A Year in Review

A Year in Review

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In 2023, the researchers and staff of Mississippi State University’s Social Science Research Center conducted meaningful research and evaluation with a variety of state and national partners. These partnerships are built on growing relationships that are at the heart of the SSRC’s work. 

“We’re engaging in different interdisciplinary collaborations that we probably would not have considered before. The structure and support we have in place definitely helps with this,” said Connie Baird-Thomas, research professor and director of the SSRC’s Evaluation and Research Group. 

Evaluation Partnerships

Sheena Gardner, an associate research professor at the SSRC, shares about the decade-long relationship she has with the Rankin County Youth Court. Working with the court staff, she analyzes case processing data and sees the changes to programs that are implemented over time.

“I’ve created a niche for myself in this area of evaluation. They’re great people down there, and they do good work, so that’s part of it too, just those long, long relationships,” Gardner said.

The SSRC evaluators are also continuing their relationship with the University of Mississippi Medical Center, or UMMC. Currently, Gardner and other members of the Evaluation and Research Group are providing the external evaluation for Project AWARE or Advancing Wellness and Resiliency in Education. As the project lead, the UMMC team, along with multiple other partners, works in the Mississippi Achievement School District to deliver mental-health training and additional resources to staff.

Katerina Sergi, an assistant research professor at the SSRC, said the multi-year project measures how awareness and resiliency training impacts the students, educators, and the entire community. To evaluate, the SSRC team conducted focus groups and analyzed screening data, presenting its findings to school staff, UMMC and other project partners.

“It’s creating an infrastructure of how to build mental health awareness training, with the goal, of course, that this can expand to other school districts,” Sergi said.

Sergi also works with the Early Childhood ECHO project. This project led by Lisa Long seeks to demonstrate the viability of developmental and behavioral health-focused ECHO programs for virtual professional development for a variety of early childhood professionals and families of children 0-8 who are receiving these services.

“Our team is seeking to empower families to become more confident with how they deal with the children in their specific areas. We’ll assess the knowledge and self-efficacy and satisfaction of the participants regarding some of the topics, and evaluate the effectiveness of ECHO sessions,” Sergi said.

Currently, the project team has established the first cohort of participants. Over the next few months, specialists will meet with participants in virtual sessions and share best practices. Additionally, the model encourages the cohort to share, learning from one another.

The team of the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services funded project will evaluate the telementoring model over the next year.

Long-Term and Targeted Data Collection and Interpretation

In addition to these multiple early childhood projects, the SSRC continues with its long collaboration with the Mississippi Department of Health’s Office of Tobacco Control.

The Mississippi Tobacco Data team, led by Robert McMillen, developed the TRAPS, or Tobacco Reporting And Progress System, to share collected data. This mechanism is critical to effective programming, education, and strategic planning in providing intervention and influencing policies.

Sujan Anreddy, an assistant research professor at the center, serves as the software analyst for the team.

 He explains, “TRAPS helps program evaluators, healthcare agencies and grant funders measure the program outcomes. This tool helps them have access to better quality data, which means better decision making for better public health programming.”

For years, the Tobacco Data has surveyed and evaluated intervention programs in Mississippi, gauging tobacco use and behavior trends in the state's youth. Anreddy takes the lead in helping people visualize this data through different charts and geospatial maps.

“If you see 10 different values for a county, written out you have one type of understanding, but you present these numbers on a map, then suddenly your understanding of the data can change,” Anreddy said. “It’s just a part of Robert McMillen’s tobacco data project, but I’m proud of how this is helping with the evaluation.”

Data Visualization

Anreddy and Terri Hernandez serve as co-principal investigators with Megan Stubbs-Richardson serving as principal investigator. They will continue to work in data analysis and visualization with funding from the National Science Foundation.

“Developing a data visualization tool allows us to contribute toward broadening research participation from the social sciences for a big data social media resource, Covid-19 Online Prevalence of Emotions in Institutions Database,” said Stubbs-Richardson, an assistant research professor at the SSRC.

Within the data visualization tool, users will be able to estimate the prevalence of topics in the larger database using topic modeling algorithms among other data analytical tools. Users will also be able to export data into relevant samples for further quantitative or qualitative inquiry, or code data within the system. The development of this data visualization tool will provide researchers of all skill levels with improved access to a large publicly available dataset on how people coped throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We hope to improve accessibility and use of COPE-ID while providing associated tools and methods to advance social media researchers' ability to process large volumes of user-generated big data, using a variety of data science methods,” Stubbs-Richardson said.

Whether expanding access to data, providing support and understanding through evaluation, or a multitude of other capabilities, the 11 laboratories and research programs of the SSRC are posed for success in partnerships, deliverables and opportunities.