Collecting and analyzing data to benefit the local economy, researching what shelters and agencies can do to help the rural homeless and offering real-world experience to Bloomsburg University students: BU’s Center for Community Research and Consulting has become a valuable resource to the town and university before reaching its first anniversary.
“The center was created with the idea to use all of the expertise we have on campus,” says Heather Feldhaus, assistant dean of the College of Liberal Arts and the center’s director. “The town and surrounding community have consulting needs and we have students who are learning these skill sets, but can learn so much more if they can do it for real.”
The center received a Presidential Strategic Planning Grant of nearly $24,000 in April 2012 and immediately went to work. Already, the center has collaborated on projects with the Columbia-Montour Visitors Bureau.
“The students played a vital role in the economic impact assessment of the Visitors Bureau’s 2012 Covered Bridge and Arts Festival,” says David “Otto” Kurecian ’82, the bureau’s executive director. “The critical thinking the students demonstrated, coupled with their genuine enthusiasm, highlighted the fact that the center is certainly on the correct path in achieving its vision.”
During the three-day arts and crafts festival at Knoebels Amusement Resort, 30 BU students spoke with visitors one-on-one and completed 340 surveys. While students learned how to conduct marketing research, the information they gathered will help the visitors bureau target future promotional efforts.
“We exceeded expectations with the number of surveys distributed,” Feldhaus says. “When the report is finalized, the visitors bureau will have a clear picture of how far people traveled, how much money they spent at the event and in the area and how they heard about it.”
The center also has joined forces with Sue Dauria, professor of anthropology, in a long-term project to collect data on the economic impact of the Bloomsburg Fair.
“We collected demographic data using surveys and observations,” Dauria says. “With the help of Dr. Feldhaus and the center, we selected 10 students to assist in the collection of oral histories at last fall’s fair.”
The accounts and stories of attendees will be turned into a theatrical play, Fair Stories, that will be produced next year by the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble (BTE), Dauria says. The collaboration came about as the result of a discussion with Richie Cannady, a BTE actor, and also will be shared in a professional publication.
Feldhaus and her team, including co-director Chris Podeschi, associate professor of sociology, also co-hosted an event with BU’s SOLVE Office — Students Organized to Learn through Volunteerism and Employment — to raise awareness of rural homelessness. The conference included a presentation by Steve Berg, vice president for programs and policy with the National Alliance to End Homelessness, and workshops where attendees could investigate specific parts of the problem and exchange information.
“It goes largely unrecognized,” says Feldhaus. “People think that because you don’t see homeless people in the area, they don’t exist. The reality is that in rural areas, they camp on some farmer’s out-of-use field or sleep on somebody’s couch for a few weeks at a time.”
Tim Pelton, SOLVE’s civic engagement coordinator, says, “The overall point of the conference was to help agencies get a better grasp on how the situation is changing and what they can do to change along with it.”
Observe, shadow, experience
The center’s student research assistants already see its value to their education and to the community.
“The work that Dr. Feldhaus performs, that I am given an opportunity to observe and shadow, falls within the realm of both community sociology and social action,” says Weston Brehm, a senior sociology major from Orangeville. “There are real results for the local surrounding communities in relation to the projects we work on at the center.”
Being able to apply theory from the classroom to real-world experiences seems to be the greatest benefits to these students.
“I have been able to utilize the skills and education that I have learned throughout my undergraduate studies at Bloomsburg University and apply those skills through various projects,” echoes Brock Minnich, a senior social work major from Walnutport. “The center has given me the ability to make a difference and inspire
CJ Shultz ’13, a mass communications major from Hawley, is a student writer in BU’s Marketing and Communications Office.