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Marquette Democracy Lab performing study on STEM fields

Amber+Wichowsky.+Photo+by+Nolan+Bollier+%2Fnolan.bollier%40marquette.edu
Amber Wichowsky. Photo by Nolan Bollier /nolan.bollier@marquette.edu

Amber Wichowsky. Photo by Nolan Bollier /nolan.bollier@marquette.edu

Amber Wichowsky. Photo by Nolan Bollier /nolan.bollier@marquette.edu

Thomas Salinas, Metro Reporter

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The Marquette Democracy Lab has worked to improve the Milwaukee community via research since its creation about a year ago.

MDL is a research initiative that connects faculty and students with local stakeholders to identify research questions of mutual interest.

Amber Wichowsky, political science assistant professor and MDL’s leader, said the thought process behind MDL is that local government and community organizations provide services to benefit the community, but often don’t have the opportunity to see which services and programs work.

“We as academics and students at Marquette have some expertise we can bring to the table,” Wichowsky said. “We work with our local stakeholders and our community partners to identify research questions that would be mutually beneficial.”

MDL is working with STEMhero, a curriculum that works to empower students in science, technology, engineering and math, and 14 schools in the Milwaukee Archdiocese to do an education study. The study’s goal is to increase student interest in STEM.

MDL hopes to have the results later this semester.

Three undergraduate students work with the lab because of money from Marquette’s Strategic Innovation Fund. David Rynerson, a senior in the College of Arts & Sciences, is a new member of the MDL team after spending a year off-campus.

“I wanted to come back and get involved with an organization on campus that had deep roots with the community,” Rynerson said.

One community partner MDL works with is the Harambee Great Neighborhood Initiative. In MDL’s pilot study last year, it teamed with HGNI to figure out how to get residents to attend housing fairs and come together as a community. The team evaluated the question and came up with a field experiment.

The field experiment randomly assigned residents to receive different outreach messages. Some got information-only messages, while others received pro-social messages.

“What we found was these sorts of pro-social letters had a big impact on who actually showed up to these housing resource fairs,” Wichowsky said.

Wichowsky said the small pilot study led to interest in other ongoing partnerships. MDL plans to work with HGNI again this year and focus on increasing youth engagement.

Rynerson said MDL is the perfect fit for him. He expects MDL to help him achieve personal growth and a better knowledge of communities and local government.

“I wanted to get involved with a political group because that’s my background, but also one that was active around town and campus and really took the needs and wants of the people that lived there into consideration,” he said.

Wichowsky encourages students who want to get involved with MDL to reach her on their website. She said she believes working with MDL will give students unique opportunities.

“The (MDL) will give students hands-on experience with social science research,” Wichowsky said. “In doing so, we will also help make our neighborhoods healthier, safer and more sustainable.”

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