Working on Research Projects at the iSchool

iStudent Blog

Published: October 24, 2023 by Kesheena Doctor

There are many benefits to attending the iSchool, and I have been fortunate to take advantage of a few, including being awarded a travel grant and being the iSchool’s student blogger. One of my most recent opportunities has been taking part in a Special Studies course with iSchool Director Dr. Chow, INFO 298 – Native American Early Literacy. 

The Reading Nation Waterfall Project 

The Reading Nation Waterfall (RNW) project is led by Dr. Anthony Chow and is an Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) funded project Dr. Chow started while at the University of North Carolina. RNW seeks to increase literacy rates among kindergartners and third graders in tribal communities. RNW currently is working with five tribes:

In addition, RNW has also partnered with Little Free Library to provide books for these tribal nations, as well as partnering with local programs of the National Head Start Association, each tribe’s public school library, and each tribe’s community/public libraries.

What I Learned From the Project 

I first joined the Reading Nation Waterfall project during the summer 2023 semester. Summer semesters are very short and are only nine weeks in length, which made learning about the project and making significant contributions difficult. However, the RNW’s core team, composed of Dr. Chow, co-manager Lynette Dial and co-manager Sophia LaMonica, had worked together for a few semesters and had become adept at onboarding new graduate assistants.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Reading Nation Waterfall project was being one of a very few Native American project members. As a member of the Navajo Nation, I did not have much familiarity with other tribes but was aware we had some cultural commonalities as Indigenous peoples. Once I felt knowledgeable about the project and comfortable on the team, I provided suggestions to ensure our work was more culturally sensitive to the tribes we were working with. The RNW team was not only supportive but actively asked for my input on these types of concerns. 

In one summer semester, I learned how to:  

  • draft a professional presentation proposal for a conference, 
  • prepare for conference presentations in virtual, in-person and hybrid formats, and  
  • collect and assess data for grant evaluation.

Furthermore, I got firsthand experience about how a large-scale, multi-partner project operating throughout many locations can successfully work and continually grow.

When summer semester neared completion, I made the decision to continue with the project through the Fall semester since iSchool students can take INFO 298 for up to 6 credit hours. Some students I worked with on the project were able to work over 3 semesters or more by taking 1 or 2 credit hours of INFO 298 each semester.

Benefits of Joining for iSchool Students

Though these hands-on opportunities are rare for a graduate student, it is highly beneficial to iSchool students. While I could also intern or take specific iSchool courses, I learned a variety of skills through the special interest course with Dr. Chow that would have been difficult to replicate in a class setting. I’ve greatly appreciated the opportunity to not only work closely with our iSchool director, but also with other graduate students and the Reading Nation Waterfall community partners. This experience has greatly impacted my understanding in undertaking and implementing large-scale projects within librarianship. I have also recognized the need for DEI/EDI components in all aspects of this type of work, especially when working with underrepresented populations.

The iSchool’s Special Studies Courses & Student Assistantships  

If you’re interested in taking a special studies course, the iSchool regularly posts these types of opportunities throughout the year, but most often these opportunities are available at the beginning of each semester. The iSchool Alert notification system is a great way to be notified of new opportunities. These positions often require a CV or résumé and a letter of interest as part of the application process, so it’s always a great idea to continually update your CV and resume. The iSchool offers many resources including VMock, for iSchool students to not only create and improve a CV and resume. The SJSU Writing Center also offers assistance with resumes.

If you’d like to support Reading Nation Waterfall, you can purchase books for each tribal partner. And be on the lookout for future openings with the INFO 298 course!