The Oklahoman, December 27, 2007: OU researchers study how to fight poverty

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By James S. Tyree

Staff Writer

NORMAN A University of Oklahoma program director plans to hire two researchers within the next few days to study how public schools could lower poverty rates.

The Office of the Vice Provost for School and Community Partnerships will hire the assistants from the federal program Volunteers in Service to America.

Dana Cesar, director of student engagement in the vice provost’s office, said the study will examine specific ways in which some schools contribute to their communities’ development.

“I think Oklahomans would be interested to learn the extent to which schools actively impact poverty so they can know where to allocate their resources,” she said.

The OU study is part of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education’s Oklahoma Campus Compact, through which 10 of the state’s universities will study ways to combat poverty.

The projects are funded by Volunteers in Service to America on an annual basis for up to three years. The OU workers are scheduled to be trained in Albuquerque, N.M., from Jan. 28 through Feb. 1 or Feb. 19-22.

Debbie Terlip, assistant director of the Oklahoma Campus Compact, said the universities will hire 15 VISTA workers, including two at OU.

“They’re all supposed to look at community needs in terms of nonprofit organizations and looking at university resources in terms,” she said. “Within that big goal, each institution is allowed to design its own project for alleviating poverty.”

Cesar didn’t have to look far for her idea. She works out of the K20 Center for Educational and Community Renewal, an OU office that fosters innovation in teaching, and partnerships between schools and industry.

Since starting there in June, Cesar noticed that most areas with K20 schools had lower poverty rates compared to those in other counties.

“We wanted to see what those schools are doing and what those (school) characteristics are,” she said.

Cesar and the researchers will work with the OU Office for Geospatial Analysis to use geographic information system tools to map the extent to which schools partnered with K20 seem to affect poverty.

A school district’s role is vital, she said, because schools often are the social and economic centerpieces of their towns.

“This sense of importance to community development is also seen in the arguments of opponents to consolidation of rural districts,” Cesar said. “They know if you remove the school, you remove the culture and communities dry up.”

For more information about the project or the research positions, send an e-mail to

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