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January 13, 2011

ULM's SSRL trains students to apply for grants

Two University of Louisiana at Monroe students are seeking public support for an online Pepsi Corp. grant that would be used to help raise literacy levels and teach conflict management to Monroe's school-age children.

Matthew Van, a psychology major from Monroe, and Jessica M. Phillips, a graduate student in experimental psychology from West Monroe who works as a graduate assistant in ULM's Social Science Research Laboratory, recently submitted the $25,000 request for funding through an online Refresh Everything grant sponsored by Pepsi. Their idea is competing with hundreds of others submitted across the U.S., which is voted on by the public through Jan. 31. Supporters may vote online or by text and the top 10 vote earners in each of several categories will receive the grant funding for their project.

"Our grant is going towards a pilot study that we will be conducting in the spring," explained Phillips. "It is a prelude to our possible United States Institute for Peace grant, but we won't know until the end of March about that. The Pepsi grant will compensate seven ULM students for the development and running of our pilot study, as well as cover necessary materials."

Phillips said the group will be working after school with middle school and junior high students to teach them about conflict, conflict management, and conflict resolution. The details of the project may be seen at

"The general public can vote for our project by going to," Phillips said. "The SSRL has a Facebook page and we're trying to get as many friends as we can to remind people to vote for us."

Phillips said that the project is important because 80 percent of fourth and eighth graders in Louisiana reading levels are below proficient and literacy levels at these ages are a strong predictor of students' likelihood of graduating high school.

"Dropouts are more likely to be unemployed, to live on government assistance for a longer period of time and commit crimes than those with a degree. Children in our area are at risk and we think we might be able to help stem this tide," said Phillips.

Approximately 50 students will be included in the study, which will include interacting with the ULM students for about an hour and a half every day after school for about three months. The sessions will be designed to give children "hands-on" experience with managing conflict and improving literacy, while also giving the college students research experience by developing the children's program and implementing it.

"Encouraging students to think about careers in research and development is a major goal of the Social Science Research Lab," said SSRL Co-director Dr. Joseph McGahan. "Getting them paid to work on research related projects that have the potential to improve our community is another goal. Obviously, by virtue of their initiative and ability to work with others to prepare this grant proposal, we're having success with Jessica and Matt."

McGahan said one of the things that he and co-director Dr. John Sutherlin enjoy about the SSRL is the opportunity to work with students who do good work, who care about our community, and who have the initiative and tenacity to pursue such challenges as Van and Phillips are pursuing.

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