The Research Group on Rural Well-being is an interdisciplinary group of faculty united with a common goal. Specifically, we utilize the expertise we derive from our distinct areas of specialization to understand issues germane to rural families and communities. Our work covers the entire range of the lifespan, from childhood through late adulthood. We approach our research questions utilizing an ecological perspective, which situates the individual within his/her broader context including family and community. A core belief guiding our work is that individual, familial, and community well-being are intertwined. The projects that are associated with this lab are designed to address both basic and applied research questions. Our hope is that the body of our work will provide the types of information needed to make sound policy decisions in order to support the healthy development of rural communities, including both the individuals and the institutions that comprise those communities.
A persistent challenge for rural North Dakota communities has been the phenomenon of out-migration. Out-migration is characterized by the departure of residents from rural communities either to larger towns and cities in the state, or out of the state altogether. Out-migration impacts all of the Plains states, not just North Dakota. The 2000 Census showed that 250 of the 429 counties in Plains states showed population loss since the 1990 Census. A separate, yet related issue is the “graying” of the state’s population. Data from the 2000 Census show that 37 of the state’s 53 counties have large concentrations of elderly people, and that these counties all show a decrease in population since 1970 (FDIC State Profile). Despite growth in urban areas, vitality in rural areas remains critical to the continued economic and cultural well-being of North Dakota. Rural communities and the families residing in them make important contributions to North Dakota (and other agriculturally-based states). Thus, understanding the impact of out-migration is of national significance. While out-migration creates many challenges for all involved, communities can show remarkable creativity in coping with the loss of residents and remain viable as communities. Furthermore, many rural communities have remained relatively stable and vibrant. And, while economic indicators of success are important, they do not tell the whole story. Psychological and social factors operate in synergy with economics to impact a region. Our primary aim is to understand the interactions among this diverse array of factors so that we might better understand individual, familial, and community trajectories.
1. Perceptions of Life in Rural Communities
This study was designed to examine life in rural communities that have experienced high levels of out-migration. The perceptions of adult residents in these communities were elicited using both focus groups and individual interviews. Five communities in two regions of a rural Midwestern state were included. Participants included a range of people who have contact with youth including parents, pastors, principals, and school superintendents, as well as individuals who were considered to be leaders in the community. The study yielded insights into residents’ perceptions of the strengths of their communities, as well as into the challenges that are faced.
Affiliated Investigator: Lori Sharmer, M.S.
Graduate Students: Andrea Lang, Josh Rittenbach, Victoria Hogan, John Smithwick, Sarah Linde
Undergraduate Students: Christina Harmon
Funding Support: This project was supported by the Dean of Human Development and Education at NDSU through the Support to Build Research Capability mechanism, and the Department of Child Development and Family Science.
2. Late Adolescents’ Experiences in Rural Areas
This study was designed to capture the experiences of late adolescent college students when they returned to their rural area of origin. Freshman and sophomore students took a Palm Pilot when they returned to their rural home for a weekend during the semester. They were signaled randomly throughout the day to answer a number of questions regarding their current behaviors and feelings. Approximately one to two weeks after their return to campus, they participated in an interview regarding their experiences in their rural communities. Student participants also completed a survey asking about their behaviors, emotions, and perceptions of community. They were asked to provide a similar survey to parents and grandparents when they were at home, which were then returned in provided addressed, stamped envelopes. Data analysis for this study is in progress.
Faculty: Brandy A. Randall (P.I.)
Graduate Students: Andrea Lang
Undergraduate Students: Melissa McCanney, Jenna Hoffert
Funding Support: This project was supported by NIH Grant Number P20 RR016741 from the INBRE Program of the National Center for Research Resources and by the Dean of Human Development and Education at NDSU through the Support to Build Research Capability mechanism.
3. Multigenerational Gambling, Alcohol, and Community Experiences
This research study is intended to provide in depth information regarding multigenerational gambling behavior (i.e., young adults, parents, and grandparents), alcohol use, and community experiences. The goals are 1) to improve our understanding of the factors associated with young adult gambling & alcohol-related behaviors and familial relationships, 2) to gain insight into young adults' perceptions of and attachment to their communities, and 3) to obtain information regarding their emotional and psychological characteristics. Participants from both rural and urban areas will be recruited. Data collection for this study is in progress.
Faculty: Brandy A. Randall (P.I.)
Graduate Students: Andrea Lang, Megan Mills
Undergraduate Students: Renee Lawler, Rebecca Moll, Jenna Hoffert, Melissa McCanney, Melissa DeLisle, Bethany Petry
Funding Support: This project was supported by NIH Grant Number P20 RR016741 from the INBRE Program of the National Center for Research Resources, by the Dean of Human Development and Education at NDSU through the Support to Build Research Capability mechanism, and by the Department of Child Development and Family Science.