A group of students and faculty from Texas A&M University- Central Texas will use their academic skills to help local and state agencies assess the transportation needs of Central Texas residents.

Four graduate students from the university’s school of education and department of psychology have been tapped to conduct a needs assessment of the public transportation service in nine Central Texas counties. The assessment is a partnership with the Central Texas Council of Governments, Central Texas Regional Transportation Advisory Group and the HOP. The counties covered are Bell, Coryell, Hamilton, Lampasas, Llano, Mason, Milam, Mills and San Saba.

“I’m very excited to see our students get the chance to participate in this project,” said Jeffery Kirk, an associate professor and director of the university’s department of psychology and counseling. “It gives them a chance to apply themselves, and do something other than just sit in a classroom.”

Kirk said the students will be tasked with collecting, analyzing and interpreting data based on surveys of residents in those nine counties as well as internal surveys from the HOP.

In order to complete the assessment, the students will need to survey more than 5,000 residents. Currently, the group has posted a survey that can be accessed online by anyone interested.

Elizabeth Brown, one of the graduate students working on the project, said the group is trying to get as many people as possible to participate in order to make that goal and collect the necessary data for the assessment.

“We are currently trying to reach out to the public for their help in participating in the survey, and are exploring various avenues to get the word out.” she said.

Kirk said the students’ participation in the assessment would help them build a number of skills in a real-world setting, as well as familiarize them with communicating and working with governments and other professional entities on future projects.

“They will be working on a number of skills, including data collection, analysis and interpretation, and project planning and development,” Kirk said. “I think it also acquaints them with the public and private sectors, and gives them a chance to sharpen their ability to interact with people in a formal environment.”

The university beat out several other competitors in the process to secure the contract to conduct the assessment; including the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, Baylor University, Texas A&M University in College Station, and the University of Texas in Austin.

“The Central Texas Regional Transportation Advisory Group members felt the methodology proposed by (the university) best fit their needs and the overall proposal was well within the allotted budget,” said Annette Shepherd, Central Texas Council of Governments’ planning and regional services director. “Being new to the area, (the university) expressed a desire to become engaged in the community and has enthusiastically begun the survey work, enlisting the aid of several students under the guidance of (Kirk).”

The assessment won’t just help the students, but the results also will help improve the HOP transportation services for riders in Central Texas.

“I think it’s really great for (the university) and our students to help their community,” Kirk said. “Many of them live in this area, and they care about where they live and they want to make a difference.”

The assessment was launched July 16 and will be completed by early November, Kirk said.

Contact Chris McGuinness at chrism@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7568. Follow him on Twitter at ChrismKDH.

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