Community-Engaged Research

Prison Reform Symposium

Ahmed Sheikh ’17, discusses research on re-entry programs for juveniles in the Maine correctional system, conducted to support an initiative by Maine Immigrant and Refugee Services (MIRS).


Community-engaged research (also known as community-based research) is an important strand of academic civic engagement supported by the Harward Center. Students in diverse departments and programs undertake community-engaged research in courses and for their senior thesis or capstone project. Some departments offer research methods courses that focus specifically on collaborating with the community for research. Harward Center staff offer support for students performing community-engaged research through one-on-one consultations as well as the Community-Engaged Research (CER) Fellows Program.


Many opportunities for community engagement are available for students who are completing an honors thesis, thesis, or independent study. Community partners often approach us with research questions that do not fit easily within the context of a twelve-week course.  The sustained attention and detailed analysis that an individual student can provide through a focused semester or year-long project can have a significant and long-lasting impact, and students also benefit significantly from these collaborations. Among recent Bates alumni who were surveyed about their work with the Harward Center in May of 2016, an overwhelming majority of those who conducted their thesis research in the community said that this work influenced their career trajectory and deepened their commitment to civic engagement.

The process for initiating a community-engaged research project can unfold in a number of ways. Sometimes a student might develop a thesis research question through prior work done with a community agency. In other cases, the student’s research might tie in with questions a faculty member is exploring in the community. If you are considering a community-engaged research project or studying a topic related to current issues within Lewiston-Auburn, we encourage you to contact Harward Center staff and consider whether there are local organizations that could benefit from collaborating with you. We can also help you to determine whether you need Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval for your chosen topic.

Examples of Community-Engaged Honors Theses from 2016 include:

  • Camden Bock ’16, a math major and education minor, worked with the Lewiston Public School Systems to assess the effectiveness of a free, web-based math tutoring program for his study, “Mixed k-means clustering in computer adaptive learning.”
    Click to learn more about Camden’s work.
  • Ashley Bryant ’16, an anthropology major, worked with the Lewiston Public School system to examine  the challenges that America public schools face in negotiating the balance between assimilation and accommodation when educating immigrant youth, and the role that schools play in advancing the idea of “the Nation” and defining “American-ness.” Her project was entitled, “Making Americans: Negotiating the Boundaries of Somali Identities in the Public Education System of Lewiston, Maine.” Click here to learn more about Ashley’s research.
  • Laurel Meyer ’16, a psychology major, worked with two senior living facilities in Lewiston, Blake Street Towers and Montello Heights, to evaluate how residents, staff, and physical spaces contributed to conceptualizations of community (i.e., belonging) and independence (i.e., agency) in the two partner living facilities. Her project was entitled, “Conceptualizing Community: Older People’s Experiences in Independent Living Facilities.” Click here to read Laurel’s work.

You can find information on other community-engaged research projects from this year and previous years on the SCARAB catalog, and in our annual reports.


CER Fellowships provide funding, mentoring, and peer reflection for student projects that advance public needs, as articulated in dialogue with community partners, through significant academic research. CER Fellows receive a stipend of $400 for the semester. Equally important, they take part in a non-credit Fellows’ Seminar, being led this year by Darby Ray and Sam Boss, which exposes them to the history, methods, and ethics of community-engaged research across different disciplines, engages them in thinking about the distinctive values and challenges of community-engaged research, and offers them an interdisciplinary peer community for sharing their work. The seminar meets on a biweekly basis during Winter Term, usually over lunch or dinner. For more information, contact Darby Ray at the Harward Center for Community Partnerships or check back in the fall to download an application.