In the summer between graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in History in the College of Arts & Science, and beginning a new year in the College of Education, U of S student Taylin Dosch dove into a work term of community-engaged research. He reveals how this experience of studying and engaging in real-world research has better prepared him to become an educator equipped to teach younger generations.
Developing a Partnership
Dosch was hired by the Community-Engaged History Collaboratorium, an initiative headed by Dr. Keith Carlson through the Department of History, and co-funded by the Undergraduate Research Initiative (UGR). The goal of the Collaboratorium (or the Collab for short) is to foster community-directed research and meaningful connections between students, faculty mentors, and community members. As one of the few opportunities for undergraduates to participate in community-engaged, summer research often related to the humanities, the Collab is a valuable on-campus resource for community organizations, students, and the institution.
In many ways, the Collaboratorium is like a match made in heaven. One the one hand, it provides training, administrative support, and a physical work place for student researchers to apply their skills in ways which can benefit community. On the other hand, it provides community partners with experienced student researchers, matched funding, and professional researcher (faculty) oversight. For Dosch, the project meant four months of research dedicated to helping to decolonize the Western Development Museum (WDM) under the guidance of Dr. Elizabeth Scott, WDM Director of Research, and with expertise from Teresa Carlson, Curator and Collections Manager of the Diefenbaker Centre. Dosch’s research project will contribute to an Inclusivity Report focused on decolonizing the Western Development Museum.
The Inclusivity Report looks at how diversity of historical perspectives is represented within the WDM including indigeneity, cultural representation, or LGBT2QA+ history. Dosch explains, “We're looking at diversity within the museums and answering questions [such as], 'Where can we include more diversity? . . . 'Where can we add more to what we understand about the world now?'”.
Although not well-versed in prairie history, Dosch says that the project was a natural fit for him because of similarities to topics he has pursued with passion in his studies, “I'm really interested in Latin American history and so I’m already [familiar] with the Indigenous side of looking at history. But for this project I learned how to apply what I learned about colonial history to the prairies rather than Latin America.”
Decolonizing the Western Development Museum
Since the WDM launched the project this spring, Dosch dedicated time to compiling and analyzing existing information on decolonization efforts in Canadian museums. Apart from archival and literary research, Dosch also travelled with Scott to the four, Saskatchewan branches of the WDM to get a sense of how each location uses its space to bring the province’s history to the public. According to Dosch this was a time of “preliminary information gathering – it was very much about [identifying] what we know now and where we can go from here to apply that knowledge to further research.”
While accustomed to completing research assignments in his upper-year, undergraduate courses and seminars, Dosch found immediate differences in tackling a “real-world” project in conjunction with academia. As many students would know, connecting what’s learned in the classroom to one’s own lived experience can be a challenge, and researchers (students and professors alike!) can, at times, run the risk of being cooped up in the ‘ivory tower’ of academia. One way to combat this, Dosch tells us, is by doing on-the-ground, community-engaged research. “You find you want to research it more; . . . [with] course work, you don't always see the relevancy of it, whereas this, you can see the direct impact that you might have with it, or where it can be applied within the real world,” he explains.
At the same time, the potential for real-world application necessitated Dosch step outside of his own perspective when it came to prairie history and decolonization. He tells us, “I learned how to work more in cooperation with other people rather than just on my own . . . because these are complex issues that we're talking about, you get very different sides of the spectrum from, 'It's not a problem at all,' to, 'Here's how we [as academics] can drastically change everything'. So it's very interesting to read those perspectives and try to find the balance that's most applicable to the situation, or most applicable to my project.”
Taking a Chance on Research
Dosch recognizes that jumping into an active and community-engaged research project can be intimidating, but says that the transition from high school to university was more demanding than the one he made from his senior-level classes to the demands of the Collaboratorium. “[Going from] third or fourth [year studies] to this job is not a big leap at all, because you're applying your skills . . . and evolving them further . . . rather than trying to develop new ones,” he explains.
Dosch credits his positive experience largely to working with an exceptional supervisor, Scott: “She's always respectful [and] interested in what I have to say and what I can give to her as another set of eyes.” The relationship he and Scott developed was formative, as there was room to share ideas freely and build on one another’s experiences. According to Dosch, what made Scott a strong mentor is how she strived for mutual collaboration: “She’s very much like, 'Work with me, let's work together . . . and I love it . . . It makes this experience much more fulfilling.”
He encourages any humanities- or social sciences-focused undergraduates interested in research to apply for the Collaboratorium. “It helps undergrads get to know what they would be doing with their careers . . . you learn about what you do not enjoy and do enjoy about the [research] process and the project, and it helps people nail down what they're looking for. As an undergrad, that's what you want – half the point of university is figuring out what you want to do with the rest of your life,” he says.
This act of clarification has been the case for Dosch, since working on Scott’s project over the summer confirmed his aspiration of becoming a teacher. “I love the learning aspect [of research], but I also want to teach . . . and help other people.” Speaking about what a great fit this career option is for him, he goes on to say “being a teacher will be good, I think, because I can work with students every day".
Practice What You Teach
In crafting his future teaching style, Dosch plans on applying the paradigm of diversity explored through his work with Scott, the WDM, and the Collaboratorium. “I don't know much about the education system outside of what I've experienced being in it, but I think that what I've learned from this job is how to keep a critical eye on everything, like what I'm teaching students, . . . what I say and how I see things, or how I let students work in the future,” he explains.
Though excited to begin a new chapter of his education, Dosch had a difficult time leaving the project behind. “Because I have already invested so much time into this project, I want to see where it goes . . . [when] it's a project that you've worked on from the very beginning, and . . . you've created it or you're the first people to work on it, you don't want to give it up,” he says.
While his term with Scott and the WDM was short-lived, working on a project of such importance to community has left Dosch with a renewed motivation to educate the young minds of Canada on the importance of attending to the diversity in our history and has attuned him to opportunities for action research in his next round of studies and eventual career.
Taylin Dosch, B.A. History, is currently pursuing his Education degree at the University of Saskatchewan.