This paper grew out of our experience using research service learning as a voluntary component of PPS 114. It is coauthored with two recent Duke grads who worked for the Hart Leadership Program.
For at least 20 years, American universities, political scientists, and college students each have been criticized for holding themselves aloof from public life. This article introduces a pedagogical method – research service-learning (RSL) – and examines whether it can provide a means of integrating scholarly theory with civic practice to enhance student outcomes. In particular, we examine whether a modest dose of RSL in the form of an optional course add-on (the “RSL gateway option”) is associated with higher scores on 12 educational and civic measures. We find that the RSL gateway option did not have effects on some important outcomes – such as intellectual engagement, problem solving, and knowledge retention – but it did appear to open students’ eyes to future opportunities in academic research and nonprofit and public sector work. The RSL add-on also appears to have helped students make the intellectual link between scholarly theory and the challenges facing volunteers and voluntary organizations. We argue that RSL, in its gateway-option formulation, is an administratively feasible pedagogy that can simultaneously help to resolve the relevancy dilemmas facing research universities, political scientists, and students seeking connections between the classroom and public policy.