Research in the “Real World”

By Alexandra Corvello, Rural Community & Economic Development Specialist, Lane County Community & Economic Development Department

People typically say gathering data and researching is boring. They like the results that come from it—the cost benefit analysis, the decisions made based on actual facts, and the pretty, oh so pretty, maps and graphs. The process of it though, is just not something people like to talk about. When I think about the researching process… and I’m guessing what most people think about is—

  • the endless lists and excel spreadsheets,
  • vortex of internet search dark holes,
  • the frustrating tangents that cause halting work or redoing of previous research,
  • and dark, massive library basement stacks

The last one is something I have never had to deal with, due to growing up in the 90’s, but has caused so many infamous stories that it has become part of our cultural memory. In short, the process would be labeled tedious and the farthest thing from “sexy” you could get.

The first few months of my AmeriCorps RARE term has made me start to change my tune about researching. My post-grade-driven university research for my placement has been surprisingly seductive.

To give some context, I work on a regional level, which means I am trying to be available to help many different rural communities instead of just one. A major project for my term is to help map the assets of these rural communities around economic development and broadband internet access. While asset mapping sounds sophisticated—maybe even “sexy”–, it really is just putting all of your research and reams upon reams of notes into one decently summarized document. This process is vital to figuring out gaps in services, informing where regional resources should be directed, and maintain our regional institutional knowledge. A fun side benefit is that it also helps to break down the information silos that form around department boundaries, city/county lines, and organizational bubbles—which mean you get to learn a lot about a place.

As part of the research, we have been meeting with the rural communities and hearing from them about: what is new; their thoughts on economic development and broadband access in their communities; and how much I got wrong with my pre-meeting research. The last one always causes anxiety on my side and mostly amusement from the communities’ perspective. It’s not close to being done, but the information and interactions I have gotten from this research has been eye-opening and fascinating.

It has been fun to research information around these communities, from finding their physical and cultural assets to getting a breakdown of their economy. For me though, the best part of it has been going to these communities to see their downtowns in person and talk with some of the people that live and work there. Our region has such a unique and beautiful diversity of communities that are located relatively close to each other. While going to the University of Oregon I got sucked into the college campus life and missed all of these cool communities that have a lot of great local businesses, festivals, and intricate economies.

I have gained a whole new appreciation for the region. Plus I am able to contribute to the region by collecting this important information and turning it into something that can be used for local and statewide policymakers and organizations. The research process will never be blatantly “sexy”, but through my first few months with AmeriCorps I have gleaned that its process does have fun and surprising moments that lead to a subtlety seductive view of your surrounding world.

Photo of the author standing in front of brilliant fall foliage wearing a red shirtAbout the author, Alexandra Corvello: Alexandra majored in Economics and Environmental Studies at UC Santa Cruz and got her Masters in Community and Regional Planning at the University of Oregon. Originally from the California Bay Area, Alexandra wants to help communities become more resilient to unexpected changes from disruptive events, including natural hazards, economic downturns, etc. She looks forward to using the knowledge gained in school to the benefit of the rural communities in Lane County.

Does community development work interest you? Are you looking for a life changing experience in rural Oregon? Learn more about serving with the RARE AmeriCorps Program via our website: 

Learning from Persistence

By Sienna Fitzpatrick, Community Development Specialist, Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council

I looked around the shop in Madras—a product of the Downtown Association I worked with—suddenly struck by the fact that I had no idea what I was doing. Again.

This shouldn’t have been a shock for me, since this isn’t my first time in the RARE program. My previous year, in legitimately rural southern Oregon, hadn’t been easy for a freshly graduated city dweller. In the tri-county region of Central Oregon, though, it was a whole new ball game. Since September 2019, I have been working out of the Bend office for the regional council of governments for Jefferson, Deschutes, and Crook counties, learning the many roles and functions of a neutral governmental body in this vast and diverse region. My department, Community and Economic Development, is hardly described by its title. The small team touches everything from hazard mitigation planning, downtown revitalization, entrepreneur service development, strategic planning, forestry management, recreation, water management, emergency planning support, grant writing across every field mentioned…the list goes on. But the Holy Grail of these services, the one function that the Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council does the best and most is: facilitation.

Which brings me back to the Co-Op shop, surrounded by the powerhouse that is the Madras Downtown Association board of directors and their guests from the Warm Springs tribe, wondering what on earth I’m doing here. Facilitation, I thought as I fidgeted with the flipchart and markers, requires authority and assertiveness. It requires knowledge of the people in the room, context for the purpose of the meeting, and intuition for when to guide discussion and when to let it flow.

I felt my stomach begin to drop as the gravity of my inexperience became clearer, but then I caught myself. I can do this, I thought. It might not be pretty, but I can get through it.

And it sure wasn’t anything pretty or neat. But I wasn’t alone; every time my hesitation arose, or I couldn’t wrangle back the conversation, my supervisor piped up with an audible and pointed reminder that brought the group back. I muddled through my overly ambitious agenda, got enough information to take the next steps for the project, and tried to be proud of what I managed to do…which felt like the hardest part of the night.

Later that week I met with my supervisors for our regular check-in on my performance. I was not excited, especially after that difficult meeting. I couldn’t help but think, I can’t do the one thing that I need to be able to do for this job: facilitate a group.

But here’s the thing: RARE isn’t about getting it right on the first try. And as my wonderful supervisors pointed out, I tried something completely new almost entirely on my own, and I learned from it. Unsurprisingly, it didn’t go according to plan (few things do when it comes to important meetings) but I still got something out of it, and so did the Downtown Association. RARE is about trying, missing the mark, trying again, and learning at every step. Many of us in the program, like myself, are coming into these positions with little experience with real world jobs. We’re asked to get outside of our comfort zones every week, and all we can do in those moments is show up and rise to the occasion as best we can.

I didn’t nail that meeting. I probably won’t nail the next one either, but I won’t let that stop me, just like I didn’t let it stop me the first time. And I know from my first year of RARE that that attitude makes all the difference. Serving rural isn’t easy, but nobody signs up to move to the middle of nowhere thinking that it’ll be a breeze. We come to RARE to grow, to change, to improve the places we live, and to connect to ourselves and others in ways that push the boundaries on our perspectives. I am not the same person I was a year ago; I’m not even the same person I was in September, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Photo of the author with a yellow beanie standing in front of a waterfall.About the author, Sienna Fitzpatrick: Sienna spent last year in the RARE program serving Southern Oregon, and naturally fell in love with the beauty, opportunity, and challenges of this great state. In the last year, Sienna realized her passion for community building and decided to pursue a new project through RARE that would help her explore that career area, which lead her to Central Oregon. Sienna’s background is in environmental policy, science, Spanish, and extensive volunteer experiences, positioning her to see the big picture and the “story” behind every project she works on. In her free time, Sienna enjoys photography, traveling, and spending time with loved ones.

Does community development work interest you? Are you looking for a life changing experience in rural Oregon? Learn more about serving with the RARE AmeriCorps Program via our website: