Many St. Louis area residents may not think of their city as multilingual, but it is. We could consider just one group that has changed the face of our metropolitan area over the past 30 years: Bosnians. In 2012 (and probably still today), they were the most populous foreign-born group here, estimated at over 70,000. The majority of Bosnians came to St. Louis as refugees in the 1990s, but secondary migration from Europe and from around the US continued throughout the early 2000s.
As an educator of students studying to become teachers, I always look for ways to help others understand the communities that they serve (or will serve). Toward this end, partnering with local educational organizations, students in one of my teacher-education classes studied qualitative research methods and conducted what we called service-research projects. Similar to but somewhat distinct from service-learning or community-based research (Boyer, 1999, see Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professorate), service-research projects combine these kinds of efforts: they are learning experiences that simultaneously teach research skills and academic content, while students serve an organization and learn about its particular community. In one particular semester, students’ projects explored the linguistic, racial, religious, and migrant experiences of youth in the St. Louis area, including those from Bosnian Muslim families.
In a recent publication in the International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education (2017, click here!), my co-authors and I discussed the results of this work. As defined in our abstract, we argue: Skills developed through qualitative research and community partnerships can be essential for developing education students’ cultural competency and understandings about diverse student populations. This paper provides a snapshot of our work by defining service-research and showcasing one student research team that worked with a local immigrant organization and developed three case studies of young women from Bosnian Muslim families. Through an analysis and discussion of service-research and the students’ results, we argue for the integration of qualitative research skills, service projects, and community partnerships into educator preparation programs.