Ohio Wesleyan University is launching a new OWU Community Research Fellows program this fall to link student-researchers with local organizations seeking to complete special projects.
“The idea is to get students working on projects for businesses, nonprofits, and government organizations in the community,” said Robert Gitter, Ph.D., OWU professor emeritus of Economics.
Gitter helped to design the new program and is overseeing its three inaugural Community Research Fellows. The program is administered by the university’s Woltemade Center for Economics, Business and Entrepreneurship.
“We are extremely excited about this opportunity for students, and it perfectly aligns with the mission of The Woltemade Center to enhance academic programs and provide real-world opportunities to create future generations of business and world leaders,” said Destiny Coleman, the center’s administrative director.
The first fellows
This fall’s first group of OWU Community Research Fellows and their projects are:
• Joey DeRusso, of Northfield, Ohio, is working with the City of Delaware Fire Department and Fire Chief John Donahue to quantify the economic impact of the department, including its payroll and spending, as well as the lives and property it protects. The research is modeled after similar analyses conducted in Phoenix, Arizona, and Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada. A senior, DeRusso is a Management Economics major and a Data and Society minor.
• Jenna Norman, of Wilmington, Ohio, is working with Regionomics LLC, a Columbus-based strategic economic and workforce analysis and planning company, and its owner, Bill LaFayette, to create an inventory of employers and jobs in Clinton Township, located in Franklin County. A sophomore, Norman is an Economics and Politics and Government double major and an Environment Studies and Social Justice double minor.
• Yewoinhareg “Yoyo” Kebede, of Washington, D.C., is working with the Delaware Community Center YMCA and Executive Director Roger Hanafin to survey local Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) to determine what they know about the YMCA and what they want from it. She also is working to help develop programming cognizant of the BIPOC community. A junior, Kebede is an Economics and French double major.
Service and experience
By creating the new OWU program as a fellowship, instead of a traditional internship, the students report to Gitter and work on campus. The arrangement enables him to use his knowledge as a data-driven economist to help the students design their projects and complete them successfully.
Over time, Gitter envisions the OWU Community Research Fellows program expanding to involve faculty supervisors from other academic areas, giving community clients access to whatever type of expertise is needed.
“Ultimately,” Gitter said, “the program serves the community and provides the fellows with real-world experience.”
Kebede said she is excited to be working with the Delaware Community Center YMCA to support its work to fully serve the entire community.
“I wanted to be a Community Research Fellow because I love helping others,” said Kebede, whose future plans include pursuing a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree and a career working in the public sector.
“This fellowship is a great opportunity to build relationships with the BIPOC residents of Delaware,” she said. “As a kid, I remember going to the YMCA and all the fun I had, and I would love for other BIPOC families to be able to experience that fun.”
Kebede thinks the research already is yielding beneficial information.
“Thus far, the fellowship has made it evident that there is an information gap in the BIPOC community about resources,” said Kebede, who also is part of Ohio Wesleyan’s Palmer Global Scholars and Latham Entrepreneurial Scholars programs.
“This gap is very impactful on the lives of BIPOC as they aren’t always exposed to the same information that their white counterparts have access to,” she said. “It is my hope that my work during this fellowship helps bridge that gap by increasing BIPOC presence at the Y and their accessibility to it.”
Hanafin said he is pleased the Delaware Community Center YMCA is one of the first clients of the new OWU Community Fellows Program and looks forward to the changes that will result from Kebede’s work.
“The big benefit of working with Yoyo and Ohio Wesleyan is that we don’t have the resources to complete this project on our own, despite our commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism,” he said. “Our goal is to be a place for all, and we need to hear from everyone in the community if we are going to achieve this.”
Hanafin said the project has three primary components, including Kebede conducting in-person interviews with key informants, such as the president of the African American Heritage Council; undertaking a more traditional electronic survey; and helping residents to complete the survey in person during visits to locations including the Unity Community Center, Liberty Community Center, and Woodward Elementary School.
The timetable for change is still being developed, Hanafin said, but the intention is clear: “We are hoping to take all of this information and turn it into actionable steps to help us better serve the community.”
Learn more about Ohio Wesleyan’s Woltemade Center for Economics, Business and Entrepreneurship at www.owu.edu/woltemade and more about the Department of Economics and Business at www.owu.edu/economics.