Q&A with CERL’s Katie Hartzell

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Research Specialist Katie Hartzell shares results of Project Citizen Research Program with educators from across the country at Georgetown University.

Katie Hartzell is a CERL research specialist. She is a graduate of Georgetown University’s Communication, Culture, and Technology master’s program and served as the managing editor for Gnovis Journal, an interdisciplinary peer-reviewed academic journal. 

Currently a PhD candidate at the University of Texas-Austin, Katie is the co-managing editor of Flow Journal, a journal for short-form critical media studies scholarship. Additionally, she is the Book Review Editor for The Velvet Light Trap, a peer-reviewed Media Studies journal. Katie has received the Roderick P. Hart Student Outcome Award from the Moody College of Communication and is a Department of Education Federal Language and Area Studies Fellow in South Asian Studies.  Her dissertation focuses on transnational sports television distribution.

Before attending Georgetown, Katie worked as a Senior Associate at PwC and as a Program Associate at the foreign policy think-tank The Center for the National Interest. She graduated from George Washington University with a B.A. in International Affairs.

Tell us more about your work for CERL. When did you start working with CERL?  Which projects have you been involved in? 

I began working at CERL in 2018 as a graduate research assistant while attending Georgetown for my master’s degree. From my time at PwC, I had experience working with large data sets. I began working for CERL by cleaning and maintaining survey data. But over the last six years that has grown into assisting with maintenance of large datasets, statistical analysis, and coordination of data collection for national grant projects. I have supported seven federal grant projects on civic education, including CEAS, Congressional Academies, JMLP and JMLPE, and Project Citizen.   In addition to working on quantitative methodologies, I also began participant observation studies and conducting semi-structured interviews.

At present, I am excited to be working on the pilot project for Project Community. Project Community is focused on engaging all students in media literacy and public policy. The project will develop media literacy lessons and educator support materials for grades 4 through 8 that align with the Center’s Project Citizen curricular program. Topics will cover the press’ relationship with democracy, user-generated media and the dissemination of ideas, and online safety.

What is most compelling about your work with CERL and civic education in general? How has CERL changed or developed your thoughts on American civic education and its importance?  

Through my work with CERL, I’ve gained valuable insight into how people understand government in their daily lives. I’ve also learned a great deal about the support teachers require to succeed and the essentials for students to excel in their civic education studies. The fieldwork has been inspiring: I’ve met incredibly dedicated and intelligent teachers who work with high-need students in states and communities with limited resources.

What are the challenges to Civic Education research? What are the challenges for teaching Civic education more broadly?

Managing civic education research requires coordinating with a lot of people. State standards, academic years, and schedules differ, making coordination more challenging. Participating teachers may be switched to another subject at the last minute. While it’s a massive undertaking to coordinate research studies, we are fortunate to be partnered with the Center for Civic Education (CCE). CCE’s extensive network of state partners helps us understand these differences and coordinate national grant projects. 

In my role, I act as a liaison between teachers and state coordinators to ensure compliance with the curriculum and study requirements. It’s crucial to identify any issues early and maintain communication with teachers and state coordinators throughout the year. 

More broadly, there is fear and apprehension about teaching civic education in our current polarized political climate. Community concerns about indoctrination have teachers worried about job security and the potential for harassment. Teachers are desperate for resources, guidance, and training to allow them to do the best for their students.

The Center’s professional development programs and access to lesson plans that align with state requirements help boost teachers’ confidence in the classroom. The resources deepen their understanding of the content, which builds confidence, too. The network and forums give teachers a place to share how they have overcome challenges in their schools and communities. The link to a national organization promoting civic education also gives teachers a positive association. 

You are traveling this summer to Arizona, Nevada, Austin, Texas, and Philadelphia for Summer Institutes on behalf of CERL. What is happening at these institutes, and what is your role? Do you have any particular memorable moments from past travels that you’d like to share?

I attend these institutes to conduct participant observation and interviews. I am also there to answer questions about our research. I’m always impressed with how the coordinators and mentor teachers mix pedagogical training and deep content knowledge in their institutes. By the end of the institute, teachers have increased their civic knowledge through lessons from scholars and practitioners and have also experienced curriculum intervention. For the We The People grants, teachers participate in a simulated Congressional Hearing and put their new knowledge of the Constitution to work. For the Project Citizen grants, they work through identifying a public policy solution to a problem in their community. I love seeing the teachers’ confidence grow throughout the institutes. 

Over three years, I also attended many Project Citizen showcases. This project is my favorite because it is student-led and collaborative. The curriculum empowers students by teaching them how to have a voice, ask questions, and contact local government officials. It’s amazing to see them talk through their research and the pride they take in their final project. 

You are writing a dissertation about transnational sports television? Could you share a brief synopsis of your research?  How has your work for CERL informed your approach/study?

In my dissertation, I examine how professionals involved in the international distribution of television content perceive the Indian football audience and use these perceptions to shape their marketing, programming, and advertising strategies. I focus on the English Premier League (EPL) and its media partner Disney Star in India as a case study to explore how the professionals’ understanding of the EPL and Indian football fans influences their efforts to expand these fan bases. I argue that their efforts result in the creation of new, hybridized media content around the matches, which both contests and reifies the association of English football with an aspirational neoliberal cosmopolitanism.

I will be traveling to London this fall to conduct in-person interviews for my dissertation. Through my work with CERL, I have gained practice and confidence in primary research methods.