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ETSU Applied Social Research Lab connects to community

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JOHNSON CITY (April 16, 2014) – When asked about the uses for a major in sociology, East Tennessee State University students respond quickly:  helping others and building community. And, they don’t have to wait until graduation to do it.

The university’s Applied Social Research Lab links faculty and students to organizations all across the region.  It provides competitively-priced research services, through ETSU’s Center for Community Outreach and Applied Research.  Both organizations work in partnership with the Department of Sociology and Anthropology and ETSU professors Dr. Scott Beck and Dr. Jerry Leger.

“We design and conduct telephone, web-based, paper, and in-person surveys to gather both quantitative and qualitative data for local governments, non-profit organizations, and even private businesses,” says Dr. Leslie McCallister, who oversees the work of the lab, along with faculty colleague Dr. Kelly Foster.

One of the lab’s goals is to provide hands-on, practical research experiences for students beginning at the undergraduate level and continuing on through graduate school.

Reagan Barbee of Morristown, who is working on a master’s degree in sociology, is lending her knowledge and expertise to the United Way of Bristol, Tennessee/Virginia.

“We’re conducting a comprehensive needs assessment for the organization,” Barbee says.  “We’re using town hall meetings, focus groups, surveys, and interviews to determine how United Way can better serve the Bristol community.”

Transportation and dental care have emerged as critical needs during the study as well as help in accessing health care through the new federal law, Barbee says.

“Our partnership with the ASRL group has helped us take our community needs assessment process to the next level,” says Lisa Cofer, executive director of the United Way of Bristol, Tennessee/Virginia.  “Dr. Foster and her team are providing the leadership and expertise for the most comprehensive study that United Way of Bristol has ever conducted for our community.  Their guidance and experience have provided a strong foundation for the planning and implementation of a process whose end result will provide critical information that will impact the future of our community.”

Through the Applied Social Research Lab, ETSU students and faculty surveyed 96 residents in the Mountain Home area, to identify pressing community issues as part of the Targeted Community Crime Reduction Program, operated by the Johnson City Police Department through a federal grant from the Department of Justice. The program’s aim is to reduce crime through pre-enforcement, enforcement, neighborhood revitalization, and offender intervention.

Part of the program is a first-of-its kind Day Reporting Center to help offenders on probation integrate back into the community in a positive way.  The ETSU Applied Social Research Lab has been a driving force in that effort as well, through the work of a student intern.

Even closer to home, students from the lab developed a satisfaction survey for ETSU undergraduates to rate their experiences with the university’s Office of Financial Aid. A total of 373 students were interviewed, via telephone and the web, in an effort to provide data and opinions that will ultimately help improve office services.

And Applied Social Research Lab staff hire all the callers and supervisors who run ETSU’s Phonathon.  Fund-raising calls are made each weekday from 3 to 9 p.m.  “Personable and likeable,” says McCallister, are two of the primary qualities prospective callers should possess.

Grant-writing assistance is also offered through the lab, as well as data analysis, program evaluation, and report generation.

For students like Reagan Barbee, the lab offers the perfect opportunity to test and apply classroom knowledge in a way that has a direct effect on the world around them. For additional information about the ETSU Applied Social Research Lab, call (423)-439-6067.