Integrated Scholarship Faculty Panel

On February 1, 2019, the EHHD Office of Scholarship Development and Academic Impact hosted a panel discussion on the benefits and challenges of “Integrated Scholarship,” i.e. integration of a faculty member’s teaching, research and outreach/engagement.  This article summarizes key discoveries expressed by the four EHHD panelists: Lauren Davis (Educational Assessment for Curriculum & Instruction), Kalli Decker (Early Childhood Education & Child Services), Bill Ruff (Educational Leadership) and Carmen Byker Shanks (Food and Nutrition and Sustainable Food Systems).  The questions posed to the panelists were the following:

  1. How have you integrated scholarship, teaching and engagement? (What is your unique way of doing that?  Does it entail the scholarship of teaching?  The scholarship of engagement,?  Another avenue?)
  2. In looking at the integration of what you do, what are the challenges? (For example, does integration water down or bolster the rigor and focus of your teaching, research and/or outreach/engagement efforts?  How?)
  3. How have you overcome those challenges? (Does integration streamline your workload?  Or do you find it adding to your workload which requires special management techniques?)
  4. What recommendations would you have for new faculty members in how to approach the integration of these 3 spheres of faculty work?


Lauren Davis shared that she “fell into” hers accidentally, not through a master plan.  She had been exploring options for her research agenda on academic achievement when her division chair approached her about doing yoga together.  Lauren had researched trauma-informed education and their conversations about yoga linked in its potential role as a coping strategy for children who’d experienced trauma.  They thought it would be neat if kids had access to that in their schools.  There wasn’t a lot of research about it, but there was growing evidence regarding the impacts of mindfulness.  They succeeded in beginning a trauma-informed, accessible, free program in Virginia, and she is testing a similar intervention now in Livingston, MT.  The project has been an organic, serendipitous merging of her passions and interests, integrating scholarship with engagement; she’s now exploring how such an approach could be implemented in the teacher preparation program.  Toward that end, she co-developed a special topics course last summer – trauma informed educational practices.  Lauren counts herself lucky to have found a research partner with complementary interests and skills.  In terms of opportunities and challenges, she appreciates the synergy she’s been able to generate, but sometimes finds it cognitively harder to wrap her mind around the relatively greater “messiness” instead of discrete to-do lists for each part of her life.  Lauren also commented on the challenge of being patient, recognizing that trust takes time for her school- and community-based research.


Kalli Decker discussed multiple research projects that integrate research, outreach/engagement and teaching, that each began from different starting points.  She’s working with colleague Christine Lux on developing an early childhood education mindfulness curriculum that integrates a 400 level college class with ideas for the early childhood classroom.  They are exploring what kind of research might be linked with these types of collaborations.

Kalli’s main projects involve making herself a trusted resource person in communities across the state regarding early intervention services for young children with exceptionalities.  She finds it requires baby steps to develop the relationships, and has to remind oneself this is a long process.  Her work feels integrated in that her research is directly related to service.  The same research influences her teaching, and teaching is part of the research through a large cadre of undergraduate students collaborating in data collection, analysis and writing.  Adding undergrads to a project requires time – she spends approximately 10 hours/week working with the students – but it’s positive and influential for them while also helping her process her ideas and research plans as well.  Her mission is to normalize that.

Kalli faces challenges primarily in balancing research rigor (which takes extensive periods of time) while providing resources to state partners in a timely manner.  She has bridged the gap by sharing some “preliminary results” (clearly identified as such) or sharing some de-identified feedback from her interviews.  The challenges of integrating teaching with her research are different and primarily revolve around helping her undergraduate students develop research discipline and the writing skills necessary to publish their shared research.  Kalli also faces ethical dilemmas.  She must publish her research while identifying sensitive ways to do that when findings generated aren’t always positive.  As a researcher she has to provide a critical perspective.  Her primary lesson from working with state and community partners is to be explicit about what they want to know about, asking questions that will serve them as well as her own research interests.


Bill Ruff discussed how starting up an integrated program can begin from the development of relationships.  He came to MSU with an agenda of school reform, and how that intersects with a school leader’s mind (cognitive psychology).  He found it was reservation schools that were needing the most help, and the biggest element that was preventing progress was a revolving door of leadership.  The question was how to gain traction on that problem.  Some local leaders identified the need for a “Grow-Your-Own” school leadership academic curriculum.  Bill, with colleagues, went after a grant from U.S. Office of Indian Education, and has been running just such a program for the past 12 years now.  This evolved from a research and engagement question into a teaching/research opportunity where he and his colleagues could test curricula to help determine what works well for Indian Education.  This exploration of appropriate curricula drove the research and scholarship.  The heart of it all is his relationships with educational leaders from diverse American Indian communities in our region.


Carmen Byker Shanks said she thinks every day about ways to integrate the parts of her career because it helps her be more efficient with her time.  Carmen researches food and nutrition in the context of supporting sustainable food systems.  She works with communities to build healthier eating practices and sustainability.  She feels the nature of her research requires integration with teaching and service.

Working on complex food systems issues with communities requires resources, such as cost and time, which are usually limited.  One strategy to address cost is to integrate student projects and assignments into research. Students provide important perspective, skills, and expertise and receive valuable training and experience in return, but, on a practical level, do not cost as much as a full time employee. Additionally, there are several different partners involved in food systems work, increasing the amount of time it takes to communicate and engage partners in participation.  Holding group meetings helps to involve project partners and increase communication. Building a team structure where various people (students, staff, stakeholders) are the points of contact for different tasks helps to maintain involvement in a project and keep the partnerships organized.

Working with students, Carmen tries to work from an asset based approach, which starts with knowing the students from class or another project or a colleague and discerning their interests and talents.  If they love cooking, she puts them to work helping with recipe development.  If they’re good at public speaking, they might conduct more of the outreach.  It takes time to understand student assets, but for her it’s more efficient than to develop and deliver everything herself. 

When Carmen took a group of students to Morocco for a study abroad during summer 2015, it was a great source of transformational learning.  The community’s approach to addressing issues, including a recent dietary transition, was (translated) “brick by brick.”  This attitude has stuck with her in her work.  She regularly reminds herself, this is going to come together, one step at a time.  She feels like integrating well takes time and patience and advises focusing on the vision while enjoying the process of building.


In discussion following the presentations, Lauren commented that the process can be stressful.  She asked, “Does the process ever get less messy?”  Carmen’s response is that she set a new normal.  “This is what I expect out of my job.  Let it be, and each day work on what’s right in front of me.”  It’s a matter of figuring out which threads of the whole cloth to work on each day.  When you’re still trying to figure out what’s out there, it’s too soon to build boundaries and narrow the focus.  Bill commented that it’s like learning how to drive a car, everything’s coming at you; when you’re a novice, you’re not sure what’s important, but it comes with practice and time.

Kalli and Carmen agreed that when integrating students into a research program, the faculty member needs to be in charge.  As Carmen said, “They are learning. You help them to be strong leaders in their work and vice versa.”  And if the students want to join the University Scholars program, she helps them find something small that also feeds her program.  Kalli’s comment was that she puts the data in front of students, and then asks, “What is your research question related to these data?” which provides boundaries around the possible universe of questions and analyses.  Carmen added that it helps to have an “organizer personality.”

 In terms of community involvement, Carmen’s advice is also apt: start partnerships by asking, what are your team members good at, and how do they want to be involved?