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The Center for Social Research was established in the 1970s as a component of the Institute for Regional Studies within the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences (AHSS) at North Dakota State University (NDSU).  The Center’s core mission was and is to provide a venue through which a wide variety of research activities are facilitated. During the mid-1980s, the Center expanded its operation to include CATI telephone surveying as a result of a USDA equipment grant, along with matching dollars from several college at NDSU, obtained by Dr. George Youngs, the Center’s Director at that time.

The Center operates as a fee-for-service entity that facilitates research activities paid for by grants/contracts. A long collaboration between the Center and the North Dakota State Data Center (NDSDC) has consistently funneled sufficient grant activities through the Center to enhance its viability, and there is now an effort to substantially enhance the Center as a major research entity on campus.

The State Data Center was established in 1981 as part of a cooperative program with the U.S. Bureau of the Census.  Its purpose was to serve as the state’s official source of population and socio-economic statistical information. The NDSDC Director, Dr. Richard Rathge, and his research staff at NDSU were asked to lead in disseminating census data and other federal statistics to users within the state with the assistance of a statewide affiliate network of three coordinating agencies and 15 affiliate centers. The NDSDC was funded through grants and contracts obtained by Dr. Rathge to support research activity. In his role as NDSDC director, Dr. Rathge held a .55 FTE research-faculty appointment in the Department of Agribusiness and Applied Economics along with a .45 FTE teaching appointment in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology.  In January 2012, the NDSDC transitioned to the North Dakota Department of Commerce in Bismarck as Dr. Rathge anticipated retirement. 

As a result, the State Data Center staff has transitioned to the Center for Social Research, providing the CSR with a full-time, experienced staff for the first time in its history. As he prepared for retirement in August 2013, Dr. Rathge helped guide the transition from the NDSDC to the CSR.  See examples of research conducted while the staff was part of the NDSDC ( The goal of this transition is to take the CSR to the next level with an experienced staff that can address an even wider audience of research clients as a major, NDSU-based research entity. Links to some of our recent research reports can be found here.


Rick Axelson, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Sociology and the Director of the Center for Social Research. He has over 25 years of applied research, data analysis, and program evaluation experience.  Over the course of his career, he has developed several applied research offices dedicated to providing timely, accurate, and useful information to clients.

Karen Olson is an information specialist with over 20 years of experience in demographic and socioeconomic research. She has worked to facilitate the public’s access to data and information needed to make decisions, design and implement programs, and invest in communities across the state. Her efforts have involved a wide range of topics including migration, characteristics of the aging population, community efforts to reduce poverty, housing needs, and the health and well-being of children and families. Karen also serves as the Program Director for the North Dakota KIDS COUNT project.

Kay Schwarzwalter, M.S., is a research assistant/survey specialist. For the past 16 years she has directed survey operations for a multitude of projects relating to community development, health, housing, children and youth, the resettlement of New Americans, and economics. She is also experienced in data analysis, report writing, evaluation, and presentations. Kay is actively involved in the community, volunteering on many projects that correlate well with her current responsibilities.

Kendra Erickson-Dockter, M.S., is a research specialist and the North Dakota Compass project team lead. She brings with her experience and talents in social science research, project management and coordination, and leadership. Her research efforts have involved a wide range of topics, from early childhood and aging to health and disadvantaged populations. In addition to her duties at the Center, Kendra is also completing a doctorate in Human Development, with an emphasis in Applied Gerontology, at North Dakota State University

Mihaela “Ina” Cernusca, MBA, is a research specialist. She brings to the Center a decade of experience and skills developed in quantitative and qualitative research, grant writing, project management, and outreach/extension activities.  New to Fargo and NDSU, Ina is excited to take on new challenges in her career and become involved in the community.

Xiangping ‘Coco’ Gao, M.S., is a research specialist. She brings to the Center skills and experience in social science research, quantitative data analysis, and spatial analysis with GIS. She has a broad range of working experience in the U.S. and China as a tourism and recreation researcher, a university instructor, an urban planner, and an NGO professional. Coco is currently a doctoral student in Recreation, Park, and Tourism Sciences at Texas A&M University.

Brandi Malarkey is an Outreach and Engagement Coordinator, with a special focus on bringing the ND Compass website to the public. She has a passion for working with people, and has 15 years of non-profit experience in the areas of project management, administration, volunteer organization, and direction of special projects. She is also a small business owner specializing in health and continuing education. In addition, she is both an artist and local volunteer in the community, with interests in health, children, poverty, equality, and social imaging.

The Center employs a number of students on an on-going basis, providing paid internships for undergraduate students and research assistantships for graduate students. The full-time staff provides mentoring to the students and enjoys contributing to their hands-on learning experience, while simultaneously benefiting from their contributions to the Center’s research efforts. Current students include Raihan Kabir Khan (Master’s program in Public Health), Winta Yallew (Master’s program in Public Health), Jonix Owino (Master's program in Sociology) and Gregor Horvath (Bachelor's program in Psychology and Communications).

Retired - Dr. Richard Rathge, Ph.D., retired in August of 2013 after serving at NDSU for 32 years. He continues to be involved in various boards and committees related to his activities at NDSU, and has been appointed Emeritus status at NDSU.

Student Focused. Land Grant. Research University.

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North Dakota State University
Phone: +1 (701) 231-9496 / Fax: +1 (701) 231-5118
Campus address: IACC 424
Physical/delivery address: 1320 Albrecht Blvd, Fargo, ND 58102
Mailing address: NDSU Dept. 8000 / PO Box 6050 / Fargo, ND 58108-6050
Page manager: Center for Social Research at NDSU


Last Updated: Monday, March 23, 2015 12:18:55 PM