The student-led research is model for other colleges and universities
It’s unusual for a professional, peer-reviewed journal to feature the work of undergraduate students, so the fact that 14 students in Aaron Weinschenk’s young political science research lab were prominently featured as co-authors gives you a clue about the quality and ambition of the work being done there.
The publication appears in The Justice System Journal (Volume 41, 2020 – Issue 4) and the article is “Have Supreme Court Elections Nationalized?.” Listed with Prof. Aaron Weinschenk are co-investigators Mandi Baker, Zoe Betancourt, Vanessa Depies, Nathan Erck, Quinne Herolt, Amanda Loehrke, Cameron Makurat, Hannah Malmberg, Clarice Martell, Jared Novitzke, Bradley Riddle, Tara Sellen, Leah Tauferner and Emily Zilliox.
That’s quite an honor for these students and the UW-Green Bay lab, but peer recognition is just one of the goals Weinschenk has for the research lab. The lab’s latest project focuses on conducting public opinion polls.
“What’s unusual about our approach is that this is student-led research,” he continued. “We limit enrollment to 15 students so everyone can get hands-on experience with research. I have some topics I’d like to study, but the students suggest most of the research topics, based on current events and other published research. Sometimes, we like to take another angle on a topic that’s already been studied, and sometimes we have some questions others have not asked.”
Weinschenk developed the idea for the lab when the UW System, and in turn, UW-Green Bay, allocated funds to develop impactful programming that would provide experiential learning opportunities for students. Weinschenk saw the lab as a way for students to become “data literate” in their own lives and learn to share that knowledge with others via published research. Weinschenk himself continues to publish and to appear on local, state, national and international news outlets to discuss campaigns, elections, and public opinion.
“In the lab, students learn how to structure questions, gather data, analyze the data, and produce reports that people can understand,” Weinschenk said. “Topics we’re exploring now include public awareness and opinion about redistricting; legalization of recreational marijuana; labor unions; police funding; automatic voter registration; criminal justice reform; and general political knowledge. By examining the measures and looking at relationships among different variables, we can arrive at some interesting insights into these topics.”
If you are interested in reading some of the work that Weinschenk and his students have developed, take a look at these reports! The poll that Weinschenk and his students analyzed in these reports represents the first of many polls that will be conducted by the research lab.
Students say they enjoy this engaging approach to the subject:
“I like the hands-on learning with this type of thing,” said Jared Knutson (’21) “I have had other classes that explain how research is done, but when I am involved in the entire process, I learn more, and it sticks with me.”
“I’ve taken statistics at this university before,” said David Nehlsen ‘22, “and have even been taught how to use one of the statistical analysis programs we’ve been utilizing in our study. However, we were never taught the relationship between what we were learning and the real-world applications. In a few short weeks, Dr. Weinschenk was able to give me hands-on experience with data we all helped to collect, which really personalizes the learning experience.”
“This lab will definitely help me in the future,” said Gage Beck (2021), “when I see results of other polls and [know how] to think critically…As we become more informed and skilled members of the public, we can apply data to help make informed decisions.”
Instructors at other colleges and universities have taken an interest in the research lab, too.
“When Weinschenk published his paper about creating and implementing the research lab…last year,” said Alise Coen, associate professor of Political Science, “he received an outpouring of interest from other political science professors, asking for a copy of the paper and indicating they hoped to implement their own labs, using his template. It was very exciting for our department and our students.”
“I have connected with people from the University of Houston, Colorado State University, Dartmouth, Towson University, and Mississippi State about how I developed and run my research lab class,” said Weinschenk. His article “Creating and Implementing an Undergraduate Research Lab in Political Science” for The Journal of Political Science Education (July 31, 2020) has drawn “a fair amount of attention.”
“I stress to my colleagues that this requires funding commitments to be successful,” Weinschenk said. “We started with a small grant through the provost’s office four or five years ago to develop the lab class as a high-impact practice—which is what the university wanted. We then got support to fund polls through my named Professorship (the Rosenberg Professorship, which is funded by the UW-Green Bay Foundation ~ Ed.).
“This past year, we received additional support from funds allocated to me by the UW-Green Bay Foundation, with the goal of using polling to advance the mission and priorities of the University. Without that support from the University and the Foundation, we would not be able to field the research questions and have this experience for the students.”
Chuck Rybak, Dean of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, expressed the University’s enthusiasm for Weinschenk and the work of the lab.
“I have nothing but praise and respect for his work here,” said Rybak. “This is literally going to change the nature of our campus and region.”
The cost—and value—of research is not lost on Weinschenk’s students, either.
“I hope this article will contribute to the continued support of this research lab and, in general, high-impact practices at the university,” said Beck, who graduated in December of 2021. “Research labs, assistantships, internships, seminars and other high-impact practices are proven to keep students more engaged, and we learn much more in these types of courses versus the typical lecture.”
Weinschenk and his students have continued to work with the data they collected in the first UWGB poll. In fact, he is currently working with colleague Kaden Paulson-Smith and several previous research lab students on a journal article examining public perceptions about police reforms in Wisconsin. With the enthusiasm and passion his students have for their work, Weinschenk is confident the UW Green Bay Poll will soon rise to statewide and regional prominence.
See more about Prof. Weinschenk’s passion to work with undergraduates and his own rise story.
Story by freelance writer and UW-Green Bay alumnus Jim Streed ’05.
Photos, Marketing and University Communication