Taking the Pulse of Southern Maryland

CSM nursing student and Pulse volunteer Gabriela Amaya

CSM Program Surveys Citizens on Issues, Trends

When College of Southern Maryland Academic Divisions Support Specialist Lindy Galbraith schedules her events, she hopes that there will be rain, that people will stay home, and that there won’t be a Monday night football game. These unusual wishes, according to Galbraith, result in higher numbers of completed surveys for CSM students conducting polling through the college’s Pulse of Southern Maryland program.

Since fall 2008, CSM has provided the Southern Maryland community feedback and trends on subjects such as military presence in Southern Maryland, healthcare, recreation, energy, transportation and Internet access. The initiative was launched by CSM President Dr. Brad Gottfried as an opportunity to be involved in surveying the community on various topics.

“We began the Pulse of Southern Maryland several years ago because it addressed two of our central missions: Helping to improve the quality of life in Southern Maryland and ensuring that we provide our students with an outstanding education,” said Gottfried. “By undertaking this project, students get a better understanding of the critically important topic of market research while we are able to provide Southern Maryland, and especially its elected officials, with timely information about the community.”

Pulse surveys are conducted once a semester by students at La Plata, Leonardtown and Prince Frederick campuses. On Nov. 16, CSM students at the La Plata Campus lined a square block of tables surrounding a mobile switch cart capable of serving as many as 46 phone lines. On this night, 17 students from math, marketing, economics and business classes were receiving polling experience and extra credit to conduct the surveys.

One of the students, Gabriela Amaya, 27, of Waldorf heard of Pulse through her math class. “I’m here to help CSM,” she said, adding, “I feel important doing something for the community.”

Although she had been on the receiving end of survey calls before, she had never been a caller. The survey questions are designed to elicit “yes,” “no,”or “unsure” answers as well as best-answer multiple choice and multiple-answer options. The hardest part of survey taking, according to Amaya, is getting respondents to select from the options outlined in the survey. “They often want to explain their answers or sometimes they just want to talk,” she said.

A single mother of four, Amaya had help from her mother to enter CSM’s nursing program. In addition to schoolwork and children, Amaya works as an office manager and an Intervertebral Differential Dynamics (IDD) therapist treating people with back pain. Time is valuable, yet she felt that conducting the survey was worthwhile.

CSM Professor and Program Coordinator for Business Administration Athena Miklos agrees that the work is valuable not only to the community, but to the students conducting the polls as well. “One of the things that is unique in this project is that most undergraduate work involves research with secondary information where the data gathering has already been done. Here students are learning about gathering primary data.” That is something that they can include in their academic portfolios, Miklos said. Students from her class who participated in the project came away with a better understanding of the difference between telemarketing and research polling, Miklos said, adding that many expressed trepidation over calling random people from the phone pages, but afterwards were surprised at how much they enjoyed it.

Usable survey results of 400 or more are needed to produce a statistically accurate sampling for Southern Maryland, according to Kathleen Rottier, associate vice president, Planning, Institutional Effectiveness and Research (PIER) Department. For this semester’s survey, 62 students placed 3,399 calls and received 588 good surveys. Some of those surveys were conducted in Spanish by Amaya who came to the United States from Honduras. “When a person answers the phone and says they don’t speak English well enough to answer a survey, I switch to Spanish,” said Amaya. “Many said it was the first time they’ve answered a poll and they appreciated being asked for their input.” When other pollsters reached a Spanish-speaking household, they passed the info on to Amaya.

            The night began with student pollsters enjoying pizza as Galbraith reviewed procedures and tactics for eliciting answers from respondents. Throughout the evening she made the rounds handing out candies and encouragement to the students. Gottfried stopped by to give quick pep talks, which, according to Galbraith, were great for morale and boosted call numbers.

            Each night, the student with the highest number of completed surveys wins a small prize. Students such as Lauren Szymanski of Ft. Washington from math professor Fred Russell’s class was recognized for placing 125 calls in one night. The average number of calls per student per night were 55. The average percent of those that are useable are at 17 percent or roughly 9.5 good surveys. Several students return night after night, such as Michana Shaner of Waldorf who placed 206 calls in the course of three nights and Amaya who placed 250 calls. “Our four repeating students were responsible for more than 20 percent of the usable surveys,” said Galbraith attributing an enthusiastic phone manner and rhythm that builds with experience.

            In October, Galbraith was awarded the College/Community Service Award by CSM for her work on Pulse surveys.

            This fall’s results of the Pulse survey on the economy and expectations for local and state officials will be published with past Pulse surveys at http://www.csmd.edu/News/ once the results have been compiled by PIER.


CSM  Pulse Surveys

Spring 2010 Internet Access Report

Spring 2010 Elected Officials Report

Fall 2009 Recreation Report

Fall 2009 Economy Report

Spring 2009 Healthcare Report

Spring 2009 Military Presence Report

Fall 2008 Energy Report

Fall 2008 Economy Report

To view reports, visit http://www.csmd.edu/News/.