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October 2016

My Take on TU: Research Experience for Undergraduates

Today’s My Take on TU segment comes from Ellen Emeric, a senior Sociology major from Springfield, Mo.

Ellen with Dr. Galen Newman, her REU faculty mentor

This past summer, I participated in a summer research fellowship at Texas A&M University. Funded by the National Science Foundation, the program brought together ten undergraduate students from around the country and gave us the opportunity to conduct research in the fields of sociology and urban planning. This REU (Research Experience for Undergraduates) was particularly exciting for me because, firstly, as a social scientist, the opportunities for exposure to research are not as prevalent as they are for many STEM students; and, secondly, I am currently applying to graduate programs in City Planning for Fall 2017. I was thrilled by the chance to begin to delve into the foundations of that discipline.

slide1Over the course of six weeks, I completed an advanced seminar in statistics and research methods; learned the basics of statistical and spatial mapping softwares; and designed and completed—with the help of an incredible A&M faculty mentor—a research project and presentation on the relationship between Urban Decline and Transportation. While in Texas, my cohort also spent a few days in Houston. There, we toured historic neighborhoods that have undergone massive urban changes, learned about the complexities of housing inequality, and met with environmental justice ambassadors who have been advocating for those negatively impacted by the booming petro-chemical industry. It was certainly a challenging and intense six weeks, but I could not have asked for a better experience. Each member of my cohort brought something completely unique and ex-citing to the group, and our diverse backgrounds added an extraordinary amount to the time we all spent together.

The REU program stretches far and wide across nearly all disciplines and many locations, and I am eager to see where this network can take me. This month, I will present my research—entitled “The Means of Moving Peoples: Urban Decline and Public Transportation in Dayton, Ohio”—at the Southern Demographic Association annual conference in Athens, Georgia.

Below is an excerpt from Ellen’s research.

The Means of Moving Peoples: Urban Decline and Public Transportation in Dayton, Ohio
The city of Dayton, Ohio lies within the Rust Belt of the United States, a historical region that has been experiencing massive urban depopulation, or shrinkage, since the 1960s, primarily as a result of de-industrialization and manufacturing decline. In fact, the city has suffered a 47% population decrease since that time period; these conditions have resulted in an abundance of neighborhood decline in the city. It has been shown that cities developed around a sustainable public transportation system tend toward growth and stability. This analysis focuses on mapping urban decline in Dayton using an index created with a suitability model in ArcGIS, and compares the spatial location of that decline to the location of three main public transportation hubs in the city. The project seeks to understand, firstly, the relationship between proximity to public transportation and spatial distribution of urban decline in Dayton, and secondly, whether greater availability of and access to public transportation can encourage urban regeneration.

My Take on TU: Internship Experiences

presentation1Today’s post comes to us from Colleen Yoder, a junior Sociology and Economics major from St. Louis. She is currently studying abroad in Seville, Spain.

This past summer I had the wonderful opportunity to work with Gateway Legal Services, a non-for-profit law firm based out of Saint Louis that takes cases involving supplemental security income, social security disability, and veteran benefits. Throughout the summer I attended pre-hearing meetings where a lawyer would discuss each case to ensure that the correct paperwork and related medical and school notes were requested. In addition, I called clients to ensure that their medical records were up-to-date.

Talking to clients was one of the most thought-provoking things I did. Many clients desperately needed the money to pay for medical expenses, a home, and other essentials. The process is arduous, and sadly, it shows no signs of improvement. During my time there, the average wait after filing for a hearing, which is already the third step, moved from 15 to 18 months. No matter the client’s background, they all have one thing in common: they need the money to survive.

When I was calling clients two distinct themes emerged: either the education system had failed them or the medical system had failed them. Or both had failed them. These are two systems that we often talk about in sociology, and during this election season these two systems are receiving much attention. Party lines, however, need to be set aside when talking about these issues; the decisions being made are not affecting the politicians who are making them, but people like the clients at Gateway. They are affecting those who are seen, but never heard. These are real people with real stories and it is essential that we remember that.

We are fortunate enough to attend a wonderful university and have a voice. It is our job to speak for those who are not being heard.