Adriana M. Chavez
LAS CRUCES – Five years ago, the Southwest Outreach Academic Research (SOAR) Evaluation & Policy Center at New Mexico State University began as a vehicle for students, graduates and undergraduates, to acquire practical experience in qualitative and quantitative research.
Since then, the lab has evolved to help not only the outreach programs offered by the NMSU, but also in partnership with groups outside of the university who are in need of research and evaluation services.
The SOAR Center, formerly known as the STEM Outreach Alliance Research Lab, is housed at the NMSU College of Health, Education and Social Transformation. It’s perhaps best known as the group responsible for the annual New Mexico educator vacancies report, but the center, which consists of director Rachel Boren, senior program specialist Germain Degardin, and four graduate students , also manages between 15 and 20 projects at a given time. . Projects range from education-related projects to projects focusing on mental and behavioral health and workforce development.
“We’ve certainly increased the number of departments on campus in terms of partnerships, and we’re also now working with many external groups that are all over New Mexico,” Boren said. “This is exciting for us, as we have also become a university-recognized service center with a more streamlined operation, which shows that we provide valuable service to the university as well as outside. “
This year’s educator vacancies report is expected to be released in early October.
The lab was founded by Karen Trujillo in 2016 as a faculty member at NMSU in order to give undergraduates valuable experience in both quantitative and qualitative research methods, while providing valuable community outreach. Trujillo, who eventually became superintendent of Las Cruces public schools, passed away earlier this year.
Students involved in the SOAR center work with other program directors across the NMSU, as well as with community programs and agencies, to collect data on their initiatives, analyze the data and present their findings to help managers to improve their programs.
During the lab’s first year, Trujillo and his students began collecting data on vacant teaching positions statewide in a now annual report offering a snapshot of subjects and places in the ‘State most in need of teachers. The report has proven to be a valuable tool in measuring the resources needed to address these gaps.
Degardin was one of the first students involved in the center and has now been with the center throughout its existence.
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“I was there at the root of the SOAR lab,” Degardin said. “It was awesome. I learned a lot. Personally, at first it provided me with what I needed at the time, it was a graduate assistant position, but as he grew up I got a lot of experience. It was a very good experience.
Degardin said that at the start of his involvement in the lab, he was not exposed to quantitative research.
“I know what she wanted when Karen started the lab, that’s what she wanted – students exposed to both research methods,” Degardin said. “I think I got a lot of exposure to practical and meaningful research experience through my graduate assistant.”
Looking ahead, Boren said she envisions the continued growth of the lab and its staff busy providing valuable resources to both the NMSU and external communities.
“I think we have a lot of great people we’re working with now, and I’m focused on maintaining those relationships and helping our partners as their projects evolve,” Boren said. “We’re always looking to collaborate with different groups, faculty and staff, and that’s the best part of the job. You work with everyone and constantly meet new people.
“EYE ON RESEARCH” is provided by New Mexico State University. This week’s article was written by Adriana Chávez of Marketing and Communications. Adriana Chávez can be reached at 575-646-1957, or by email at [email protected].