UMM Students to Present Original Scholarly Research

Students partner with community organizations

MACHIAS, ME – University of Maine at Machias students reached out to the local community, engaging in semester-long research projects. Students in Dr. Lisa Athearn’s Research Methods & Design course spent the semester collaborating with both the Town of Machias and the Washington Hancock Community Agency (WHCA) on three research projects aimed at helping the local Machias area community. Students will hold a public presentation of their research on December 17th, from 8:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. in Science 102 on UMM’s campus.

Students performed a needs assessment of seniors in the Machias area. They asked seniors about their social, physical and environmental needs. “We found social, physical, and environmental needs be important,” according to the students, “because they encompass what makes an individual's quality of life.” The students hope that by discovering the needs of the town’s elderly the services offered by WHCA and other organizations can be better tailored and marketed to this important segment of our community. Working on this project affected the students, “we realize that eventually all of us will become elderly, and this project offers valuable insight into some of the challenges that we may someday face."

Another student research team worked with Betsy Fitzgerald, Town Manager, and Henry Chausse, Director of the Bay Area Transfer Station, on the recycling habits of the local community. Students were interested in knowing who recycles, what they recycle, and why they choose to recycle. “We believe recycling is important to help preserve the community that we currently live in,” the students reported. According to Fitzgerald, “Recycling can benefit everyone, having students carry that message shows that ‘younger’ people understand the ramifications and that they are serious about it; they serve as role models for all ages.” The students conducted surveys at the local transfer station and also engaged in an observational analysis of the people recycling. This project was conducted in conjunction with another UMM class project, which involved a recycling media campaign, aimed at increasing awareness and participation in recycling. The students in the Research Method & Design class measured the potential impact of that campaign. The desired goals of the students are clear: “We want more people to recycle in the Machias area.” Betsy Fitzgerald shares this goal, “Removing items from the waste stream is a double savings, any efforts to increase that is a bonus for taxpayers and the environment. We appreciate someone else spreading the message.”

A third research team worked with the Washing Hancock Community Agency (WHCA) on a demographic and ethnographic analysis of the area’s homeless population. According to Bobbi Harris, Special Project Coordinator/Housing Retention and Stability specialist with WHCA, the last homeless count conducted in Washington County, “came up with eight homeless people.” According to the student researchers, “our motivations began with the desire to find a more accurate number of homeless people in the Machias area.” WHCA recently received new funding for the research on homeless populations in Washington and Hancock County. The allocation of the federal funds is pending a census on the number of homeless people in this area. Therefore, the student’s study of homeless people in the Machias area will help provide a pilot study that can be expanded to look at both counties to establish the need for resources. Students performed a census of the homeless, through third-party interviews, gathering vital demographic information about this often overlooked segment of our community. In addition, the students performed ethnographic interviews with a subset of this population, commonly referred to as ‘couch surfers,’ who are individuals, often teens, who roam from couch to couch, sleeping in friend’s and family member’s homes until they are kicked out.

All three student research projects are examples of UMM’s Service Learning/Community Engagement initiative, aimed at providing students with hands-on, real world experiences in the local community. According to Lisa Athearn, “Allowing students to engage directly in the communities they live in brings an immediate importance and intellectual connection to their work that you simply cannot get in the classroom. It also gives students a sense of pride and commitment to their work and their community.” Fitzgerald adds that “having students show an interest speaks to their understanding of the fundamentals of a community.”

The student public presentation is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be provided.

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