Research with a purpose
Program puts students and faculty together to answer practical research questions
By Benjamin Wood
Students at the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business are gaining premier research experience, working with faculty and presenting to academic communities through a program that puts real-world questions front and center.
A group of faculty is working with students to develop a program that goes above and beyond any normal student project. The Research Group, soon changing names to the Consortium for Applied and Scholarly Research, offers students a chance to work collaboratively with faculty on projects that offer realistic and applicable solutions to contemporary business problems.
Photo by Ken Bartkus
“We recognized there was an opportunity to develop a niche of excellence,” said Ken Bartkus, a professor of marketing at the Huntsman School and director of The Research Group.
The group, which began to take form in 2002, is based on a business model, as opposed to an academic model. This means that faculty members function like partners in a corporation with students filling the role of an apprentice or intern. Students and faculty work side by side and publish their results as co-authors. The results have been impressive. The group has produced award-winning research that has been published in scholarly journals and presented at professional and state research symposiums.
“We thought that knowledge transfer would be stronger if the students and professors worked collaboratively,” Dr. Bartkus said.
RELEVANCE AND RIGOR
Dr. Bartkus said the program strives to identify research questions that are applicable in the business world. Insights from the business community, as well as literature on marketplace problems, are cultivated to create findings that are relevant outside academia.
“Our program reflects engaged scholarship,” Dr. Bartkus said. “We don’t like to do research in the absence of what the market values.”
The primary question for all the group’s projects is “How can we use this?” Dr. Bartkus said. As the group grows, so does the involvement of the private sector.
“We’re trying to help companies,” Dr. Bartkus said. “It’s not just an academic exercise. We liken what we do to a professional development program.”
For example, the group has completed projects dealing with things such as nutritional labeling, consumer environmental awareness and student evaluations of teaching.
For one project an audit was done on customer comment cards in major U.S. hotel chains. Cards were collected and examined for design errors such as category biases, redundant questions, failure to provide anonymity assurances and insufficient comment space. The results of the study were published in the Journal of Travel Research and were presented at Research on Capitol Hill in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Stacey Hills, a clinical associate professor of marketing in the Huntsman School, worked with then-student Janette Blackham for the comment card study, collecting and analyzing cards from more than 50 major hotel chains.
Dr. Hills said the comment card study was featured in the media and was adapted into a credible journal article, making it one of the pioneering projects for The Research Group.
“Any time you have a group together you can build something really special. We worked together so closely on it that we built this wonderful relationship.”
— Darcy Stewart
The group’s research offers a unique experience for students, Dr. Hills said. Business research requires relevance and improvements to the bottom line of a business entity. Also, students are given greater latitude on projects in the co-author structure than often is the case in professor-mandated assignments.
“From a student perspective they have to rise to that challenge of having to figure things out,” Dr. Hills said. “I think it teaches students to be creative, to look for problems and solutions and not always be told what to do.”
Dr. Hills said students see notable improvement in their writing and presentation skills after participating in the program. The Research Group has taken students to symposiums in Utah, California, Illinois and Washington and at every turn the students are expected to present their research.
“People come out of this changed,” Dr. Hills said.
Darcy Stewart, a 2010 entrepreneurship graduate of the Huntsman School, has been on campus this summer finishing an internship for The Covey Group. As a student, she participated in a research project looking at how culture affects entrepreneurial activity. The idea for the project came out of Ms. Stewart’s interest in entrepreneurship and involved Ms. Stewart traveling to South America for research, something to which she felt personally connected.
The research of her group found that cultural characteristics such as power, distance and uncertainty avoidance correlate with entrepreneurial rates — information, she said, that is valuable for businesses making investment decisions.
Photo by Russ Dixon
Ms. Stewart was able to present her research at Research on Capitol Hill, the Utah Conference on Undergraduate Research, the National Conference for Undergraduate Research, and at the Western Decisions Science Institute.
“Any time you have a group together you can build something really special,” Ms. Stewart said. “We worked together so closely on it that we built this wonderful relationship.”
The experience broadened her perspective.
“It enhanced my education and refined me as a student,” Ms. Stewart said. “It was really special.”
Dr. Bartkus said a significant objective of the group is to prepare students for their careers. The business model of The Research Group offers students resume-building work experience and publication is heavily encouraged.
“We’ve found our students have been very, very successful when they go out for jobs,” Dr. Bartkus said.
Dr. Bartkus said the goal is to expand the breadth and depth of the group. Already professors from the University of Utah, Texas A&M and Michigan State have become involved, as have a growing number from the private sector.
“We’re adding new things all the time,” Dr. Bartkus said.
An online journal, The Research Group Quarterly, is also in development to showcase the work of the group. This online, open-access journal is set to debut in January 2011.