Intellectual discovery leads to lasting global impact.
After more than a year of long hours and demanding work, Emily Jenkins ’19 finally clicked the activate button to make the website go live.
The website that she unleashed was an anti-poverty toolkit, a website designed to increase access to materials to help reduce poverty around the world — built at the request of the United Nations Anti-Poverty Working Group.
Tay Keong Tan, Ph.D., associate professor of political science and director of International Studies, has extensive international experience, including work with the United Nations. He was approached about the feasibility of creating the web-based toolkit in early 2018. He accepted the challenge and set out to recruit Radford University students to assist in the endeavor.
At the behest of Milenko Gudić´ and Alfred Rosenbloom, co-chairs of the Anti-Poverty Working Group, Tan joined the team to create a clearinghouse of materials for anyone in the world teaching anti-poverty courses or conducts research on poverty alleviation. Both Gudić and Rosenbloom agreed to peer review the work of the Radford University research team over the next year.
Throughout the project, a total of four Radford University students contributed: Gabriel Bennett ’19 of Blacksburg, Virginia; Haley Nunez of Roanoke, Virginia; Emily Jenkins ’19 of Radford, Virginia; and Rachel Sharrett ’19 of Bristol, Virginia. Working steadily from the Fall 2018 semester and through the summer months, they collaborated as a team under Tan’s supervision until the completion of their project in the Fall 2019 semester.
“I asked Gabriel and Rachel if they wanted to volunteer some time to work on a very meaningful project for the United Nations,” Tan said. “They immediately said yes. I knew these students well from my courses and was confident that they would be able to produce a very high standard of scholarship.”
After proving the quality of the work to the group, the scope of the project was expanded to include the development of a website to host the educational materials; creation of courses using only free online materials from the toolkit; and panel presentation proposals to international conferences and Radford campus events. Tan also added two additional student volunteers to the project.
As the work progressed, Bennett, Jenkins and Nunez each earned Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowships from the Office of Undergraduate Research and Scholarship (OURS) to continue their work over the summer. OURS awarded student travel funds to the team to present their work in Sweden. In addition, Tan wrote several grant proposals and received funding from the College of Humanities and Behavioral Sciences (CHBS) Research and Scholarship Award and the Dean of CHBS Office Student Research Fund.
“Dr. Tan was very vigilant and very determined, and he really helped us, while we worked on the toolkit,” Bennett said.
Bennett and Jenkins presented the toolkit in two panels with Gudić, Rosenbloom and Tan to the 2019 Global Gathering of United Nations Scholars at the University of Jonkoping in Sweden in November 2019.
For their dedication to the creation of the toolkit, the four students each received an award in excellence in advancing teaching and research on poverty around the world.
“This is a very prestigious accolade,” Tan said. “The Anti-Poverty Working Group is a network of well-published world experts in the field of poverty who rarely give out awards and only do so for the best research and presentations. It was the first time such an award has been given to students for their work.”
Up-to-date materials, including syllabi, research articles, educational videos, case studies, student papers and organizational reports, are all reviewed, synopsized and housed “in one place,” because of the work of Tan and the four Radford University students. Together, they added 502 artifacts to the toolkit. The toolkit can now be accessed at www.radford.edu/tool-kit.
“Presenting at an international conference made me feel more confident in myself to present in front of scholars and professionals. Participating in research of this level also helped me in my coursework at Radford,” Jenkins said. “I do not think I fully grasped the magnitude of the project until we went to the conference and learned how thankful the working group was that the four of us created the toolkit.”
Creating the toolkit was not without its challenges. One of the most critical steps was the creation of the website to host the anti-poverty materials. Tan enlisted a web developer, but when progress was not being made, Jenkins took it upon herself to learn how to create a website and use a content management system.
“I used YouTube to teach myself how to make websites,” Jenkins said.
A challenge faced by Bennett was finding unbiased sources during his research on socialism and poverty. “Finding information that was both accurate, and also reasonably unbiased was difficult,” Bennett said.
For Nunez, the experience was life-altering. Because of her experience working on the toolkit, she changed her major to political science with the goal of entering public service.
“I realized what I truly enjoyed and what I wanted to do forever was was something along the lines of political science and international studies,” Nunez said.
The Anti-Poverty Toolkit’s success resulted in another request in January 2020 for a University faculty-student research team to develop a new toolkit. The U.N. Sustainability Mindset Toolkit will be an open, universally accessible, online repository of teaching and research resources. This request came from the U.N. Working Group on Sustainability Mindset, consisting of some 143 scholars in 132 universities in 43 countries.
Tan recruited a political science major, Anna Ogan, to develop an initial database of about a hundred resources for the portal. Working through Summer 2020, they designed and created a new website for the repository: www.radford.edu/sustainability-mindset and synopsized some 120 artifacts on sustainability.
The work on the Anti-Poverty Toolkit emphasizes Radford University’s commitment to academic excellence, dedication to research and pursuit of intellectual discovery, all while leaving a lasting impact across the globe.