Southeastern Social Science Research Center expands services impacting quality of life
Contact: Christina Chapple
HAMMOND – Southeastern Louisiana University is further increasing its educational and outreach roles in the areas of planning and development by giving an expanded mission – and a new name – to its 15-year-old social science research center.
The Florida Parishes Social Sciences Research Center has become the Southeastern Social Sciences Research Center (SSSRC) and will target three areas that impact quality of life -- regional quality of life studies, community outreach and development services, and survey research education and training, said Tammy Bourg, dean of Southeastern’s College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.
Those services, added Bourg, build on the center’s long-standing mission of assisting faculty, students, and the community with social science research. They also compliment the university’s Southeast Louisiana Business Center, which recently added planning services to the economic development-related assistance it offers to the region.
Located in Fayard Hall, the SSSRC is staffed by Director Bonnie Lewis, a professor of sociology, and faculty colleagues with expertise in areas such as criminal justice, polling and mapping services, geography and GIS (Geographic Information System) technology.
“We are not regional planners per se, but there are things that our center does and there is expertise within the center that, in conjunction with the Business Center, form a really strong team that can make Southeastern a major player in the planning of this region,” Bourg said.
“If you want to do good progressive regional planning you have to think beyond roads and bridges and think about quality of life,” she said. “You have to think about what makes this a good place to live. That’s the main piece to the puzzle that we can provide – information on factors that are related to quality of life in general and for the people of this region in particular.”
Bourg said the reasoning behind trading “Florida Parishes” for “Southeastern” in the center’s name is not just to emphasize its connection to the university, but also to recognize that its work extends beyond the north shore region.
To support community planning efforts, Bourg said SSSRC will conduct a number of major surveys, beginning this fall with statewide polls on the primary and run-off races for state offices, including governor.
Also this fall, Lewis and political science professor Kurt Corbello, poll and survey coordinator, will begin constructing a major regional quality of life survey of Tangipahoa, Livingston, St. Tammany, Washington and St. Helena parishes. To be conducted in 2008, the survey will study short- and long-term quality of life factors important to area residents. Plans are to conduct a similar in-depth study every two years.
“The results of the surveys will provide invaluable information for community planners and developers,” Bourg said. “It will let policy makers, business leaders and community leaders in general know where they should focus their attention and funding resources if they want people to be satisfied with the quality of life in a region.”
The center also plans to tap the expertise of Southeastern faculty such as sociologist John Boulahanis, who specializes in issues of crime and justice, for a biennial study of residents’ perceptions of crime, and geographer Molly McGraw, whose expertise in GIS technology will help map out survey results as well as provide materials for land use studies.
“GIS is a wonderful tool because it allows you to portray your data visually, which can be easier for people to understand,” Bourg said. “It is ‘the’ tool in geography right now.”
SSSRC will also continue to provide its services to community agencies and programs and to augment the services through workshops and training seminars on topics such as GIS for law enforcement or other groups, survey design and construction, grant writing assistance and social service program evaluation design and implementation.
“We can do workshops for people in other agencies to help teach them how to do some aspects of survey research themselves, to give them some additional tools in their toolbox,” Bourg said.
Lewis said the SSSRC’s 26-computer lab is continually used to train students both in classes and one-on-one in social science research and polling techniques.
Since its founding in 1992, the center has received more than $1.2 million in external funding and has established a track record of community outreach and development services, said Lewis. Current projects include involvement with the HUD grant-funded Northlake Homeless Coalition, Hammond Weed and Seed Initiative, 21st Judicial District Court Juvenile Drug Court, and the Land Trust for Southeast Louisiana.
SSSRC has also provided social science research and support to agencies such as the Tangipahoa Parish Social Services Council, the Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission and the U. S. Housing and Urban Development Agency.