Building a guide to explore research and learning in Waltham
A new resource created by two Brandeis undergraduates serves as a central place for connections between Brandeis and its home city.
“Exploring Waltham: Resources for Research, Teaching, and Learning” is a new library guide that aims to support students, faculty, staff who want to learn more about and engage with the city of Waltham, and provide easy access to useful data for members of the Waltham community.
It was created by Sophie Trachtenberg ’21 and Simona Shuman ’22 with guidance from professors Wendy Cadge and Sara Shostak, and support from the Brandeis Library and the Department of Community Service.
Cadge, a professor of sociology and women’s, gender and sexuality studies and the Barbara Mandel Professor of the Humanistic Social Sciences, and Shostak, associate professor of sociology and health: science, society, and policy received a grant from the Center for Teaching and Learning to develop the LibGuide, and to work with student researchers in the process. From the beginning, Trachtenberg and Shuman took the lead in envisioning and developing the project.
“They instilled trust in us to do what we knew how to do, while at the same time providing guidance, direction and advice,” Trachtenberg said. “Often, it was advice I didn’t even know I needed.”
While the end result was important, Cadge and Shostak also wanted to create a learning opportunity through research, one where the students could learn new skills, make their own connections, and learn from their mistakes.
“Sometimes, research is going down the wrong paths and you have to try to solve the problem. We wanted Simona and Sophie to feel they had support, but they also had the experience of doing it,” Cadge said.
Trachtenberg developed the section of the guide focused on sociodemographic and geospatial data, while Shuman took the lead on identifying prior research on Waltham and building a literature review. Both students worked closely with librarians at Brandeis to identify resources and to learn how to use research tools with which they were previously unfamiliar.
“I found that I was learning a bunch of new skill sets, things I don’t think I would have learned in a classroom setting,” Shuman said.
That was a key goal of the project, Shostak said.
“We wanted to make sure they felt supported, and we wanted to honor their autonomy and insight,” Shostak said. “For them to build their identities as researchers and develop transferable skills that could apply in a range of careers was an important part of the project.”
The motivation for this project dates back to the Community Engagement Working Group, which was part of Brandeis President Ron Liebowitz’s planning process for the university’s Framework for the Future. Co-chaired by Lucas Malo, Director of Community Service at Brandeis, and Shostak, it identified the importance of making connections between two signal strengths of the University, the extraordinary service work being done by students and the academic curriculum.
“Since then, we’ve been looking for opportunities to build bridges,” Shostak said.
Malo and Colby Sim, community service specialist in the Department of Community Service, have been supportive of the project from the start and have been a key resource in connecting Shuman and Trachtenberg with members of the Waltham community. The project supports the goal of enhancing the department of community service’s Waltham: The More You Know training, which prepares students with knowledge about the communities they are engaging with.
“We were honored to follow Sophie and Simona’s leadership and were thankful to have them elevate this important work and share their research with new students at this training this fall,” Malo said.
The guide brings together a review of the literature, geospatial data, sociodemographic data, video clips, student and faculty projects, and other resources about Waltham and surrounding areas. Shuman and Trachtenberg hope it will serve as a starting point for future bonds.
“It’s kind of a baseboard for people to want to do more research. We provide the basic steps and we provide resources, but then we’re encouraging others to do more,” Shuman said.
More information about undergraduate research opportunities can be found through the Undergraduate Research and Creative Collaborations Office, a newly formed unit within the Division of Arts and Sciences at Brandeis designed to centralize information and resources for students, faculty, and staff.