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. This framework has become a key part of other signature Hart Leadership programs, such as Service Opportunities in Leadership and the Hart Fellows Program.

Because of the framework’s success, in 2006, the Hart Leadership Program and the Sanford School of Public Policy teamed up to bring RSL 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 during the semester. 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. Students who complete an RSL gateway course who then go on to pursue summer CBR experiences and follow them up with honors theses or independent studies are considered part of the RSL Pathway.

Since 2006, 377 students in Sanford have participated in an RSL gateway option. RSL has been offered in five Public Policy undergraduate courses, across 31 classes, taught by ten professors. Through RSL gateway courses, students have worked with 42 community partners in the Durham and Triangle area.

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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