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Social Science Data Center aims to advance Lehigh’s level of research

Research at Lehigh is getting an extra boost from the sociology and anthropology department, which has created the University’s first Social Science Data Center.

Designed to lend support to research needs from across the institution, the data center is already bustling with activity.

Located on the third floor of Price Hall, the data center boasts six fully equipped workstations using the latest software and hardware necessary to conduct a wide variety of research, including telephone-based surveys, computer-assisted coding and analysis of qualitative data, advanced statistical analysis, geographic information systems analysis, and database management and input.

In addition to the state-of-the-art workstations, a graduate assistant with call-center experience is on hand to help with the preparation of funding proposals and coordinate research that utilizes the center’s facilities. Training sessions are available to bring researchers up to speed on the telephone and computer programs.

“This is a great thing for the university, faculty and students,” says Ziad Munson, assistant professor of sociology, who developed the data center. “We want to spark people’s imagination about how they can use the center. There’s an opportunity for it to really grow as it assists people in conducting their own research.”

“An excellent step”

The center, thus far funded through the College of Arts and Sciences, the Vice Provost of Research, the Sociology and Anthropology department and the W.M. Keck Foundation Grant for Applied Life Science Program.

“The Social Science Data Center is an excellent step in advancing the data-driven research being carried out by faculty and students,” said Anne Meltzer, the Herbert J. and Ann L. Siegel Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. “It will help fulfill the research needs of many constituents across colleges, as well as in the local community and nationally.”

For faculty, the facilities provide an opportunity to increase their research output and make them more competitive for grants; for students, the center provides unparalleled experience with tools that will be essential in their intended careers. “This provides students with a skill-set that they wouldn’t otherwise have,” said Munson.

Academic projects from across colleges are already tapping the center’s resources, including an NIH-funded study on family relationships, an NSF-funded study of citizen trust and electronic voting, and a study of online social networking and its impact on the creation of relationships.

Students are also conducting a community-funded needs assessment for North Penn Legal Services, an organization that provides free legal aid services on civil cases to low-income families, individuals, and groups in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Student workers have places thousands of phone calls to generate the needed responses.

“This will raise Lehigh’s profile within the community by showing what we do best—research and teaching—and how that can help in their lives,” says Munson of the project.

Through a partnership with the Institute of Public Opinion at Muhlenberg College, the center will also able to collaborate on projects by connecting with Muhlenberg’s 12 workstations, which are used to conduct scientific-based survey research projects of public policy and political issues throughout the Lehigh Valley and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. “It’s a synergy where both schools will benefit,” says Munson.

Looking ahead, Munson says that additional workstations will allow researchers to bring larger projects inhouse, including full-scale national surveys, interview projects, and studies of texts and media. He also sees great potential in capturing and analyzing public opinion on a myriad of topics in the community. “We can provide some scientific rigor to claims about what people do or do not want,” says Munson. “There are a lot of community issues on which there is a lot of heat and not much light.”

The open house for Social Science Data Center is December 4 at 4 p.m. in Price Hall, Room 313. For more information, call (610) 758-3810.

--Tricia Long

Posted on Tuesday, December 04, 2007

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