Advanced Sociology Class Works Remotely with Homeless Shelter

May 31, 2020

Although UT Dallas sociology students had planned to collect data at a Dallas homeless shelter through the spring 2020 semester, restrictions related to COVID-19 required some adjustments to their research.

“Fridays were my favorite day of the week,” said EPPS Sociology student Elaina Koesters. “It meant I got to spend time with the children at the shelter and work closely with Family Gateway staff.”

At the beginning of the semester, EPPS Advanced Sociological Research students developed projects to better understand the experiences of families seeking housing and job assistance in collaboration with Family Gateway, a homeless shelter in Dallas. The course was designed to help students apply their knowledge of theory and research to a real-world setting.

EPPS Professor of Sociology Dr. Sheryl Skaggs developed this course as a companion to the required applied data analysis course, and envisioned it as an opportunity to help students gain highly marketable skills, while contributing to social knowledge and change.

Before recent social distancing measures, students made regular visits to the shelter for face-to-face interviews and observation as part of their data collection process.

“Conducting a face to face interview with an individual who is a part of a vulnerable population can be challenging itself,” said EPPS Sociology student Samiul Haque. “A homeless individual may already be hesitant to share information with a researcher, taking away face value might make them even less prepared to open up about their experiences.”

Due to COVID-19, these EPPS upper division sociology majors took on a new community research challenge.

With the help of Family Gateway, students were afforded the opportunity to continue their research by conducting telephone interviews with various staff members. 

Because the shelter focuses on serving families with children under the age of eighteen, many of the projects aimed to examine issues pertaining to parenting/parental engagement, educational disparities, and extended family supports.

“Although inconvenient to data collection, COVID-19 did shed light on the economic disadvantages and inequalities that do exist within our nation,” said EPPS Sociology student Karine Garduno. “Since many students with an immigration status are usually economically disadvantaged in comparison to their counterparts, access to things such as the internet, a computer, and quality meals are much harder to come by especially during a pandemic.”

The sociology students were able to provide valuable insight to Family Gateway based on their remote research findings. They also found some of the challenges associated with original data collection method. 

“These types of hands-on courses are an incredible learning experience for me as well as the students,” said Dr. Skaggs. “Having the opportunity to see our students put all the pieces of their coursework together has been very rewarding.”