Staff profiles: Larry Hembroff
MSU's Office for Survey Research conducts some 20,000 telephone interviews each year. To do that, staff members must make about a million phone calls.
"Our phone bill," jokes OSR director Larry Hembroff, "tends to be kind of big."
Hembroff is director of the Office for Survey Research at the Institute for Public Policy and Social Research. Hembroff helped establish OSR in 1989; prior to its existence, there was no centralized facility on campus for survey research.
"It would take a lot of work for any individual faculty member to go and hire all of the people that they need to do all of the interviewing, to train them all, to supervise them all," he said. "So we're here in large measure to unburden the faculty from the stuff that they aren't really trained or set up to do that distract them from what they most care about."
While most surveys are done by phone, the OSR staff also receives about 20,000 web survey and 10,000 mail questionnaire responses per year.
OSR has surveyed people about the economic impact of the Michigan fishing industry; the quality of life after various prostate cancer treatment; community needs; and Americans’ response to 9/11 and their thoughts about the tradeoff between security and civil liberties.
The office also conducts behavioral risk factor surveys for the state of Michigan, which is a part of a national study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to monitor the nation's progress toward certain health goals. The office asks Michigan residents about their seatbelt use, obesity, and whether they are being properly screened for various cancers, for example.
Survey research is contributes about $9.2 billion of economic activity and employs about 40,000 full-time workers, Hembroff said.
OSR, located in the College of Social Science, is important because its research helps businesses, government and communities make better decisions, he said.
OSR conducts a quarterly State of the State Survey, the only survey in Michigan that monitors the public mood on issues such as politics and government, the economy, health, family, the environment and diversity. OSR has done the survey since 1994.
The office also helps Student Health Services, located at the Olin Health Center, with a survey of students about at-risk behaviors; stress and suicide; and sexual assault and relationship violence. Administered since 2000, the survey helps Student Health Services evaluate and improve the effectiveness of MSU’s programs.
Each year, OSR trains 200 to 400 student employees on conducting interviews, recording information, protecting confidentiality, gaining informed consent and following procedures to ensure that data are collected in a neutral and unbiased way.
"Academic research organizations are a critical training ground for the people who will subsequently enter the professional field," said Hembroff, who is the president of the Association of Academic Survey Research Organizations.
"Colleges and universities are where most people get their professional training to get them in the door," he said. "So we provide that kind of link for many of these students."