SDSU's Social Science Research Lab digs for data on a wide range of topics.
Cathy Cirina-Chiu, right, managing director of the lab, and Dara McIntyre, left, reviewing survey results.
In a world increasingly focused on analytics, conveying data with ease and efficiency is paramount, especially when that data pertains to health and happiness.
San Diego State University’s Social Science Research Lab understands this necessity.
The lab dedicates its time and research to helping an assortment of clients create fine-tuned program evaluations.
Behind the scenes
The Social Science Research Lab started as a telephone survey center in the '70s. It evolved as circumstances arose — like the advent of the cell phone, and the focus of the lab shifted to program evaluations.
“It changed to actually sitting down with people, finding out about their programs, determining what they needed from an evaluation," Cirina-Chiu said.
“Now it’s helping them find goals for the evaluation and then presenting the data to them in a way that they can understand and use.”
Asking the right questions
The scope of content for clients covers an incredible range. SDSU Bookstore’s ‘Rent to Save’ program, San Diego County's new HIV testing procedures and the SDSU Omnibus Student Survey have all been dissected by the lab.
"The imprimatur of the university was certainly
an important part of the public's
perception and acceptance
of the analysis the lab provided."
For example, the survey revealed that ‘Rent to Save’ allows students to acquire more materials for a class.
“More than half of students renting books state that this helps them be more prepared for class and about a third of students renting state their grades have improved,” said Todd Summer, director of campus stores for Aztec Shops, which operates the bookstore.
The variety of clients provides the lab with challenges.
“We get a project and we may have the skill set for evaluation and research, but we don’t always have the content area,” Cirina-Chiu said. “I get to learn all kinds of things that I never anticipated learning.”
Making a difference
With one client the lab dives into the various aspects of summer camp fun with YMCA’s Camp Surf.
“We wanted to have a meaningful evaluation system,” said Zayanne Thompson, executive manager at Camp Surf. “We wanted help designing a tool that would measure program outcomes and focus on the areas that showed significant opportunities for improvement.”
The immediate feedback on the facilities, the food and the program allow the camp to focus on creating the most nurturing environment for growth.
The positive change can be seen affecting the young people involved. One camper said, “I feel like camp cares about what I think and respects my opinion.”
Being on campus
Being on campus has notable benefits. This was apparent when the lab worked with SDSU professor Matt Rahn on learning about local and regional perspectives on a proposed gravel mine adjacent to the Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve.
“The report and analysis provided by the research lab was of the highest caliber and withstood any external criticisms,” Rahn said. “Having the imprimatur of the university was certainly an important part of the public's perception and acceptance of the analysis the lab provided.”
Being at the university level applies high standards to the organization.
“SDSU has this fabulous reputation for research,” Cirina-Chiu said. “It gives my clients confidence that I’m going to provide them with absolutely unbiased, absolutely up-to-the-minute best practices.”