Giving Students a Voice during the Pandemic
With funding from the REAL program, transfer student Alexis Takagi '22 worked on a research project designed to understand and give voice to community college students' experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.
By Sarah Stoddard ’23
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a tumultuous experience for all. One group of people that has been uniquely affected has been the college population—students who have had to decide whether to come back to their campuses to live and work amongst thousands of other people during a public health crisis. With funding from the REAL program, Alexis Takagi ’22 (Communication) worked on a research project that aims to make sure the voices of individuals in this category are heard and understood.
Takagi worked as a co-investigator of the Academic Worries Project, a research initiative based out of the University of San Francisco. “The Academic Worries Project examines the social and academic barriers that community college students experience while navigating higher education,” she explains. “A huge part of that project was rooted in raising community college student voices.” While the project started before the COVID-19 pandemic, Takagi and her peers believed it was essential to shift the focus of this project from broader barriers to the impact of the pandemic on students. This was the beginning of Elevating Voices in the Era of COVID-19, a research project designed to address concerns about vaccinations and returning to campus by conducting a survey that assesses the rates of vaccine hesitancy within the community college population.
The pandemic has prompted many changes in social and academic goals as students have had to transition to different living and learning environments. Oftentimes, especially through these transitions, individual voices and needs are overlooked across large student bodies. “We wanted to understand [individuals’] goals, how those shifted during the pandemic, and how colleges can make up for lost time,” Takagi explains.
The project itself was also greatly affected by the pandemic. All of the work took place virtually. “In a pandemic, you need to over-communicate in a sense,” Takagi says, explaining the plethora of emails and Zoom calls that she engaged in regularly. Despite completing all the work online, the project was still extremely successful thanks to the team’s ability to communicate effectively. This was a fundamental part of the project for Takagi who is particularly passionate about organizational communication.
For Takagi, it was extremely rewarding to be able to elevate student voices at local community colleges and ensure their needs were being met during this difficult time. “Also, during the pandemic, it can be a very defeating time, feeling like everything has shifted and is so uncertain,” Takagi says. “But to be able to make something and see that project through was really an empowering thing to do when everything was so up in the air.” Currently, data is being analyzed, and the project is in its final stages.
The REAL program allowed Takagi to gain valuable experience conducting research. “After the REAL program, I actually started my own research project,” she says. “It gave me the confidence to do something on my own—to submit my own protocol to the IRB, and to have an idea and execute it.” Working with Katy Korsmeyer (Biology), the director of the REAL program, Takagi is researching the psychological impact of professional networking sites. “I hope to do more projects and internships, and after graduation, land a job that’s rooted in building equity,” Takagi says. After all her experience in research, as well as other work she has done with the Thriving Neighbors Initiative at SCU’s Ignatian Center, and the Northern California Innocence Project, Takagi has found this to be her calling. “I think that’s where I really thrive—in helping organizations and systems build equity.”
Takagi admires the REAL program for the agency it gives students in choosing internships or projects. “The program allows you to explore different vocations. It can really help you find the right career path,” she explains. Students are able to tailor the program to their individual needs and experiences. “It differs from a lot of other programs that are situated in a specific career field,” she continues. “REAL allows you to just take on a project that excites you.” For Takagi, REAL not only reinforced her passion for research and gave her the confidence to conduct research of her own, but also confirmed her goals for her future.