Social and Opinion Research Lab Serves Both Students and Local Organizations

When Rich Clark and Amanda Richardson surveyed the situation, they found a need for Castleton University’s Social Sciences students to work with real data. And from that analysis, the Social and Opinion Research Lab (SORL) was born. 

Led by Clark, professor and Political Science program coordinator, and Richardson, director of the McNair Scholars Program, this student research lab meets the needs of students, regional organizations, and the University. The lab serves to support projects for Richardson’s Social Science Research Methods courses, which take on a research project each year and gives students hands-on experience in polling and research. 

SORL is an opportunity for Social Science Research Methods students to really gain the hands-on, real-world experience of planning, conducting, and reporting on a real (for a client) applied research project,” Richardson said. Simulation and examples in the classroom are good first steps to learning a skill. But SORL projects will allow students to grapple with the real choices and inevitable challenges that occur with every project. These experiences truly provide them with knowledge they will need in their future careers. 

This year’s project is in partnership with the Vermont Historical Society. It will measure statewide appreciation for history, awareness of the Vermont Historical Society, re-test both of these measurements after a period of programming and statewide outreach by the Vermont Historical Societyand see whether it’s feasible to generally improve the historical appreciation of a large community. 

To collect data, a mail survey will go out to 4,000 Vermont households during the fall semester, and the data will be analyzed in the spring semester. 

Clark proposed that the Historical Society partner with SORL for the research as a paying client. 

“What’s valuable here is that every student who goes into Natural Sciences can work with real data. Social Sciences students don’t always have that opportunity,” Clark said. “This allows us to provide the same opportunities to participate in the enterprise of real data.” 

In addition to the Historical Society project, SORL also has interns doing independent research projects. 

  • Institutional research at Castleton University: A research project that examines National Survey of Student Engagement (NSEE) and Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) data to help distill and enhance the information. The resulting reports will be helpful to Castleton’s retention initiatives. 
  • Castleton Bridge Initiative: Analyzing Census data on the Castleton Community to better understand the University’s impact on the town. The results will provide a broad look at the relationship between the town of Castleton and the University, including impact on lifestyle, voting, and economics. 
  • Turning Point Center of Rutland: An analysis of broader social functioning, family and workplace interactions, and coping of Turning Point clients after the integrate with society after their release from prison. Data will be examined at different assessment points to determine if clients are improving. The results will help determine how Turning Point Center can better capture data on the success of its clients.