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Researcher Spotlight: Riley McHugh

The Researcher Spotlight series is designed to introduce the public to the many fabulous members of the Busload of Books research team. Washington College student researcher Avery Castellani designed this set of questions for the student research team- here are Riley's responses!


What was it about the Busload of Books project that made you decide to accept the offer to join the research team?  

When Dr. CD first approached me about the Busload of Books project, I was immediately excited about the prospect of joining the team. She described the project as a unique opportunity to do large-scale research from the beginning stages and see it through during my time at WAC. Research opportunities for undergraduates that allow for hands on experience, the ability to develop skills related to every aspect of research, and the chance to increase my knowledge across multiple subject areas was very appealing to me, and was initially what made me want to work on the project. After learning more about the details of the project, I became more eager to begin working because the project was doing something new that would have a significant impact on the lives of many people long after the tour finishes.

The opportunity to work with professors who care deeply about their work and want to help students gain research experience was another aspect that encouraged me to join the research team. Prior to working on the Busload of Books Project, I had the opportunity to learn from Dr. Bunten and Dr. CD. Both professors are engaged and highly motivated in class, and they made it clear that they care very deeply about the material they are presenting. Given that experience, I knew that the opportunity to work with them on a project that means a great deal to them would be an incredible opportunity for academic, professional, and personal growth. What specific jobs have you taken on as a student researcher? What have they taught you? 

As the project has progressed, so have the jobs I have taken on as a student researcher; the project moves through a series of stages, each of which comes with its own priorities and goals. At the beginning of the project, my responsibilities included helping to pack and ship the boxes of research materials to participating schools, and working on the Busload of Books Research blog. Now that the tour is underway and we have been receiving completed surveys, my jobs are more focused on data entry and archiving.

How does the Busload of Books project relate to your studies at Washington College?  

At Washington College, I am majoring in Psychology, and minoring in Secondary Education Studies and Public Health. I chose these areas of study because I enjoy helping and understanding people. Within these areas of study, I need to establish connections between different concepts, ideas, and process that will allow me to better understand how and why specific outcomes are achieved. The Busload of Books project relates to my studies because it allows me to strengthen my academic skills and explore research questions to try and discover how larger concepts are interconnected with one another. The concepts we are looking at all have significant impacts on people’s lives, and by taking the time to explore and understand the mechanisms behind these concepts, we can, hopefully, use this information to improve upon what is already going well and find solutions for the areas in need of improvement.

What are some of your long-term goals surrounding the Busload of Books project?  

My long-term goals for the Busload of Books project are centered around development of research skills and furthering my experience with other related academic endeavors. Thus far, the project has given me the chance to work on data processing, which has been highly informative and helped me to strengthen my skills and develop an better understanding of the nuances of designing data collection and processing methods. As we near the end of the data collection phase, I am looking forward to learning more about different platforms and methods that can be used for data analysis.

Additionally, I hope to play a role in using what we have learned from the data to generate statistics that can be used to design projects and papers related to our findings, which can hopefully be used to increase awareness of the literacy, and other, disparities currently facing the education system so that more work can be done to remedy these issues. What are you most excited to learn about through this research? 

Through this research, I am most excited to learn about the processes behind research work and how data can be used in multiple ways to further examine various aspects of the central research question. Working on this project has given me hands-on experience with the processes of developing a research project that I did not have prior. By understanding all the different elements that are at play within each step of a research project, I have developed more of an appreciation for research overall, and as we continue to progress through the different stages of the project, I am excited to learn more about what each phase will bring and what skills I can strengthen and develop from that experience.

Since we are nearing the end of data collection and coming closer to being able to analyze the results from all of the research schools, our work has also started to shift towards looking at what comes next. As we are looking forward, I am excited to see what the results will tell us, how we can use the results to make a positive impact on the world around us, and to learn more about the manuscript writing and conference presentation side of research.

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