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Community researchers

New Ohio Wesleyan program helps local organizations with special projects

By Cole Hatcher

DELAWARE, Ohio – Ohio Wesleyan University is launching a new OWU Community Research Scholars program this fall to connect student researchers with local organizations seeking to carry out special projects.

“The idea is to have students work on projects for corporations, nonprofits, and government organizations in the community,” said Robert Gitter, Ph.D., professor emeritus of economics at the OWU.

Gitter helped design the new program and oversees its first three Community Research Fellows. The program is administered by the university’s Woltemade Center for Economics, Business and Entrepreneurship.

“We are extremely excited about this opportunity for students, and it aligns perfectly with Woltemade Center’s mission to enhance academic programs and provide real-world opportunities to create future generations of businesses and global leaders.” said Destiny Coleman, the center’s administrative director. director.

The first fellows

The first batch of OWU Community Research Fellows this fall and their projects are:

  • Joey DeRusso of Northfield, Ohio, is working with the City of Delaware Fire Department and Fire Chief John Donahue to quantify the department’s economic impact, including its payroll and expenses, as well as lives and property it protects. The research draws on similar analyzes conducted in Phoenix, Arizona, and Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada. A senior, DeRusso is a managerial economics major and a Data and Society minor.
  • Jenna Norman of Wilmington, Ohio, works with Regionomics LLC, a Columbus-based economic and workforce strategic planning and analysis firm, and its owner, Bill LaFayette, to create an inventory of employers and jobs in Clinton Township, located in Franklin County. A sophomore, Norman holds a double major in Economics and Politics and Government and a double minor in Environmental Studies and Social Justice.
  • Yewoinhareg “Yoyo” Kebede, of Washington, DC, is working with the Delaware Community Center YMCA and Executive Director Roger Hanafin to survey local Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) to determine what they know about the YMCA and what they want from that. She also works to help develop community-conscious BIPOC programming. A junior, Kebede is a double major in economics and French.

Service and experience

By creating the new OWU program as a scholarship, instead of a traditional internship, students report to Gitter and work on campus. This arrangement allows him to use his knowledge as a data-driven economist to help students design their projects and bring them to fruition.

Over time, Gitter envisions OWU’s Community Research Scholars program expanding to involve faculty supervisors from other academic fields, giving community clients access to any kind of expertise needed. .

“Ultimately,” Gitter said, “the program serves the community and provides fellows with real-world experience.”

Significant results

Kebede said she was thrilled to work with the Delaware Community Center YMCA to support her work to fully serve the entire community.

“I wanted to be a community researcher because I like helping others,” said Kebede, whose future plans include pursuing an MBA and a career in the public sector.

“This scholarship is a great opportunity to network with BIPOC Delaware residents,” she said. “As a child, I remember going to the YMCA and all the fun I had, and I wish other BIPOC families could experience that fun.”

Kebede thinks the research is already providing useful information.

“So far, the scholarship has shown that there is a lack of information in the BIPOC community about resources,” said Kebede, who is also part of the Palmer Global Scholars and Latham Entrepreneurial Scholars programs at Ohio Wesleyan. .

“This gap has a very big impact on the life of BIPOC because they are not always exposed to the same information that their white counterparts have access to,” she said. “I hope my work during this fellowship will help bridge this gap by increasing BIPOC’s presence at the Y and their accessibility to it. »

Valuable collaboration

Hanafin said he is pleased that the Delaware Community Center YMCA is one of the first clients of the new OWU Community Scholars program and looks forward to the changes that will result from Kebede’s work.

“The great thing about working with Yoyo and Ohio Wesleyan is that we don’t have the resources to complete this project on our own, despite our commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and the fight against racism,” he said. “Our goal is to be a place for everyone, and we need to hear from everyone in the community if we’re going to achieve that.”

Hanafin said the project has three main components, including Kebede conducting in-person interviews with key informants, such as the president of the African American Heritage Council; undertake a more traditional electronic survey; and helping residents complete the survey in person during visits to places like Unity Community Center, Liberty Community Center and Woodward Elementary School.

The timeline for change is still being worked out, Hanafin said, but the intent is clear: “We hope to take all of this information and turn it into concrete actions to help us better serve the community.”

Learn more about Ohio Wesleyan’s Woltemade Center for Economics, Business and Entrepreneurship at owu.edu/woltemade and the Department of Economics and Business at owu.edu/economics.


Founded in 1842, Ohio Wesleyan University is one of the nation’s leading liberal arts universities. Located in Delaware, Ohio, the private university offers more than 70 undergraduate majors and competes in 24 NCAA Division III varsity sports. Through its signature experience, the OWU Connection, Ohio Wesleyan teaches students to understand issues from multiple academic perspectives, volunteer in service to others, build a diverse and holistic perspective, and translate knowledge in the classroom in real-world experience through internships, research, and other hands-on learning. Ohio Wesleyan is featured in the book “Colleges That Change Lives” and included in the US News & World Report and Princeton Review “Best Colleges” lists. Connect with OWU expert interview sources at owu.edu/experts or learn more at owu.edu.

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