Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Student research zeroes in on motivations and obstacles for volunteers

Abigail Smith ’15 hopes her Summer Research project will help more young adults to spend time serving others in their communities.

She is researching the factors that influence the decisions of Randolph College students to volunteer—or not volunteer.

Abigail Smith ’15 interviews Pujan Shrestha ’15 about his thoughts on volunteering.
“It’s a part of their life that hasn't been explored,” Smith said.

When she took a class on research methods taught by sociology professor Danielle Currier, she had to design a research experiment. She took interest in volunteerism because of her own experiences with volunteering when she was growing up in Jamaica.

As she worked on that project, she learned that there was not much published research on the motivations behind volunteering. She asked Currier to advise her for the project during the Summer Research Program.

Currier was not planning to get involved in the Summer Research Program, but Smith’s request changed her mind. “One of the best ways to change things on a micro level is by volunteering,” she said. “I wanted to know how we could help more students here want to do it.”

In the spring, they prepared a survey about volunteerism and had 91 students complete the survey. This summer, they are conducting interviews with other students who are on campus.

To determine which factors are most influential in volunteering decisions, they will watch for correlations and patterns in the responses of both the survey and the interviews.

n addition to asking about motivations for volunteering, they also are finding out about the barriers that stop some students from doing service. For example, last week they interviewed a student who pointed out that when he does have time that he could volunteer, he does not always have access to transportation to go somewhere.

This summer’s work will be a pilot study and the basis for further research in the fall. Smith plans to involve students from other colleges, too. The project might result in her senior paper, and she thinks she may continue the research in graduate school.

She enjoys getting to apply the concepts that she has explored in the classroom setting. “This has given me a chance to use all that I have done, putting what I've learned to the true test,” she said.