RSL Gateway Courses have the option of applying to participate in a basic RSL project. Projects are designed to trigger interest in then pursuing a more intensive Community-Based Research (CBR) project during the summer. In the CBR project students collaborate with a community partner to investigate a research question by conducting immersive fieldwork, and/or then taking a capstone course. A number of students who have completed an RSL gateway course have gone on to summer CBR experiences and continued with honors theses or independent-study courses. These elements comprise the RSL Pathway in Public Policy Studies.

In future years, we hope to gain a dedicated funding source for the RSL Pathway program at the Sanford School. Public policy students who have progressed along the RSL Pathway up until now have been able to do so on an ad hoc basis through summer grants offered by the Office of Undergraduate Research and other funding sources at Duke.

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