Posted 3:46 p.m. Monday, Dec. 20, 2021

Students in Assistant Professor Kristina LaPlant’s senior capstone course designed and distributed a community needs assessment to pinpoint the biggest areas of need in the Coulee Region.

UWL students conduct, analyze survey on community needs

Mental health. Homelessness. Food insecurity.

A UW-La Crosse political science class has teamed up with the Women’s Fund of Greater La Crosse to explore the most pressing economic, social and health needs of La Crosse area residents.

Students in Assistant Professor Kristina LaPlant’s senior capstone course designed and distributed a community needs assessment to pinpoint the biggest areas of need in the Coulee Region.

Responses to the 10-minute, multiple-choice survey will be used by the Women’s Fund and other local groups to make more informed decisions when allocating resources for community needs.

“I am so excited to be a part of this project because of the mutually beneficial relationship it fosters between political science students and the community,” LaPlant says. “Not only will community organizations have access to data and information about some of the most urgent needs facing La Crosse residents, but students will also gain invaluable experience applying what they’ve learned throughout the major to help solve real-world problems.”

Through the project, LaPlant's students are gaining valuable experience with various aspects of civic engagement.

Not only did they develop the community needs assessment — they also promoted the survey through flyers, social media and community outreach.

This spring, students will conduct a detailed analysis of the results.

K.C. Cayo, a senior majoring in English and minoring in political science and social justice studies, says the project has fostered connections and sparked conversations across the community.

“It’s been really exciting not only getting to know and interact with community partners, but giving them information about our process in developing this survey, what types of questions there are, what our certifications are, and how the data will be used,” they explain. “Not only is this a great networking opportunity, but it’s amazing to see that a survey that we made … is being requested as a credible source of data for these entities to view and then create programming around in response.”

The skills and experience gained through this project, Cayo adds, will prove useful in careers related to political science and public administration.

“I have very little experience with data analysis, so garnering that experience once this survey closes and we get to go in depth on our findings … will be a formative experience, as well as something I can talk about in future interviews. A large part of this field is research-based, so having that experience in creating rationales based on research we have conducted could be imperative for myself and other graduates in this field.”

This community partnership was identified through the UWL Community Idea Exchange, a database where UWL faculty and staff can find collaborative, community-engaged learning and research opportunities.

LaPlant, a new faculty member in UWL’s Department of Political Science and Public Administration, says she is looking forward to future collaborations between her students and various community groups.

“It has been such an inspiring experience working with the community and watching students take ownership over this project,” LaPlant says. “I think students are eager for this type of experiential learning. In the future, I look forward to the possibility of offering a more interdisciplinary approach that fosters partnerships between UWL students and the community.”