Last spring, I conducted a research project about the experiences of mobile food vendors in Washington, D.C., through OSCAR’s URSP. My favorite part of this experience, by far, was the data collection phase. On a typical day of collecting data, I would canvass food truck hotspots around the city and interview vendors during the downtime before the lunch rush. Vendors shared their stories, offered tips and tricks of the trade, and gave me the lowdown on what’s happening in the vending community. At one point, I was even recruited on board to help cater to a sudden crowd of tourists!
While there were many laughs, almost everyone shared their struggles since the city enacted more restrictive vending policies. Many traditional street vendors disclosed multiple arrests, criminal charges, and excessive fines as a result. On the other hand, many gourmet food truck drivers shared stories of success and how they expanded their businesses despite the change in policy. This contrast begged the question: why are the experiences of mobile food vendors who operate in the same industry, governed by the same set of rules, so different? As it turns out, my findings from last year raised more questions than answers that I hope to address in continuing my research this semester.
Overall, my URSP experience enhanced my education in so many ways. It enabled me to follow my curiosity, challenge myself as a student, and explore a different career path that I would never imagine considering. It also gave me a chance to engage with student researchers from various disciplines. I found it incredibly inspiring and motivating to join a community where everyone is just as excited about following their curiosities. Finally, this experience fostered a greater appreciation for my education. It offered me a unique vantage point where I could see the culmination of all the knowledge and skill that I’ve worked so hard for throughout my years at Mason. This makes it all worthwhile.