One of the distinctive features of a Practicum is its reliance on a
research tradition known as "participatory action research"
(PAR). This postmodern approach to inquiry requires social researchers to
collaborate with community groups (social service organizations,
grass-roots collectives, etc) directly involved in addressing social
problems in their communities. The goal of this collaborative relationship
is to allow both parties to take advantage of the special knowledge and
skills that each brings to understanding and helping to resolve social
problems. Organization members who are the front lines in dealing with
problems can offer researchers their informed perspectives on the specific
issues that need to be addressed and potentially unique insights about the
nature and causes of these problems.
researchers can draw on their disciplinary knowledge base and use their
skills in data collection and analysis to generate research findings
valuable to their community partners. In addition to increasing the
validity and relevancy of research findings, such collaborative
relationships serve to "democratize" social scientific research
by allowing nonacademic community members to participate in the research
The 4th Graduate Research Practicum
was organized around a study of affordable housing issues in the Richmond
area. Dr. Nita Bryant, the '02-'03 practicum director, supervised
graduate students Mathew Steele, Coleman Rose, and Jeremy Redford (see
picture below) in a variety of projects designed to provide housing
assessments for the United Way.
Redford's project focused on the relationship between relocation and
public housing residents' life chances. Jeremy studied a public housing
community in the Richmond area that is currently undergoing
redevelopment through a Federal Program designed to create a mixed-income
Rose studied the Latino
population in the Richmond area, focusing on the relationship
between home ownership and community participation. Coleman
worked with professors from the University of Richmond to collect
the data he used in his thesis.
Steele’s practicum utilizes census data to understand how poverty,
gentrification and housing availability affect housing affordability
Richmond’s Church Hill area
3rd Graduate Research Practicum was organized around a study of domestic
violence in Virginia. Dr. David Bromely, the '01-'02 practicum
director, supervised graduate students Adam Alden, Rosita Alicea, Kendra
Cover, and Mike Stern in a variety of projects designed to analyze data
collected by domestic violence service providers / victims' advocates
throughout the state from 1998-2000. The database, VADATA, represents
efforts to standardize and centralize the collection of information on
clients' needs, and on the incidence, nature, and context of domestic
violence. In collaboration with service providers, students designed
projects around a number of important issues.
Alden's research centers on the relationship between clients' age,
types of violence experienced, and types of services requested.
Alicea's project examines variations in the help-seeking behaviors
of clients based on race, age, educational level, economic status,
and parental status. It also explores the relationship between time
elapsed from the precipitating incident and types of services
Cover's study focuses on the effects of witnessing domestic violence
Stern's project examines contextual and structural factors related
to the use of firearms in incidents of family violence.
2nd Graduate Research Practicum was organized around a study of social
factors that impact the health and safety of economically disadvantaged
children in Richmond and surrounding communities. Dr. Stephen Lyng, the
'00-'01 practicum director, supervised graduate students Sonja Wynn, Amy
Hearn, Carol Wells, and Jaime Maerten in a variety of projects focused on
Improving the Health and Safety of "At-Risk" Children. Students
collaborated with two local organizations, Youth Matters, and Children's
Health Involving Parents (CHIP) Both of these organizations are at the
forefront of efforts in Richmond to improve the life circumstances of
Following several meetings with representatives of Youth Matters and CHIP
during the spring and fall '00 semesters, the Practicum students
formulated their research problems, identified data sources and data
collection tools, secured IRB approval for the projects, and developed
thesis proposals. Each project dealt with an important issue relating to
the health and well-being of children living in poverty.
Wynn's project focused on the relationship between academic
performance and resilience to risk behaviors in the context of a
tutor/mentoring program initiated by Youth Matters several years
Hearn's project centered on the influence of various social
psychological factors on maternal-child relationships in families
serviced by CHIP.
Maerten assessed the impact of family services provided by CHIP on
the parental competence of cognitively impaired mothers.
Wells is completing her examination of CHIP data to discern how
former welfare mothers' return to paid labor, as a result of recent
welfare reform legislation, is affecting the health and well-being
of their children.
Masters Program in Sociology conducted its first year-long research
practicum during the 1999-2000 academic year as part of its focus area on
urban "Social Problems and Social Change." In the practicum,
four students conducted individual thesis projects while regularly meeting
to discuss progress, provide each other with feedback, and troubleshoot
problems. Following the PAR model, students teamed up with community
partners to identify research questions of mutual interest. Students were
challenged to develop projects that had both practical utility for the
partners and interest from a sociological perspective. Each of the 4
students met the challenge, producing both a thesis and a community
This first practicum was loosely organized around homelessness in
Richmond. "Homeward: Richmond's regional response to
homelessness" was the primary community partner. Homeward's
responsibilities include helping to coordinate delivery of services to the
homeless and coordinating HUD's "Continuum of Care" grant
application process, the means by which most services in the area are
funded. Homeward is a network or coalition of community service providers
and other interested parties. Several of these
member organizations and agencies took part in the practicum process.
comparison of barriers and motivations affecting congregational
involvement with homeless services, paying particular attention to
the race/class differences amongst congregations (Valerie Carter).
frame analysis of the areas of agreement and disagreement amongst
participants in Homeward, paying special attention to issues of
organizational location and power (Lyndsi Hicks).
"promising practice" report on programs to improve the
academic performance of homeless children (Jana Olshansky).
literature review of what is known about HIV/AIDS amongst the
homeless, including contraction rates, knowledge of the disease,
prevalence of high-risk behavior, and effectiveness of efforts at
education and prevention (Susan Kennedy).