Insights from Engaged Scholars: Ricarose Roque

Insights from Engaged Scholars: Ricarose Roque

Ricarose Roque interacting with students at the Tinkering Studio located in the Exploratorium, San Francisco. Photo © Exploratorium,

Information science assistant professor engages families through use of creative technologies

September 11, 2017 • by Lisa H. Schwartz

With this interview, the Office for Outreach and Engagement launches its Community Engaged Scholar Interview Series, which is designed to bring the process of community engaged scholarship to life through discussions with exemplary CU Boulder scholars. These conversations address what community engagement means to those just starting their careers to post-tenure professors across the arts and sciences. Interviewees are asked to ponder why they do the work, strategies for balancing the demands of academia and the community, the role of mentorship and what engaged scholarship means for tenure processes.

Ricarose Roque is a fitting scholar with which to launch this series. Through her research, Roque explores how to design inclusive learning experiences that enable young people to create and express themselves with new technologies and media. In 2016, Roque joined the faculty of the CU Boulder College of Media Communications and Information (CMCI) as an assistant professor of information science with a courtesy appointment in computer sciences. Previously, she was a member of the Lifelong Kindergarten research group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab and a member of the MIT Scratch Team.

Since her days as a graduate student at MIT, Ricarose has led the Family Creative Learning Project. The project is a workshop series she collaboratively developed and implements at community centers that engages children and their parents to learn together, as designers and inventors, through the use of creative technologies. Roque's work with youth takes a special focus on those from underrepresented groups in computing. She recently received a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to expand on this work and to explore creative computing experiences for younger children and their families in collaboration with Boulder and Denver Public Libraries. Currently, Roque is building her interdisciplinary research group.

On a sunny Friday afternoon in August, right before the first week of fall classes, I joined Roque to pose some questions about her community engaged scholarship. Excerpts from the interview are below or read the full interview.

Why do you do community engaged work as part of your scholarship, teaching or creative work?

I have a strong commitment to get my work out in the world for everyone to access — not just for academia. It’s hard to do that. It’s a longer process…but it’s also another opportunity to continue the research and ask new questions. As you put something out there in the world and people start to use it, the research doesn't stop there, it generates more questions. It’s a big step. I find that it’s our responsibility. We have to make sure the work doesn’t stay within academia.

We have developed a facilitator guide for implementing the Family Creative Learning workshops, which has been adapted by educators around the world. For example, PBS Kids has done a nationwide adaptation that has raised interesting questions. Now we are learning what aspects of our strategies work in different communities.

Reflect on your particular experience and journey as a scholar. How has your experience shaped your beliefs and practices?

I used to think that as a researcher you didn’t include personal motivation and reflection. One of my dissertation advisors kept pushing me to write about my own family. I did that as part of my dissertation and I have a blog post reflecting on my family’s immigrant experience and how that’s influenced me as a designer and researcher. I am glad I did it because now I can show it to others. It’s important to know your story.

How do you balance the demands and work of community partnerships with the demands and work of academia?

I’m still figuring this out (laughs).

Let me rephrase: What are some strategies you use, what are you learning about balancing the demands of each domain?

The number one thing that I have learned and continue to practice is that relationships matter and they are the top priority. That is always at the forefront. Logistics or research might suffer but relationships are the number one priority. If you have a strong trusting relationship, things will go smoothly and it will emerge in the kind of research that you do and the products that you make together.

It takes time. The pace of academia is challenging because it takes time to build these relationships. One strategy I’ve learned as I get settled in at CU Boulder is finding and collaborating with people who have those rich connections as well as long and trusting relationships in the community rather than building them from scratch.

Regarding this work, what kind of mentorship have you received and how do you mentor others? Any advice for others who are interested in this work?

I owe a lot to my time at the MIT Media Lab. My commitment to getting the work out and into communities and to iterate off of that process was influenced by my work with the Lifelong Kindergarten research group at the MIT Media Lab. The Media Lab had a motto  “Deploy or Die”, which was a problematic term and has since been changed to “Deploy” (after the director talked with President Obama). To me, it means, get it out there. Every student knew how to do that. It is just what you learned to do—even as simple as personal and project websites, having a social media presence—this is an aspect we often overlook because we are so focused on the next paper, the next conference. It’s something missing in graduate education: how to tell the story of your work for all kinds of people within and beyond academia.

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