Leah Horton, University of Central Arkansas – Applying Mixed Methods Community-Based Participatory Research to Global Service-Learning

On University of Central Arkansas Week:Β  Service-learning can benefit marginalized communities.

Leah Horton, Lecturer II of Biology, discusses one way this was achieved using cooking tools.

Dr. Leah Horton is a career educator and, after serving as a lecturer in the UCA biology department for 16 years, is currently serving as the Associate Dean of the UCA Honors College. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from UCA, a master’s degree in biochemistry, cell and developmental biology from Emory University, and her PhD in interdisciplinary leadership from UCA. Dr. Horton has developed several interdisciplinary courses, both within the biology department and in the honors college, including Women and Minorities in STEM, Professional Skills for Scientists, Science and Society in Rwanda, On Expertise: The Necessity of Scholarship and Leadership, and Multidisciplinary Research Methods. She also served as the first academic director of the STEM Residential College and co-developed UCA’s Science, Society, and Service-Learning in Rwanda study abroad program. Her research interests include human capabilities and well being, environmental leadership, and honors education. Dr. Horton is mom to two teenage sons and three dogs and is also an avid knitter.

Applying Mixed Methods Community-Based Participatory Research to Global Service-Learning

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Community-based participatory research is well situated to embrace both service-learning and mixed methods research approaches to real world questions that directly impact marginalized communities. Our service-learning site, Kanembwe, Rwanda, is comprised of approximately 900 families, many of whom are ethnic Twa. The Twa of Rwanda have been historically marginalized and discriminated against. Many of the original families that were relocated by the government to Kanembwe in 2009 had lived their entire lives in the Gishwati Forest. They had limited contact with other Rwandans and unique social and cultural traditions. Being moved to Kanembwe resulted in a significant lifestyle change – from hunting and gathering to subsistence farming.

The purpose of our research was to investigate the quality of life of Kanembwe residents, framed by the Capabilities Approach, and to work together with the study participants to design and test an alternative cooking method. Initial research collected by study abroad students in Kanembwe showed that 76% of survey participants collected firewood on a daily basis and more than half of those spent five hours or more on the task. Additionally, the majority of Kanembwe residents cooked over an open three-stone fire. Therefore, in conjunction with village leaders, rocket stoves were designed, built, and tested.

Data were collected over a period of four years. Assessment of qualitative and quantitative data sets showed the study participants experience multiple capability failures, the rocket stoves significantly reduced firewood consumption compared to three-stone fires, the study participants prefer cooking using the rocket stoves, and the study participants reported positive gains in quality of life as a result of the intervention.

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