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A Duke Student’s First Foray into Research

A Duke Student’s First Foray into Research

Monday, September 11, 2017

An El Sistema USA member group performs their music.Music has the power to change lives.

It can motivate us to be active and healthy. It can help us recover after a breakup. And, as more research supports, it can help transform the lives of society’s most needy children.

El Sistema USA, an alliance of orchestral music programs in the U.S., teaches music to hundreds of thousands of young people across the nation. The program’s goal is to create both great musicians and dramatically change the life trajectories of the children who participate. In order to understand the program’s impact, and if it is succeeding in its goal, the Social Science Research Institute (SSRI) recently worked with ESUSA to evaluate the benefits of membership for its many affiliated programs.

SSRI staff from the Education, Research, and Evaluation team led a group of undergraduate students as they surveyed organizations comprising ESUSA, processed and analyzed data, refined their approach, and wrote up their findings in a report for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

For Andie Carroll, who started as a first year member of the team in October 2016, her work with El Sistema began as a volunteer for a member organization in her community during high school.

“Through a lucky turn of events, my freshman fall I took Econ 201 with Professor Nechyba and I saw that he was the principal investigator on the NEA study,” Carroll said. “I was familiar with El Sistema from high school so I asked him about it and he put me in contact with Lorrie and that started the ball rolling.”

With SSRI’s Lorrie Schmid and Menna Mburi leading the team of undergraduates, Carroll received on-the-job training in data collection and analysis.

“As a freshman, it was a rare opportunity to get involved in this kind of research early on,” she said. “I’m really glad I had the opportunity. Since I hadn’t participated in formal research before, it was a lot of learning from the team leads and other students on the team.”

An economics major at Duke, Carroll’s research with SSRI and coursework are complimenting each other well. Through both, she’s able to learn new concepts and methodologies and apply them to research questions in the community.

Andie Carroll“I think it always helps when you can apply classroom knowledge to a cause that you’re interested in and passionate about,” she said.

An ever-evolving relationship with ESUSA and their Executive Director Katie Wyatt has seen SSRI support research, evaluation, and programming efforts through interdisciplinary faculty, staff, and student project teams.

Now a sophomore, Carroll is continuing her work with SSRI as part of a Bass Connections research team working with ESUSA. Though the team and accompanying class have only met a small number of times in the new academic year, their actionable research plan is starting to take shape. 

The plan involves supporting a symposium at Duke for ESUSA which would include professional development for members, sharing research and insights, and networking with member organizations. The Bass Connections team will also continue their work with different ways of evaluating ESUSA.

For Carroll, it has been a great introduction to formal research and one she hopes to continue for the foreseeable future.

“It’s been a really fun experience,” she said. “I’m glad that it’s worked out this way.”


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