Two students take on research project for CESA 11 counties

By University Communications
December 15, 2015
Brittany Batcher, left, and Angela Lamer collected and analyzed data for the Cooperative Educational Service Agency, CESA 11.

Photo: Brittany Batcher, left, and Angela Lamer collected and analyzed
data for the Cooperative Educational Service Agency, CESA 11.

Two University of Wisconsin-Stout students, Angela Lamer and Brittany Batcher, spent most of the summer of 2015 doing research for a state agency.

The two collected and analyzed data for the Cooperative Educational Service Agency, CESA 11, the Head Start program that provides services to children and families in seven Western Wisconsin counties: Barron, Chippewa, Dunn, Pepin, Pierce, Polk and St. Croix.

Each county is required to do a community assessment every three years to determine which services to offer.

Lamer, a nontraditional student who retired from the U.S. Navy after 20 years, is majoring in psychology. Batcher is a graduate student in applied psychology with concentrations in evaluation research; and industrial and organizational psychology. Both are scheduled to graduate in May.

Working under Beth Tilleson, Head Start director and children’s services coordinator, and the CESA 11 board, the students compiled data including but not limited to area and household demographics; poverty indicators; assistance program use; medical and dental information; birth rates; Head Start enrollment and other challenges that children face.

The CESA 11 board also wanted them to look into areas not directly associated with the community assessment such as unemployment, mental health, alcohol and other drug abuse that would provide a comprehensive picture of the communities and how they take care of their families, Lamer said.

After spending more than 500 hours combing the Internet for data from more than 100 websites and going through piles of papers, they organized their results in Microsoft One Note.

“The One Note program allows for each data point to be easily found and for each county to focus on their particular data. This project highlighted the need for counties to make more of their available statistics and for them to have a uniform format for ease of use,” Lamer said.   

“The organization of the comprehensive data is huge and will assist many programs, not just Head Start, make data-driven decisions when it comes to the allocation of resources,” she said.

Diving into the data was an interesting and sometimes challenging endeavor. “At times, we had to force ourselves to stick to the requirements of the customer,” Lamer said.

“I learned that there are black holes that you can get into. But you want to stay in the realm of clients’ wants and needs,” Batcher said.

The students also acknowledged the importance of the data. “It’s important to find out the needs of a community,” Lamer said.

“This can help further research in specific areas that would need help,” Batcher said.

After the project was completed, the students presented it to the CESA 11 board. CESA 11 offices are in Turtle Lake. The data can be shared with community partners such as United Way, area health providers, community service organizations and school districts, Tilleson said.

Some interesting trends revealed were decreases in unemployment rates in all seven counties and an increase in admission rates for substance abuse rehabilitation.

Lamer, of Colfax, found out about the research opportunity from Renee Surdick in the UW-Stout Discovery Center. Eager to be involved, she took on the project in late April through AmeriCorps. The project also fulfilled the requirement for a field experience in her major.

Along with another student, Lamer began the substantial job of data collection for the seven counties. Unfortunately, the other student was unable to stay with the project. In entered Batcher, of Eagan, Minn., who had been a teaching assistant in one of Lamer’s classes.

When she heard Lamer’s situation, she offered to donate her time. “I did it for fun,” Batcher said.

Previous partnerships

This is not the first time CESA 11 has partnered with UW-Stout. Students majoring in early childhood education have done student teaching with the Head Start program; students majoring in human development and family studies have completed practicums and internships with the program. Also, students have completed multicultural course and field experience requirements with the agency.

“These relationships have been positive, and we enjoy having the students learn more about our program,” Tilleson said.

“Some of these students have gone on to be CESA 11 Head Start employees,” she said.

Tilleson is a UW-Stout alumna with a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education.