Fostering Research Partnerships as New Faculty: Making Inroads with Local Agencies and Communities

April 27, 2015

During the early career faculty meeting at NASP, participants asked for ideas on how to build research partnerships when they are new to a university and the surrounding community. Below, two early career faculty share their experience for doing just that. 

By Daniel GadkeKasee Stratton, Mississippi State University

In November, Milena Keller-Margulis wrote a great post on developing a research agenda. As junior faculty we find ourselves regularly honing our research agendas and determining how to build them from the ground up.  Personally, our broad strokes research agenda involves the exploration of strategies rooted in applied behavior analysis to address behavioral and academic needs in children with disabilities. Depending on which of us you approach, you may find that we spend most of that time targeting children with autism spectrum and related disorders, or children with complex genetic disorders (e.g., CHARGE Syndrome) and children who present as deaf-blind. As new faculty, we recognize that starting up at a new university and getting your agenda to take off can prove difficult.

It is our experience that successful research agendas, particularly in school psychology, involve positive partnerships with local agencies (e.g., schools, daycares, hospitals, etc.). Developing these partnerships and getting your name out there may be difficult regardless of your institution; however, we found this to be particularly difficult joining the faculty at a major university in the rural south. The number of local agencies within the town is limited, and other major cities are at least 100 miles away.  We had heard that many academics working with schools and other agencies in the area sometimes offered pro-bono services in hopes that this relationship would lead to a collaborative arrangement allowing the faculty member to engage in research at the location. Some mentors told stories of their efforts taking several years before paying off, and, in some instances, not working out at all.  They were often lost in the service only shuffle without seeing the benefits to their research agenda.  That being said, we took a different approach: we decided to figure out a way to bring as many agencies representatives to us as possible by offering them continuing education units. Our goal was not only to be able to go out to these agencies and conduct research on-site, but to have these agencies send participants to us for our on-campus labs.

Capitalizing on Practitioners’ Need for Continuing Education. At one of our alma maters, Illinois State University, the faculty host an annual School Psychology Appreciation Day where professionals from around the state are offered free CEUs at a workshop held at the university every April. For school psychologists in the state, NASP-approved CEUs are provided at no cost, as they are a NASP-approved CEU provider. Additionally, Illinois State Board of Education CEUs were offered at no cost. We took a similar approach by offering a two-day workshop for educators at Mississippi State University in January 2014, which was our second semester as faculty.  In order to recruit additional school personnel and those familiar with autism, we partnered with a speech pathologist colleague who was well known for assistive technology to offer speech pathology CEUs as well.  Our presentations included talks on classroom behavior management, changes to autism criteria in the DSM-V, sleep maintenance, and creating individualized behavioral goals for BIPs.  All of the topics aligned well with our research interests, allowing us to capitalize on sharing our expertise and research outcomes.

Participant recruitment.Our college assisted with advertising on the university website and we sent the information to schools, hospitals, and other agencies across the state.  We were also sure to send personalized emails to directors of special education.  When it was all said and done, we ended up with 100 professionals in attendance from all over the state. We had now shared our research endeavors with 100 individuals who showed their excitement by staying after the workshop to ask questions and to inquire about assistance and research for their employer.

Seeing results.As new faculty, the payoff was huge. We quickly had folks inviting us into their schools to do additional staff development trainings or to help with individual students. Those 100 attendees also told their other colleagues about how we could collaborate and parents about how we could help. By the end of the semester, our programs of research were positively impacted in a variety of ways. We were able to establish partnerships with schools, which allowed for our students to engage in research on-site and in additional practicum activities.  We also have a waitlist for all service and research activities, which is not a bad problem to have—a built in control group.

Unanticipated benefits.We have had so many clients referred to us, we were able to formalize what we now refer to as our School Psychology Service Center on campus. The Service Center allows us to actively engage in research, training, and service to the community.  Additionally, our practicum students have been provided with a wealth of experiences through the Center from difficult psychoeducational evaluations, challenging behavior cases, to first-hand intervention experience with some extremely rare genetic conditions.  More recently, the upper-level students have begun to express what a unique addition the Center has been to the program and their training experience. The clinic has become so active in the areas of research, training, and services that administrators have started to take notice, now considering it an integral part of the college.

Making this approach work for you. We hope this simple idea can be particularly useful for junior faculty in establishing collaborative relationships with community agencies.  We leave you with a few tips; some of which we learned along the way and others that we would have changed if we did it all over again.
Gain the support of your department head and college.  Do not be shy about your ideas.

  • Identify early on a location on campus to host the event (our location was free, but we had to book early!).
  • Determine if you are going to offer the CEUs free or charge a fee (we would suggest offering them for free, especially if you are able to avoid any overhead costs with the university). This may vary state by state and university by university.
  • Partner with other colleagues on campus whom might enrich the topics you are able to provide or who are well-respected in the community.
  • Offer trainings that map directly onto your areas of expertise and research interests and plug your research needs throughout your presentations.
  • yourself ample time to market the event throughout your state or region (we had approximately 3 months, but wished we had longer).
  • Leave time for lots of questions and answers or offer a post-workshop reception to allow more informal connections while your research is fresh on the attendants’ minds.

How do you see this idea working for you? What other approaches have you taken to foster research partnerships in your community?

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