Student Excellence Camaraderie

Real-world research in Chicago communities

CURL’s research fellows learn how community partnerships impact lives

On the fourth floor of Cuneo Hall, you can regularly find a handful of undergraduate students transcribing interviews and punching numbers into statistics software better known as SPSS. The work itself might not be flashy or exciting, but these students know that their efforts add value and they’re learning how work in the real world goes.

“I love how we’re engaged in the community. We’re not just in labs.”
— Loren McCauley, psychology major

She and four other students are the 2018-2019 Center for Urban Research and Learning (CURL) undergraduate fellows—a two decades old program that emphasizes collaborative research with community-based organizations and agencies in the greater Chicago area. All of the fellows have the chance to work on several research projects headed by CURL and community organization members. Some of the projects include tracking domestic violence court cases, or mapping violent crimes as an anti-crime tool, or finding ways to get medical/wellness support to low-income, young moms and their children.

McCauley applied to the fellowship program because she was attracted to that diversity of CURL’s research. But she didn’t anticipate how the program has also helped her gain skills that will help her in the future, like crafting elevator pitches and writing resumes and abstracts. In fact, McCauley’s CURL experiences have helped refine her future research interests.

“For me, that’s new—women and their kids. I thought I wanted to focus on adolescence. Now I want to focus on mothers and in turn their children,” she says.

On a recent Friday morning, fellows McCauley, Kevin Williams, Trevaughn Latimer, and Isabelle Abbott sat down for their regular check-in meeting to discuss their upcoming poster presentations for Loyola’s Weekend of Excellence. Though they were missing another fellow, Andrea Moreno, the group’s camaraderie was palpable. Though they were sharing what they deemed “highs and lows” of their week, laughter seemed to seamlessly spill into their personal updates on their health and future aspirations.

“We bounce things off of each other even if we haven't done that person’s research. It’s easy,” says McCauley. Actually, Latimer, Williams, and McCauley all participated in Loyola’s SOAR (Seizing Opportunities for Academic Resilience) program as freshmen and studied abroad together at Loyola’s Vietnam Center. Though Abbott and Moreno weren’t familiar with everyone, Teresa Neumann, the university research coordinator who supervises the group’s work, said they fit in well with the entire group.

“It’s worked out really well. I know that they all do a group chat and are super supportive of one another. They’re all just really great people,” says Neumann.

In the last few years, CURL has updated the fellowship program format and added more time for self-evaluation and professional development. Neumann said she wants fellows to have a better understanding of the nonprofit world and Loyola’s relationship to nonprofits, along with gaining hands-on experience. This year’s crop of fellows, she said, have demonstrated how powerful and important experiential learning opportunities such as this can be.

“It’s not just about data. It’s not just about writing that final report. Hopefully this offers them an opportunity to walk in someone else’s shoes for a minute. At the same time I hope that they leave with some new professional skills,” says Neumann.