Upon learning about the Students as Scholars program at Mason as a freshman, I knew that I wanted to apply for this excellent opportunity to receive funding for my own research project. I was uncertain about what I wanted to research, but I certainly knew that if I left GMU without at least applying for the grant, I would regret it. By the time I entered my sophomore year, I started brainstorming possible project topics pertaining to my academic interests, such as conflict resolution and foreign policy. Despite all of the ideas that I had, none of them stood out to me as a project that I really wanted to pursue. Finally, one day last spring, I decided that I was going to ask my professor, Al Fuertes, if he would be my faculty mentor for the project. I had not developed a project objective nor had I considered revisiting any of the ideas that I had formulated the previous year. Before I could change my mind, I made the suggestion to Dr. Fuertes, who agreed to serve as my mentor. That was it – I was applying for the OSCAR grant, Dr. Fuertes would be my mentor, and he had requested that I send him an outline of my project as soon as I could. I had some work to do.
That evening, I started drafting my research question, project activities, a list of potential participants, and other important components of the project. Despite all of the brainstorming that I had done the year before, I finally created an objective that I found to be valuable and relevant to my interests – assessing the conflict resolution skills of first and fifth grade students. I would hold a workshop for each age group to determine how they respond to conflict through a variety of hypothetical scenarios as well as an assessment of how they perceive conflict before and after participating in my workshop. The results would be used to encourage schools to adopt similar workshops as preliminary conflict resolution training. My long-term goal is to help transform schools into safer institutions for students by exposing them to positive skills as early in life as possible.
Once I found out last May that I was a recipient of the OSCAR grant, Dr. Fuertes and I have been striving to put my project into action. During the summer, I worked on the major details of the project and had them approved by GMU’s Institutional Review Board. Now, a typical week consists of reaching out to schools to extend an invitation to their students to participate, finalizing the content in the consent forms and letters to the parents, and adding the finishing touches to the activities and questionnaires for each grade level. My workshops are scheduled for October and they have generated a lot of interest from local schools. Although I have not conducted my study yet, every week I discover something new about the subjective nature of research and the process of planning and implementing a project. Since May, I have revised the content for my workshops multiple times, changed the venue of my study, and considered including other age groups in the research. I appreciate every change that has been made to my project whether it was one that I made myself or one that occurred inevitably because they will help me learn more from my research than I could have hoped.