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Meet our Grant Recipients

Field Work - PAC

by Kent Linthicum '09Dr.  Dari Sylvester & Dr.  Marcia Hernandez

University of the Pacific is inherently linked with Central Valley of California. Stretching over 42,000 square miles, which makes it about the same size as Tennessee, the Central Valley is one of the world's most productive agricultural regions. Pacific has been part of the Central Valley since 1924, and both the Valley and our university have played vital roles in the shaping of one another.

In recent years, several California university scholars have been intrigued by the unique region and have sought to investigate it more closely. To this end the "Partnership for the Assessment of Communities" or "PAC" was created. PAC was founded in 2006 by the Great Valley Center, a non-governmental organization, who was awarded a grant from the state to investigate the numerous social, political, health and economic issues facing the Central Valley relative to other regions of the state. PAC is a collaborative social science project between University of the Pacific; the University of California, Merced; and California State University, Fresno. Five faculty members from each University collect and analyze demographic data for the PAC project. Dr. Marcia Hernandez, from the Sociology Department, and Dr. Dari Sylvester, from the Political Science department, are the faculty members from Pacific that are currently engaged in work for PAC.

In 2009, the PAC research is in the final year of the three-year pilot study. It was noted, when the project began, that the Central Valley is one of the fastest growing economies in the state, if not the entire U.S. So there is a need to study the demographic trends of the valley. This is no small task, though, as the population of Stockton alone measures in the hundreds of thousands. Fortunately, Drs. Hernandez and Sylvester are not the only workers for PAC in Stockton. They hire students from Pacific to help collect data from the Midtown Magnolia area of Stockton and from the nearby town of Riverbank.

While Dr. Hernandez and Dr. Sylvester are relative newcomers to the region, many of the research assistants have been raised in the Central Valley. Due to their familiarity with the region the students possess insider knowledge about the area and have a relationship to local communities making the research assistants even more vital to the success of the PAC research project. The students are trained to do data collection and are then sent out into the field. This is not just beneficial for the Partnership; it is also beneficial for the students, because they learn various skills that will be useful later on in their academic careers, such as building rapport with others, interviewing techniques, and data analysis. Moreover, the students learn to critically reexamine their taken-for-granted assumptions about areas they know, and to explore the social, political and economic changes in the Central Valley from different perspectives. The research assistants gain a valuable experiential educational opportunity that cannot be duplicated in a traditional classroom. The residents who donate their time to be interviewed provide students, and the entire PAC research team, an individual, personal experience to add weight to the raw quantitative data that is readily available about the Central Valley.

The student research assistants all express having learned a lot by working on the PAC project. The undergraduate research experience often reaffirms a commitment to work towards improving their local communities by pursuing careers in fields such as education and social work. The PAC experience helps to extend students' understanding of what it means to be part of a community and the importance of being an informed, engaged citizen. In fact all of the students that were involved with PAC from University of the Pacific proceeded to apply to graduate school. Additionally, the student researchers are not solely from the Sociology and Political Science departments; Dr. Hernandez and Dr. Sylvester also recruit from various other departments. Pacific Fund resources are used to help reimburse the students for their efforts and time, thus providing an opportunity for undergraduate research to students who may not have had the chance otherwise.

The PAC research team is working to expand the project to a ten-year study; as such it still has seven more years' worth of demographic data to collect, and much of their current data is confidential. Nevertheless, they do have one discovery, which can be discussed: grass roots organization. Voting and political involvement in the Central Valley is not especially strong when compared with other regions in the state. Yet despite that, there are pockets of strong grass roots organizations in the Central Valley. So even though the quantifiable demographic data is still years in the collecting, at the moment, the benefit to students is already known. Thanks to Pacific Fund aid, students can get involved in life-changing experiences and proceed on to bright futures.

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