ULM professors Joe McGahan and John Sutherlin took to heart the John F. Kennedy maxim, “For those to whom much is given, much is expected” when they formed the Social Science Research Lab, a multi-disciplinary research group looking at a host of socio-economic policy issues affecting northeast Louisiana.
Sutherlin, a political science professor, acknowledged that those in higher education are in a privileged position to give back to the community through service learning and by cultivating meaningful partnerships with like-minded businesses, organizations, and individuals for the betterment of society.
With this aim in mind, the two ULM colleagues organized the Social Science Research Lab, which officially opened on June 1 and is currently housed at Strauss Hall, room 359.
The lab provides opportunities to do what the American Association for Colleges and Universities refers to as “bringing theory into practice.”
McGahan, a social psychology professor, outlined the four main goals:
- encourage students to think about the possibility of careers in research and development;
- educate and train them using local and other internships to augment that progress;
- encourage entrepreneurs’ investment in research and development, paving the way for others to come to northeast Louisiana
- and academically, develop proposals for new degree programs, particularly involving interdisciplinary partnerships between social sciences (like political science, social psychology, sociology, and social work) and business, entrepreneurship, and marketing approaches.
And the idea has taken off. At present, the Social Science Research Lab and its students are conducting 10 – 15 projects, both locally, and with overseas businesses and organizations. Among them: providing an advanced data analysis of information obtained via the recent City of Monroe survey (part of the city’s 20-year comprehensive plan) with Peter J. Smith Urban Planning Consultants, and projects for the Better Business Bureau, the Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo, and the Coalition for Quality Public Education.
The lab performs a wide range of services, from anticipating future trends, to accurately interpreting data, to developing policies for governmental entities, to urban planning—just to name a few of the possibilities.
The professors pointed out that practical application and this kind of hands-on experience gives students a competitive advantage when they leave college. The almost unlimited array of internships often leads to job offers the world over, though one of the lab’s objectives is to develop and strengthen businesses closer to home, enabling the students to have the choice of pursing careers in Louisiana.
McGahan stated, ”We’re trying to sell students on the idea that there are lucrative careers in research and development. Education and training is superior to training by itself and, given the emphasis on ‘bringing theory into practice,’ also superior to mere education.”
Internships are compensated in various ways—some paid by their clients, some by way of course credit, and some accomplish the work through volunteering.
Students also develop new skill sets, making them stand out among their peers in a competitive job market. One example is grant writing, Sutherlin explained. “Grant writing abilities in this part of the state are behind. If we help our students gain this kind of expertise, then they will have an invaluable asset.”
The lab can also help promote a research and development corridor along Louisiana’s northern frontier at least, encouraging economic development and combining the best and brightest resources from the three major universities. Research fellows such as Thomas Lipscomb of the University of Southern Mississippi already maintain productive affiliations with the Social Science Research Lab, as do numerous ULM research fellows. Sutherlin pointed out that these kind of dynamic partnerships could only make northeast Louisiana stronger, attracting new developments and industries to an area brimming with largely untapped potential.
The lab is a joint effort of ULM’s colleges, each one giving where they can. As McGahan said, “It’s a complete university effort not housed within a single college.” As more projects develop, the idea is to increase funding sources so that all participating students will acquire paid internships. The lab is also researching funding via grant proposals and philanthropic support.
Anyone interested in joining this enterprising initiative, whether a student, instructor, business, donor, or potential client, should call: (318) 342-1338 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
More information may be found at: www.ulm.edu/ssrl
More about current student internships being done through the Social Science Research Lab:
- “Pathfinders Project” Elsie Smith, a psychology junior from Lake Charles, is participating in a partnership with the LA Center for the Blind and the Institute for Blindness at LA Tech, both in Ruston and associated with the National Federation of the Blind. Their project, in the developmental stage and pending funding, is concerned with mobility training, thus enabling self-sufficiency for blind children in Zambia, Africa. Though the Braille system and other sources of aid are available there, they do not have a supply of canes to meet their needs. Smith, who is also interested in a career in occupational therapy, could travel to Zambia to assist with cane travel training. One eventual possibility of the project could be the development of an industry to manufacture the vitally needed canes.
- “Legal Beagles” Jessica Decelle, a psychology senior from Monroe, is helping attorney Bob Noel update a criminal justice study from 2003. They are examining information from 10 parishes, looking for any budget disparities, providing much aid to often-beleaguered public defenders. This study has the potential to be a prototype.
- “Justice Seekers” Hannah Hammons, a political science senior from Swartz, is working with the Children’s Coalition Project as they catalogue services available to families in the Fourth Judicial District (including Ouachita and Morehouse Parishes), by way of the Youth Services Planning Board. This pilot project is ultimately helping to develop a state database of the services at hand for individuals at risk of entering the foster care or juvenile justice systems, bridging gaps and providing much needed assistance to the Social Services sector. Very likely, this program will lead the initiative for other Youth Services Planning Boards across the state.