College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Population Studies Center Advances Understanding of Post-Recession Era

Researchers met recently to address demographic, socioeconomic issues facing rural America

OCTOBER 13, 2016 BY EDWIN SMITH

Faculty, staff, and students from both the University of Mississippi and the University of Michigan take a break after conducting community interviews for Visions of Hope, Inc. in Biloxi.

Faculty, staff, and students from both the University of Mississippi and the University of Michigan take a break after conducting community interviews for Visions of Hope, Inc. in Biloxi.

Recognizing that the seeds of many social ills were planted after the Great Recession, the Center for Population Studies at the University of Mississippi is collaborating with researchers across the country to share findings and examine courses of action.

A group of scholars associated with the Western Association of Agricultural Experiment Directors recently held its 2016 meeting in Mississippi, co-hosted and co-sponsored by the Center for Population Studies and the UM Department of Sociology and Anthropology and McLean Institute for Public Service and Community Engagement.

“The Center for Population Studies is somewhat unique among our peers across the country in focusing on connecting multimethod population studies with community development research, especially in relation to health and local food systems,” said John J. Green, UM professor of sociology and director of the center and the Society and Health minor program in the College of Liberal Arts.

“With ever-increasing access to data online, we are doing more and more work focused on helping organizations to access and utilize population data to inform their work. In addition to filling data requests, providing technical assistance and analysis, we also provide participatory workshops to assist people in accessing, interpreting and actually using data.”

As part of a multistate research project on “The Great Recession: Its Aftermath and Patterns of Rural and Small Town Demographic Change,” 16 scholars from Alabama, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah, Vermont, Wisconsin and Washington, D.C., joined seven of their Mississippi colleagues to present research on demographic and socioeconomic issues of concern.

“We discussed strategies for better disseminating our work to the public and developed plans for the next five years of work together,” Green said. “There is attention being directed toward population health in Mississippi, nationally and globally.

“We are working through the center to help people understand the demographic basis for population health, including attention to population structures, characteristics and composition. In order to improve population health, we have to understand the population.”

The Center for Population Studies is working with Volunteer Mississippi to conduct a series of workshops across north Mississippi to help nonprofit organizations use research to inform their strategic plans and grant proposals. In early November, the center will host the State Data Center of Mississippi’s Annual Affiliates Meeting in collaboration with Planning and Development Districts from around the state.

To better understand issues faced by rural community and health development professionals, the center’s staff also met with representatives from the Aaron E. Henry Community Health Center, Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi, Delta Directions Consortium, Delta State University Center for Community and Economic Development and DSU Delta Center for Culture and Learning, Green said.

“Building on meetings held in Hernando, an interactive panel session was held at the Coahoma County Higher Education Center in Clarksdale,” he said.

Sannie Snell, who runs the Right! from the Start maternal-child health program and is a longtime partner of the center, said that it was natural that the organization would gravitate toward the center.

“The center has been beneficial, because it takes our ideas and frames them for research and evaluation,” Snell said. “It provides us the expertise needed to develop evidence-based rural models of health care.

“Collaborating with the center also brings in really bright students, who have an interest in the work we’re doing.”

The partnership creates a synergy between the university, students and the community that will affect how Right! from the Start does community-focused research in the future, she said.

“This synergistic relationship is not only beneficial for my organization, but also for building groups of future professionals, who understand the plight of our population from a community level and, hopefully, can create more patient-focused health care systems in the future,” Snell said.

Funded through a mixture of sources, including state-budgeted funds combined with external grants and contracts from agencies and foundations in Mississippi and nationally, the center has a long history.

Through its affiliation with the State Data Center Program in conjunction with the U.S. Census Bureau, the Center for Population Studies houses the State Data Center of Mississippi, represents Mississippi in the Federal-State Cooperative for Population Studies and works as liaison between diverse users of data and the Census Bureau.

Additionally, the center houses a program for community-based research through which it works with nonprofit organizations across the state to assist them with research design, data collection and analysis, especially for community development and health-related initiatives.

“This is our fifth and final year hosting the editorial office for the peer-reviewed journal Community Development,” Green said. “Published in association with the Community Development Society and Routledge, Taylor & Francis, this is an international publication focused on connecting research and practice.”

For more information about the organization, contact Green at jjgreen@olemiss.edu.