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Q&A with Community Research Manager

SI: What do you do at JCSU?

I am the new Community Development Research Manager! I am here to help coordinate community development research in the Northwest Corridor. So often we end up working in silos and are disconnected from what others are doing in the space where we work. This is inefficient because it creates waste as efforts are duplicated and gaps are left underserved.

Tara Bengle head_shot

Tara Bengle, Community Research Manager for Smith Institute for Applied Research

SI:How do you define research?

Research is a creative process of discovery. In most simplistic terms, research is problem-solving. I am particularly drawn to action research because of this perspective. Action research (and complimentary forms of research with varying degrees of participation) is a strategic way to solve problems, especially complex social problems experienced by many of our low income neighborhoods.

I think research should be designed in a way that it transforms both individuals and systems of inequality. This is where participation matters. In order to transform individuals and systems of inequality, we must include historically marginalized communities in the research process. They should not just be research subjects, but rather should participate as partners in the research process. Communities, especially low-income communities, have been researched ad nauseum without receiving any tangible benefits from the research beyond a small stipend to participate as an interviewee, for example. Oftentimes, they don’t even receive so much as a report once the project is complete. It is time that we move away from this aged model of research to one that is more participatory and has direct benefits to our communities. Like in any creative endeavor, to be successful at research, we also have to take care of ourselves. This means having boundaries and devoting time to exercise or whatever it is we need to relax our brains so that those creative ideas can emerge. You cannot force the ideas out–at least that’s my experience—instead it’s a matter of nurturing the space that facilitates idea generation.

SI: Can you tell us about your journey into research?

A successful researcher is a good listener. By listening to people. I don’t consider the folks I engage in the research process as subjects, rather they are co-researchers with the potential to transform the world around them. I’m not doing something to them, rather I’m doing something with them.

A good researcher also recognizes multiple ways of knowing. Knowledge stems from sources other than the classroom, textbooks, or traditional research. Citizens have knowledge based on their lived experience.

SI: Tell us- what’s your favorite thing to do?

Be outside! I love hiking, backpacking, kayaking, mountain biking, etc. etc.

SI: Do you have any pets?

Two dogs, both rescues. I foster dogs for the Australian Cattle Dogs Rescue Association. That’s how I ended up with Ranger. He was a foster fail. Daisy is an Australian Shepherd mix. She’s 13 years old and still loves to wrestle and be the boss.

SI:If you could have a superpower, what would it be?

I already have one…invisibility. It’s true; I can walk into a room and be completely invisible. Perhaps it’s my small size, I’m not sure, but whatever it is I enjoy this because it enables me to observer others from a non-imposing place in the background.

SI: If you could give a student one piece of advice, what would it be?

Keep your options open. Diversity yourself. By that I mean that you should accept opportunities to develop new skills. I think one of my greatest strengths is my broad skill 4set, as well as my broad interests. I

don’t believe that the successful job candidate or research of the future will be able to clearly identify their discipline. We live in a complex world with complex problems that cannot be solved by any single disciplinary knowledge.

SI:Any questions that I should have asked but didn’t?

SI: And of course, we have to showcase Ranger and Daisy!

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