Research study brings student and professor together to study Generation Z’s involvement in the political process - UW Oshkosh Today
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A busy mom with six children attending college full-time, Megan Elger, of Hartford, also is gaining valuable experience conducting undergraduate research with her University of Wisconsin-Fond du Lac faculty mentor Kristi Wilkum.

The two met at the UW-Fond du Lac, a UW Oshkosh campus, before Elger even enrolled in one of Wilkum’s classes. They often talked and debated whether students were engaged in the political process and what factors may be influencing their participation–conversations which often ended with “we should do a research study about this.”

“There’s sometimes a perception that students aren’t engaged in the political process,” Wilkum said. Elger feels differently and said students are very engaged in the process, but in different ways than in the past.

A call for proposals from the UW Oshkosh Office of Student Research & Creative Activity (OSRCA) moved them from discussion to action, and they are now in the middle of conducting the study. Their research will investigate individual traits and media literacy of the Generation Z age group, often defined as people born from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s. The study also will look at any perceived barriers to the voting decision.

“We’re not looking to manipulate people’s voting, we’re not trying to persuade people to vote,” Wilkum said. “We’re hoping to understand who is more likely to vote.”

Data will be collected primarily from students on the three campuses of UW Oshkosh. Analysis of the data may determine if there are predictors as to who will engage in the political process.

This research opportunity is an important part of Elger’s goal to complete a graduate program. “I plan on research being a big part of my life. I’m hoping we can get some interesting things out of this (research), and it’s something I can keep going with,” she said.

Elger has been actively involved in the Fond du Lac community through two internships. She completed a TEDxFDL internship during the summer of 2018 and remains engaged in planning for the 2019 event.

During fall 2018, she was an intern at the Sophia Transformative Leadership Partners organization. These internships have given her valuable experience with social media, feature writing, editing and marketing. They bring together her interests in marketing research and social mindedness.

“Megan’s going to have more skill and more experience going into graduate school than most other students will have,” Wilkum said. “She’s developing skills associated with doing research and setting herself up well to meet her goals.”

Elger started her college studies at the Fond du Lac campus 11 years after she completed high school. As the first in her family to attend college, she was unsure about her options or the even the process of applying to attend college. “When I called here (UW-Fond du Lac), the person quelled my fears and helped me get the ball rolling,” she said.

With her associate’s degree at the Fond du Lac campus now completed, she is continuing to pursue her bachelor’s degree studies with UW Oshkosh in the field of communication. Elger has been selected as a UW Oshkosh McNair scholar and will be conducting research through that program this summer.

This is one of the first access campus undergraduate research proposals to receive funding through OSRCA in the new three-campus university. UW-Fond du Lac and UW-Fox Valley became access campuses of UW Oshkosh last July as part of a UW System restructuring.

Stephen Kercher, interim director of OSRCA at UW Oshkosh, said they are very excited to serve the UW-Fond du Lac and UW-Fox Valley students who wish to pursue and present research and creative work.

“What’s more, by turning students on to the possibilities early in their undergraduate careers, we hope to inspire students to think of ways they can expand upon their interests and pursue their passions with faculty on the Oshkosh campus,” he said.

Kercher added that student research at the undergraduate level reveals something fundamental to students.

“Working collaboratively with a professor on research or some creative project exposes students to the excitement of asking original questions and proposing new creative ideas. Testing those questions and developing those ideas in a manner that might lead to wonderfully unexpected outcomes. The thrill of discovery, the challenge of testing unproven ideas and concepts–these are the things that can make undergraduate education really come alive for students,” Kercher said.

After finishing the data collection phase of research early in the spring semester, Wilkum and Elger will analyze and present their findings. They expect this study will be foundational to other research projects they each will do in the future.

Research projects from the UW-Fond du Lac and UW-Fox Valley campuses will be part of the annual Celebration of Scholarship and Creative Activity held Apr. 25 on the UW Oshkosh campus. Wilkum and Elger will also present this research at the UW System Symposium on Undergraduate Research, Scholarly and Creative Activity on April 26 in Green Bay.