Faculty & Staff Guide


The purpose of this guide is to clarify how Research that Reaches Out connects to student learning and the terms we use to describe it. The clarifications provided come from feedback given and received across our academic community, and will continue to be refined over time.

As we implement Research that Reaches Out (academic years 2015-2020), it is important that we have a uniform understanding of how the initiative will affect student learning, while supporting broad and creative ways of involving our campus in diverse projects and activities.

What does Research that Reaches Out mean for faculty and those who work with students?

We have set our own goals and targets for enhancing student learning through Research that Reaches Out.  All those who teach and work with traditional Macon undergraduate students are asked to think creatively about adapting what we currently do in all aspects of delivering high-level education to our students. If various efforts currently fit, then we should count them. If we can adapt to make them fit, then we are enhancing. If, however, after thinking creatively about adaptation, there really aren't ways of making Research that Reaches Out fit into a particular area, then it just doesn't fit. The information in the sections that follow should be beneficial to you in going forward with thinking and planning.

The Resources site is designed to highlight multiple opportunities throughout our 5-year program.

General  Definitions

Research: Research is best considered broadly as inquiry or investigations where students are contributing to the creation of new knowledge or new perspectives through scholarly activity. This research will include original intellectual and creative contributions to an existing body of knowledge in order to expand its reach.

Reaching Out: Reaching out involves contributing to solutions to problems, adding to a better understanding of problems, and enhancing and empowering the lives within a community.  Research that Reaches Out is generalizable, such that others can learn from what is created. The target of the research is not just one narrow group.  By "reaching out," we are connecting our research to local, national, or global issues/problems.

Integration of Research and Service:The integration of research and service in Research that Reaches Out embodies the characteristics of both service and reseVenn Diagram of Research that Reaches Outarch. Some University service-learning and community engagement projects may not include a research component, while some research projects may not include a service component. Research that Reaches Out will include both. Ultimately, the integration of research and service requires that academic knowledge and scholarship contribute to the service activities. 

Service: Service involves a.) activities undertaken with different groups or communities ("direct service"), or b.) activities undertaken with group/community input or with their benefit in mind ("indirect service" and "community-based research"), or c.) carefully-planned participation in civic action for consciousness-raising and advoacay ("civic action"). For Research that Reaches Out, service often begins with input from  a group or community on a problem, or ends with a product or solution delivered to the group. 

Community: A community is a collection of individuals with shared characteristics. It can be large or small, local or distant, internal or external. When you think of community, think broadly. It is any group of people that can benefit from the integration of research and service. Communities should either be part of the data acquisition/implementation portions of Research that Reaches Out, or are recipients of the dissemination activities resulting from it.

DisseminationDissemination occurs through production, publishing, and presentation in public forums – in both traditional academic circles and broader circles of those who can best benefit from the products of the research. Research, by nature, is open to collaboration, review, and critique. Students will generate a body of knowledge and should also disseminate their results. Dissemination involves listening, thinking, showing, telling, and sharing in various forms of open and public communication.

Research Methods: Research methods are strategies for designing and completing research studies or projects. Students may be involved in coursework where the teaching strategies educate them about research methods to equip them to do research themselves. Research methods are an important part of deepening students' engagement with disciplinary, interdisciplinary, and cross-disciplinary knowledge. An introduction to research methods is an important foundational aspect to developing students' competencies in Research that Reaches Out.

Explanation of the Pyramid

We have defined seven student learning outcomes for Mercer students for Research that Reaches Out. They can be grouped into three levels: Expose, Explore, and Express. Students will receive broad exposure at the foundational level, and will deepen their engagement as they move to the intermediate and advanced levels.

The different levels are equated to:

Expose = to understand. Helps students to understand different methods of inquiry. Primarily occurs in the classroom.

Explore = to act. Helps students to actively experience how one might put theories into practice. Primarily occurs in the community or laboratory or other learning spaces.

Express = to create. Helps students to act with more autonomy in applying theories to practical situations. Primarily occurs in the community or laboratory or other learning spaces.

The levels are also intended to be developmental in nature. Students at the Explore-level are also relying upon the student learning outcomes of the Expose level. Those engaged in Express-level activities are building upon prior experience with the student learning outcomes of the Expose and Explore-levels.

Additional Explanation of Expose-Level Student Learning Outcomes

Exact examples of Expose-level assignments can be seen on the Signature Assignments page.


At this level, students are introduced to the foundational concepts of critically analyzing issues or problems, and how they might be addressed by integrating research and service. They are not necessarily being asked to apply or implement the concepts at this level. The student learning outcomes are broadly interpreted in order to assist our students with developing foundational transferable skills – analysis, solution generation, and ethical thinking – that contribute to deeper engagement with Research That Reaches Out as they matriculate through their time at Mercer.

Explanations of Expose-level Student Learning Outcomes

1. Critically analyze multiple perspectives or theories about a relevant issue/problem faced by a local, national, or global community.

The purpose of the term critically analyze is to help students develop methods for separating the different elements of a complex topic to see how each informs the whole.  They should explain issues, give evidence, and discuss the influence of context and assumptions.

The word relevant here is intended to be broad and general. The relevancy would pertain to the lens in which a subject or issue is studied. Whereas the Expose level depends on students' understanding and not necessarily on their acting, the problems and issues studied do not have to be contemporary. For example, asking students to determine how social media influenced the Arab Spring might be relevant in a communications or international affairs course, but would not necessarily be relevant in a mathematics course. Examining the interpretations of sacred texts on ordination of women might be relevant in a Christianity or Great Books course, but not relevant to a course in the teacher education program.

2. Propose solutions to a local, national, or global issue/problem using academic knowledge and scholarship.

In proposing solutions, students should analyze knowledge, look at different perspectives on the issue/problem, and hypothesize possible interventions.

The term propose solutions does not mean that students must develop a complete and implementable action plan. In many cases, students could provide hypothetical solutions in the case of exploring issues/problems that have occurred in the past or for which simple solutions are not possible. Alternatively, students may be analyzing the solutions offered in the past in order to learn from those actions and better deliberate on current issues.

The notion behind asking students to apply academic knowledge and scholarship is that the students' ideas should be grounded in evidence and analysis (see SLO 1) rather than conjecture. The term is an attempt to balance creativity with feasibility.

3. Articulate ethical reasoning in considering a local, national, or global issue/problem.

The context for asking students to articulate ethical reasoning also falls within the lens of the issue/problem.   They should recognize the complexity of the ethics in the issue and evaluate different ethical perspectives.  The expectation for this learning outcome is in line with students learning how to approach controversy and ethical decision-making. For example, project proposals in engineering might require students to validate their proposals in light of balancing safety and welfare versus total cost, in keeping with the Code of Ethics for Engineers. Students in a finance course might need to argue how an ethical decision was reached in a scenario rather than just focusing on the financial/economic analysis of that decision.

Additional Explanation of Explore-Level Student Learning Outcomes

Exact examples of Explore-level activities can be seen on the Expose-Explore-Express page.


Moving beyond the foundational Expose level, students will begin to apply their knowledge at the Explore level. The goal is that 50% of students will engage in the integration of research and service at the Explore level.

There are no universal mandates for service components, for research components, or for Research that Reaches Out alignment across curricula for this level. However, we must have an impactful program, and we are directing our resources toward our student learning.  Faculty are encouraged to think critically and creatively about integrating Research that Reaches Out via:

  • course-related projects in the major, minor, or general education electives
  • guiding students to explore research dimensions in a current service-learning course
  • guide students to enact service or focus on underlying problems/issues in a current research or research methods course
  • developing projects or courses for Mercer On Mission
  • working with students on credit-bearing undergraduate research (semester or summer) on a community issue/problem or enhancement/empowerment of community lives
  • mentoring students in credit-bearing internships that deal with a community issue/problem or enhancement/empowerment of community lives
  • mentoring student organizations working on student-led Research that Reaches Out initiatives

Explanations of Explore-level Student Learning Outcomes

4. Participate in implementing contextually relevant responses to a local, national, or global issue/problem using academic knowledge and scholarship.
In this learning outcome, students should analyze and apply their knowledge, while connecting to the context of the course and providing reflective insights.

The phrase participate in indicates that faculty members and students need not develop their own individual community-based projects. There are several on-going projects in which students could participate to reach the student learning outcome. The projects could be part of direct service or indirect service, such as community-based research or public advocacy (see Mercer service-learning handbook for faculty). For example, AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) tutoring in the local schools, the Ocmulgee River project, or projects with Tattnall Square Park might be appropriate activities for a variety of courses (INT 201, EDUC courses, EVE courses, etc.). An entire class or other group might all participate in one project, versus students developing individual projects.

The language contextually relevant draws from the commonly used AAC&U VALUE rubric on problem solving. A contextually relevant response might take into consideration the attitudes, biases, resources, constraints, and additional knowledge necessary in dealing with the problem and the population of people it affects. Explore-level activities often occur outside the traditional curriculum/laboratory spaces. For example, the Mercer Animal Rescue student organization may wish to institute a study to analyze public support for a local no-kill animal shelter. A course in technical communication (TCO 341) may have students analyzing recycling in middle Georgia by researching available recycling opportunities and common problems with public buy-in.

5. Apply ethical reasoning in implementing service to address or alleviate a local, national, or global issue/problem.

Building upon SLO 3, students at this level exhibit an ethical self-awareness and an application of ethical perspectives to their actions.  Many of the same definitions apply between student learning outcome 3 and outcome 5. The major difference between the two student learning outcomes - and why one is placed at the Expose level and the other at Explore - is that outcome 3 is grounded in theory and outcome 5 in practice. In articulating ethical reasoning, students are accounting for the theoretical ways that the proposed solution might overlap with various ethical interpretations. In applying ethical reasoning, students are acting to implement their knowledge in authentic situations. A student in a Mercer On Mission South Africa course might apply ethical reasoning by writing about her responses when a community partner discussed a sensitive issue with her. A Tift College of Education student might describe his choice of actions when trying to stick with the AVID tutoring methods while working with an under-performing student.


Additional Explanation of Express-Level Student Learning Outcomes

Exact examples of Express-level activities can be seen on the Expose-Explore-Express page.


Students motivated by their previous experiences will have the opportunity to participate in activities at the Express level. Here, 25% of Mercer traditional undergraduate students will engage in implementation of projects related to the alignment of community research and service, using existing research methods and/or original inquiry and research.  (We also aim that all of these Express-level students will disseminate their research.)

6. Analyze community needs or identify community benefits and determine research methods to develop an appropriate response.

Students here incorporate the design process into their needs analysis while also recognizing limitations and implications.

This student learning outcome also builds upon students' prior experiences.  In SLO 1 at the Expose-level, students analyze perspectives or theories, but in SLO 6, they engage in analysis with the intent of developing a response. The expectation for action at this level allows the student to build upon a foundation of current knowledge and expand in purposeful and productive dimensions.

7. Implement research methods and service activities to address the community need or issue (local, national, or global) using existing scholarship and/or original inquiry and research.

The word implement is used in SLO 7, while the phrase participate in implementing is used in SLO 4. Both learning outcomes are directed at the same activity: working with others. The difference is that SLO 7 is at the advanced Express-level and the degree of complexity and student investment in the project should be greater at the advanced level.

Like in SLO 4, the projects here could be part of direct service or indirect service, such as community-based research or public advocacy. However, the students are deeply engaged in the project and in Research that Reaches Out.  In demonstrating their learning at this level, students will be analyzing and applying their knowledge toward solution implementation, while demonstrating the commitment to work with others to effect positive project outcomes.

Assessment Rubrics

Rubrics can be downloaded to see how student work will be assessed at each Expose, Explore, and Express level.

References used in developing these definitions: a.) Morgan, M.A., Grant, C., & Drake, M.A.(2011).The Mercer service-learning handbook for faculty.Mercer Center for Service-Learning.Available from http://community.mercer.edu/; b.) Beckman, M., & Hensel, N.(2009).Making explicit the implicit: Defining undergraduate research.CUR Quarterly, 29 (4), 40-44.; c.) Definitions. (2011, March 1) Community Engagement, University of North Carolina at Greensboro.Available from http://communityengagement.uncg.edu/definitions