Sitting in a large conference room, surrounded by city officials, Annie Hawkins ’19 and Emily Olague ’19, along with Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science Andrew Dzeguze, presented the findings of their class research project—a survey of Whittier College students’ perception of the City of Whittier.
The research began last fall in Dzeguze’s public administration course and was inspired by City Council Member Henry Bouchot. A relatively new member of the City Council, Bouchot had reached out to the College to gain a sense of students’ attitudes toward the City, particularly the Uptown area, in order to better incorporate student interests into future public policy discussions.
To gather this information, the class first designed a tool that would survey their peers and provide useful data that could be shared with Bouchot and other local civic and business leaders.
Through a controlled survey—administered to 125 students—the class gauged students’ views of a number of topics surrounding the city, including, but not limited to, public services, Uptown Whittier and its businesses, and whether students intend to make Whittier their residence after college. Ultimately, the results suggested that the student body does not generally feel a strong connection to the City of Whittier. Yet, the survey also found that many students wished the College felt more united with the town as a whole.
“This survey project was an example of how we can integrate meaningful civic engagement experiences into our political science curriculum,” said Dzeguze. “Students learned about the value and proper use of qualitative research methods and data analysis such as interviewing, coding, and thematic analysis in the context of a real world public policy investigation.”
Following Hawkins’ and Olague’s presentation of the group’s findings, local leaders expressed interest in continuing to communicate with the campus and addressing student concerns in hopes of bridging the gap between the College and local community.
In fact, Bouchot quickly convened a meeting where Hawkins, Olague, and Dzeguze met with representatives of the Uptown Whittier Improvement Association, Whittier Uptown Association, and Whittier Chamber of Commerce to provide an overview of their research results.
“It was a wide-ranging discussion and the students did an excellent job in representing Whittier College,” said Dzeguze, who hopes to keep the project going and will continue to encourage his students to be engaged with the community. “This type of access and input into governance is one of the things that makes Whittier a special place.”