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Updated 11:00 AM May 8, 2006




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Survey says: ISR children learn art of asking questions

When asked at an April 27 event to describe what their parents or family members did at Survey Research Operations (SRO) or the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR), some children responded with a shrug of the shoulders or a blank stare. But one child, Strahan Throop, 8, had it pegged right away.

"They work," the third-grader said, confidently. His mother, Cynthia, is a research assistant in social science in ICPSR.
Alicia Philippou, 14, daughter of Ruth Philippou, and Jamal Love, 10, nephew of Rita Bantom, ask survey questions of Amy Pienta, a research investigator in the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research at the Institute for Social Research. Philippou and Love were among the 19 children to participate in "A Day in the Life of a Survey—The Perry Study" April 27 in the Perry Building. (Photo by Scott Galvin, U-M Photo Services)

Technically Throop is correct, but there is much more to it, and that was the purpose of a Take Your Child to Work Day event in the Perry Building. Nineteen children of staff members from the Institute for Social Research (ISR), ranging from 5-1/2 to 14 years old, gathered for "A Day in the Life of a Survey—The Perry Study."

A slate of activities allowed the children to learn about survey research, prepare a survey instrument and then take it around the building on laptop computers to quiz several staff members who served as respondents. At the end of the day, the group presented the findings of its study.

"It was fun," said Mark Dybicki, 11, who, along with older brother, Michael, 14, participated. Their father, Dave Dybicki, is an applications programmer analyst for SRO. "The people were really nice and answered all of our questions," Mark said.

Stephanie Chardoul, a survey director in the Survey Research Center (SRC), said it can take up to 10 days to train one of ISR's interviewers in the field. After informing the students that the University brings in almost $755 million annually to do research, she was asked by one child, "So does that mean we get paid?"

Jeff Smith, a programmer analyst, whose twin cousins, Julian and Jordan Scott Carrington, 12, helped staff two of the nine teams, said the children had a knack for conducting surveys.

"They could be our regular interviewers right now," he said, citing their poise. "For them to come in and pick it up like this; it was impressive. There was no hesitation on their part; they came in right away and got down to business."

Ashanti Harris, an SRC administrative assistant, served on a committee that started planning for the event last fall. "They were a great group of kids that participated in the program," Harris says. "The overwhelming response was very positive." The experience was the brainchild of Jim Hagerman, an SRO applications programmer analyst, who brought his daughter to work last year and noticed other staff members did the same. This year they decided to develop a hands-on activity.

With Hagerman's help, the children molded the survey, which was simple by design. It included questions such as age, gender, whether the respondent had pets and when they last had taken a vacation. Under a question of food preference, one child suggested the wording should be altered so that "Mexican" became "Latino."

Not only were they eager to help shape the survey, but many children also knew how to read it properly, something that must be done verbatim, Meredith House, an SRC survey specialist, told them. If that does not happen, "the data would be invalid," said Zoya Erdevig, 13-year-old daughter of ICPSR Editor Ruth Shamraj.

"If you were our real interviewers, maybe you should get a bonus," said Chardoul, after teams reported 6-7 completed surveys in less than an hour's time.

The children's real payment came during lunch when family members joined them for pizza and pop.

At the end of the day, participants received gifts and a certificate of accomplishment as official U-M surveyors. Photo IDs made just for the occasion were set to expire the next day, but children left that afternoon with a snapshot of what their mom, dad, aunt, uncle or friend does for the University.

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