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Center for Survey Research & Analysis
Blends Scholarship, Enterprise
October 4, 1999

The Center for Survey Research and Analysis is open for business, and University officials don't need a poll to determine that the CSRA is already a huge success - they need only look at the numbers.

In the two short years since the center was separated from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research and given its own identity, the director, Kenneth Dautrich, and his nine full-time assistants and researchers have rung up some impressive numbers:

  • It is the largest recipient of sponsored dollars among the handful of centers and institutes in the social sciences at UConn, and one of the largest University-wide, bringing nearly $2.2 million to Storrs last year;

  • It is one of the five largest recipients of sponsored dollars among all university-based survey research centers in the nation;

  • It is one of only three such centers in the nation - the University of Michigan and Ohio State University are the others - that offer master's degree and doctoral concentrations in survey research methods;

  • Its graduate students boast a 100 percent success rate in landing jobs after graduation.

Not bad for a center that, as recently as 1995, was known for little more than being an arm of the Roper Center - which, itself, owns the largest collection of polling data in the world - and as the basis of about a dozen Hartford Courant/Connecticut Poll surveys a year and a few state agency surveys.

"Today, the ConnPoll represents less than a tenth of what we do," Dautrich says, walking through one of several offices in Monteith Building that house dozens of undergraduates working the phones. In fact, he says, the center's staff, graduate assistants, undergraduate and part-time phone bank workers organize, collect and analyze data from more than 75 surveys annually.

They could do more. Much more, he says, if the center ventured into the private sector. Instead, they take the high road, polling people across the nation to assess attitudes toward work, the media, philanthropy, the first amendment, consumer confidence or presidential campaigns. They conduct surveys for various state agencies, several federal agencies, a few foundations, the UConn administration, and faculty who need data to support grant applications or ongoing research.

"There are hundreds of survey research firms out there," Dautrich says. "If you've got a laptop, you've got a company. But we don't want to be another polling company, we've got an advantage - there are a lot of smart people here - so we're not just responding to RFPs (requests for proposals), we're doing important research."

More than a dozen professors have used the center's services in the past year alone, leading Dautrich to begin a summer faculty fellows program, which gives professors a one-month summer stipend in return for assistance on a research project that offers graduate students experience, gives the faculty member valuable data, and provides more data for Dautrich's center and the Roper Center to bank and use in other ways.

"Ken is an example of a new entrepreneurial spirit on campus," says John Rourke, professor and head of the political science department. "The Center for Survey Research and Analysis represents the interchange between entrepreneurial activity and scholarly activity."

Dautrich welcomes professors and other researchers to his camp.

"We are a free-standing center, integrating all the social sciences.

We are not allied only with the political science department," he says, although members of that department, to which he belongs, are among the most frequent users of the service.

Mark Boyer, an associate professor of political science, is one of the center's frequent visitors. Working with Dautrich, Elizabeth Hanson, - also a political science professor - and three colleagues from other universities, Boyer recently showcased the center's capabilities when putting in a bid for UConn to house the inaugural issues of a new professional journal, International Studies Perspectives.

UConn won the bid, and Boyer will be the first editor of the publication, which will feature peer-reviewed articles on international studies pedagogy and policy research. Sponsored by the International Studies Organization, it is a feather in Boyer's - and UConn's - caps.

"Part of the (application) package was showcasing some of the work we've done at CSRA, capitalizing on the fact that we have this great resource here," Boyer says.

Dautrich, who joined UConn in 1995 and was promoted to associate professor in 1998, recently had his second book published by Columbia University Press and has agreements with publishers for two more. His latest book, How the American New Media Fail American Voters: Causes, Consequences, Consequences & Remedies, with Thomas H. Hartley, an assistant professor of political science, is based on a national survey the CSRA conducted during the 1996 election.

Before coming to UConn, Dautrich was associate director of the Eagleton Poll at Rutgers University, and a research director at Response Analysis Corp. in Princeton, N.J., where he conducted voting, public opinion, and policy evaluation studies. His ties to Rutgers continue - working with the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers, the CSRA conducts quarterly surveys of worker attitudes, including studies of the working poor and a study regarding worker attitudes toward balancing work and family life.

Working on those and other studies, says Lisa Tortora, who earned her master's degree at the center last May, was different and exciting.

"It was a great experience," says Tortora, who was offered - and accepted - a job with The Taylor Research and Consulting Group Inc. even before she graduated. "It certainly paid off in the end."

A research associate at the marketing research firm, Tortora praised the program's combination of theory and hands-on practice, not only through class assignments but by working with clients of the center, writing reports, and analyzing the data. And it helps both her and her new clients, she says. During a survey she was developing recently for Sports Illustrated For Kids, the Time Inc. employee she was working with asked about her background. When Tortora told her she graduated from UConn, they were impressed.

"They said 'Oh, you must have studied at the CSRA,'" she says. "That gives our customers a sense of confidence, that they're working with someone who studied at a center they trust."

For many firms - and students - you can't put a price tag on that.

Richard Veilleux