Spotlight on Engaged Student: Harris Collins

Students like Harris Collins Expand the Umbrella of their Research to Impact their Communities and Broaden Connections

Harris Collins, an undergraduate Teaching Assistant (TA) in the Purdue Honors College, hopes to help his audience understand the value of expanding their research umbrellas to their own backyards by considering how they utilize resources in his Engagement and Service-Learning Summit lighting talk, “Centering the Urban Periphery: Service Learning and Community Engagement in Your Own Backyard.”

“I hope my audience understands where they can have the most impact in regard to service-learning. I want to get them thinking about how they expend their resources. As someone who is obsessed with economics, efficiency is my greatest consideration in all things, and I hope I can impart a fraction of this on the audience,” said Collins.

Collins is one of six lighting talk speakers featured at the 2024 Engagement and Service-Learning Summit, which will focus on giant leaps in service-learning and engagement. Giant leaps are reflected in Collins’ work. As a junior in Purdue University’s Honors Economics program, he is engaged in research projects in International Finance and Urban Economics. Collins has also been a member of the Purdue University’s Speech and Debate Team and was a national champion Impromptu Speaker in 2022. Currently, Collins serves as an undergraduate TA both in the Mitchell E. Daniel’s, Jr. School of Business and the Honors College. He interned with J.P. Morgan Chase and contributed to financials in Home and Auto Lending.

Collins will be joining Citigroup in New York this summer as an analyst in their Latin America (LATAM) Private Bank. Presently, he plans to continue working at Citigroup after graduation.

Collins sees service-learning and engagement as a way to get hands-on learning experience with what you are passionate about in the classroom.

“For any interest or any major, service-learning presents an opportunity for students to impact the lives of people in their community while furthering their knowledge in their respective fields,” commented Collins.

One of Collins’ favorite undergraduate memories involved a Food Finders Food Bank and GrowLocal project he worked on for the last two years. Collins and his team of undergraduate researchers worked with Food Finders to distribute surveys. The project aimed to map the efficacy of community assets in the area that relate to food security. Collins and his team wanted to gauge the impact of organizations like Food Finders have on the nutrition of the people who utilize them.

“To incentivize participation in the surveys, we handed out cookies, which allowed us to brighten a few people’s day, serve people in our community, and collect our data all at once. It was one of the most wholesome experiences that I can remember in my work at Purdue,” commented Collins.

Collins and his team found that whether purposeful or not, GrowLocal gardens specifically had become community hubs, and allowed people to make connections with their neighbors in a way that they previously had not been able to do. Collins considers what he learned from this project a roadmap for future work.

“Service-learning is 50% service and 50% learning. Sometimes it’s easy to focus just on what I am learning or what I am researching. However, it really is important to take a step back and appreciate the goal of the project. Sometimes it really is just as simple as handing out some cookies,” said Collins.

Overall, Collins credits his passion for research to his first course in college with mentor Dr. Jason Ware. Collins had taken Ware’s HONR: 199 Introduction to Undergraduate Research course, which enabled him to gain insight into what research can be, and how topics for research are much broader than work in a lab.

“Dr. Ware allowed me the privilege of joining his research team, and I haven’t looked back,” commented Collins.

At the Engagement and Service-Learning Summit this year, Collins is looking forward to discovering even more about community impact and making additional connections with people who have made engagement the focus of their careers. To other students who are interested in getting involved in engagement work, Collins encourages them to first find a general interest.

“For me, Urban Economics is very interesting. Community engagement and service-learning initiatives are bountiful in that field. Additionally, finding a mentor is critical in any new endeavor. Sometimes that can be as simple as volunteering with local campus initiatives. Sometimes it involves finding the work of a professor who you admire and finding how you could contribute or plug into what they are doing – if possible. Holding all else equal, passion is key,” said Collins.

The Office of Engagement in partnership with the Office of Service-Learning is inviting community partners, faculty, staff and students from all Purdue campuses to the 2024 Engagement and Service-Learning Summit, where we are celebrating “Giant Leaps, Local Impacts” with lightning talks by six engaged faculty, staff, students, and community partners! Learn more at: