Giving at Graham

GWU Student Researcher Hopes to Help Underprivileged Kids Remove Obstacles to Education


The knowledge that kids in poverty face unique educational challenges prompted one Gardner-Webb University student to personally investigate deeper questions about the most effective ways to remove obstacles, meet needs, and develop the intellect of low-income, elementary students.

Rachael Meachem (Wadesboro, N.C.) was one of 10 GWU students who conducted research during the summer term with a grant from the GWU Undergraduate Research Scholars Program. The students worked 40 hours a week for five weeks on their projects, which they are required to present in a professional forum. Each one had a faculty mentor or collaborator who worked with them. Meachem’s mentor was Dr. Tom LeGrand, former director of the Impact Center for Christian Ethics and Social Responsibility.

For her project, Meachem served underprivileged kids at Graham Elementary School in Shelby, N.C. “My goal was to better understand the obstacles to education in circumstances of poverty,” she explained. “I hoped to give back to the community by illustrating better ways to understand and nurture the needs of students at Graham.”

On a year-round schedule, Graham Elementary was an excellent resource for the service-learning component of her project. “Graham enrolls a number of children from high-poverty neighborhoods that surround the school,” Meachem shared. “In addition to academics, many students struggle with developmental skills like teamwork, compliance with authority, and hyperactivity. I definitely believe this experience has given me knowledge to better understand where people come from and how they manage problems and challenges differently.”

Her research process involved guidance and feedback from LeGrand. “Dr. LeGrand was a great mentor and helped me identify my weaknesses and turn them into strengths,” she reflected. She advises future scholars to “utilize the library,” because the resources from the Dover Library were instrumental in her research process. “I understood that it was important to meet with a librarian beforehand, but a student should not be afraid to go back to them more than once,” she expressed.

Meachem, who is majoring in sociology, plans to present her research at the National Honors Conference, at the Gardner-Webb University Life of the Scholar Multi-Disciplinary Conference in March, and at a multi-cultural conference at Elon University. Through the process, she learned that scholars should not be afraid to ask questions, and that it is okay to not have a completely finished product following the program.

“I asked questions of my mentor, my other scholars, and even myself,” she shared. “This builds relationships and opens your eyes to new ways to approach your research.”

Learn more about programs available through the GWU Department of Social Sciences