Course Shows Students the Exit, and Their Talents – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Course Shows Students the Exit, and Their Talents

All graduating seniors know they spent four years honing their brains and their skills for what comes next – whether it’s grad school, service work or the start of a career. Not all, though, have a chance to see those skills in practice before they leave college. That’s exactly why Jack Harris, professor of anthropology and sociology, developed the Senior Research Practicum in Sociology to be “an exit course.” “They are leaving with very powerful skills, both quantitative and qualitative, and this practicum helps them realize this through an expression of the skills.” In the course, students work with clients through several non-profit agencies located in the Geneva community. Organization leaders present their needs to the class and students then get to select assignments. The client defines the need and what sociological research should be conducted; the students then do what they’ve been taught. “This project has made me realize that, over the past four years, I have become a sociologist and can look at things with a sociologist’s view,” says Amanda Stern who was a member of a three-person group who worked with the Boys and Girls Club of Geneva. The goal was to determine what variety of uses the community would like to see available in the planned community center, so it would be a true community center. Classmates and group project partners Jenny Quirindongo and Jennifer Lever also saw it as a valuable culminating experience. “We have become vested in the community,” says Lever. “We set out with a plan, completed it, and want to do more.” After meeting with a representative of the Boys and Girls Club, the group created a plan and conducted research. Like most groups in the class, the three women combined door-to-door surveys and other types of research. Part of the learning experience, explains Harris, is finding out that some people aren’t as accessible or as willing to help with research as those within the campus community. “When the students do research on campus, there’s an abundance of other students readily available, as well as faculty and staff. The projects made them discover what it’s like to collect information when people aren’t on hand because they’re not in their offices or homes, or won’t make time for you.” Quirindongo was interested in working with the Boys and Girls Club because she loves kids, completed the education program, and is now in the MAT program. She thought the Geneva community would find this project as exciting and important as she did and so it would run quickly and smoothly. In retrospect, she agrees that access was the biggest hurdle to overcome. “I realized how frustrating it is – you think everyone will cooperate and be available and the project will be done. All of our deadlines got pushed back beyond our wildest expectations.” Despite the challenges, Harris and the client agencies are impressed with all the students’ results. He has had a number of agencies such as Geneva Housing Authority and the American Red Cross tell him that the HWS students’ work was invaluable. It saved them money, and will help them in the future to obtain additional funding. The seniors gave formal presentations at the end of the course to their professor, classmates and their clients. “When it comes time for them to interview, these students know who they are and what their skills are and they can account for themselves,” says Harris.