SUSI aims to aid community, increase student service

SUSI aims to aid community, increase student service

by Peter KaspariStaff Writer

The Simpson Urban Studies Institute, a program meant to address issues impacting minority communities in Iowa, begins its inaugural year this fall.

SUSI was created to address social justice problems that have risen as a result of growing urban populations.

“It is a partnership between Simpson and Urban Dreams,” Lora Friedrich, assistant professor of sociology and education and social sciences division chair, said. “It is a research and experimental learning clearinghouse.”

Urban Dreams is an organization that provides a wide range of human service programs in Des Moines’ inner city. It was founded in 1985 by State Rep. Wayne Ford.

Ford originally pitched the idea of a SUSI program to Drake University, but it never got off the ground.

“Nothing happened, but he mentioned it to President Byrd, and he [Byrd] mentioned it to us at one of our department meetings,” Friedrich said. “Fred Jones [professor of sociology and criminal justice] really got involved with Wayne in its development it.”

Jones said that the opportunity it gives students is unparalelled in colleges of Simpon’s size.

“Students don’t have to go to Italy or Greece or England to deal directly with diversity issues,” he said. “It allows them to deal directly with diversity issues within our own backyard.”

From there, the department of social sciences has been involved in planning and developing SUSI.

“Currently, there are two classes that are connected to Urban Dreams,” Friedrich said.

Jones was also named interim director of the program. Additionally, Omar Padilla, a 2007 Simpson graduate, was brought to Simpson as an Iowa Campus Compact Americorps VISTA volunteer.

The program itself is primarily used for research.

“As a secondary role, it is meant to have students get together to learn about different communities,” Padilla said. “In two weeks, we will hopefully be bringing students to help us survey.”

Padilla said SUSI is using Simpson professors to help spread the word about the program.

“It can only work if people enjoy the program and take advantage of it,” Padilla said.

Senior Angie Smith is involved with SUSI through her Human Service Systems class.

“I think it’s a good program,” Smith said. “We’ve been figuring out how to write an entrance survey of seven different questions,” Smith said.

Friedrich hopes that the research and service learning aspects of the program will be of help to not only the college, but the community as well.

“The hope is that it will serve both the college and the community,” Friedrich said. “The hope is that there will be these data sets and not just esoteric data.”

Although it has only just begun, Padilla said that many people have helped out so far.

“There are over 150 students who have done work,” Padilla said. “Two freshman LAS classes have done over 30 hours of work.”

Padilla also said he hopes the program will promote diversity among Simpson’s students, as they will get to see a side of life that many have not witnessed before.

“I’ve learned so much from working with SUSI and people of so many different backgrounds,” Padilla said. “I can see it growing over the years.”

For students who are interested, Padilla said there are also more opportunities that are coming up within the next year, including a VISTA opening.

He also encouraged others to help get the word out about Simpson’s new program.

“Let people know that SUSI is a great opportunity for anyone to get involved with a real-life community,” Padilla said.

Volunteers are needed to assist with surveying in the River Bend neighborhood of Des Moines. The dates will be on Oct. 6 and Oct. 13. Students who are interested are asked to contact either Jones or Padilla.