Providing chances for students to engage in projects that
they choose and implement, where they have a chance to
engage deeply with their community, is a rewarding way to
help a diverse group of students discover new ways that their
technical interests can be combined with their interests and
passions outside of the classroom—and to watch in awe as
they generate real, inspiring insights and connections to our
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Department of Computer Science
Harvey Mudd College
301 Platt Blvd.
Claremont, CA USA
DOI: 10.1145/3230686 ©2018 ACM 2153-2184/18/09 $15.00
CLARITY ABOUT PROJECT GOALS
In service-learning projects for early undergraduates, there
is a tension between benefits to the student, benefits to the
community organization, and benefits to the scientific community. I like to decide up-front what the acceptable trade-offs
are among the three. For community-engaged research projects for early undergraduates, I intentionally prioritize benefits to the community partner and the student, knowing that
the technical output might not be ground-breaking. We otherwise follow the same project structure as a more traditional research project. They must identify a problem (based on
conversations with the community partner), research existing
tools and relevant prior work, design a solution, and communicate their findings.
Dissemination of their work still happens, but in less formal
ways. All my students are required to write blog posts about
their work regularly—once a week during the school year;
once a day during the summer. They also present their findings
back to members of the community. For instance, one group of
students developed maps to help parents coordinate walking
routes to elementary schools. They staffed a table at our town’s
4th of July celebration where they explained their work. Local
parents shared their barriers to letting their kids walk or bike to
school, and my students came away with a clearer understand-
ing of how their work fit into a broader context. One of those
Interacting and working with parents and the other mem-
bers of the community was one of my favorite parts of the
project. I was able to get feedback and information that al-
lowed me to focus my time on creating software that peo-
ple would use and that would have a positive impact the
community. The interactions gave me a sense of purpose in
the project and made me excited to be a part of something
more than just writing code. (Erin McCarthy, Scripps ‘ 17,
now a PhD student at the University of Oregon)
Figure 2: Students at the Claremont 4th of July celebration shared their
work developing maps and tools to help families of school children
coordinate walking and biking routes to school.
We … follow the same project
structure as a more traditional
research project. They must identify
a problem (based on conversations
with the community partner),
research existing tools and relevant
prior work, design a solution, and
communicate their findings.