Excellence in Faculty Service
Excellence in Faculty Service
Dr. Bonnie Lewis
Director of the Florida Parishes Social Sciences Research Center and Professor of
Sociology Areas of Interest: Applied Social Research.
Civic engagement and service learning are two of the hottest buzzwords in modern academia. However, they are nothing new to Bonnie Lewis. She has put those same models into practice since she first stepped into a Southeastern classroom as a visiting assistant professor in 1989.
“Looking back, I can honestly say I’ve been doing that all along,” she said with humility. “Ninety-nine percent of student learning is process, not product.”
This ideal has been put to the test on countless occasions for Lewis during her tenure at Southeastern. A member of the faculty and director of the Southeastern Social Science Research Center, she has worked on projects ranging from urban forestry and neighborhood revitalization in Hammond to assessing the rate of homelessness and DWI arrests in Louisiana.
“In some manner I’ve always wanted to help people and make the world a better place,” she said.
She traces the beginning of her service to the university back to one fateful moment when a call came into the departmental office from the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission, and Lewis just happened to be standing there.
“State DWI arrests were low and they had determined that the paperwork for DWI arrests was partially to blame,” she said. “Someone needed to develop new forms, requiring many trouble shooting sessions, presentations at conferences and the testing of draft forms around the state.”
The rest is history.
While Lewis helped carry out the Louisiana Comprehensive Alcohol Arrest Form Project, the Board of Regents approved the creation of a polling lab/social science research center with $21,119 in start-up funds. Other grants followed, and the Florida Parishes (now “Southeastern”) Social Sciences Research Center grew and developed through a wide variety of research experiences and topics. The center provides communities with valuable research analysis and reporting services including surveys, evaluations, needs assessments, social-demographic analyses and mapping.
Most impressively, she’s been able to meld these projects with student involvement so they can apply theories learned in course work to the real world.
Hammond Mayor Mayson Foster commends Lewis for her work with the District 1 Pine Ridge Weed & Seed Steering Committee, saying that her involvement creates a win-win situation for all involved. Hammond’s natural spaces were the focus of “Comprehensive Mapping for Smart Growth Planning,” “Photography and Hammond Natural Space Preservation,” “Wildfire Awareness Project” and “Keeping Up Urban Forest” reports. Students and graduate students assisted in both the self-administered and face-to-face surveys by tracking responses, entering data, writing proposals and preparing the final report. The Land Trust of Southeast Louisiana was the first of its kind, and remains one of the only legally-bound local Louisiana land trust entities available to hold conservation easements.
“The students learn about the operations of non-profits and receive real world experience; the non-profits gain extra hands, fresh perspective and help to improve their operational capacity,” Foster said. “The city reaps tremendous benefits from such collaboration.”
Although many of her projects involve external community audiences, many have been performed for university programs and initiatives, including surveys for the Southeastern Louisiana Writing Project, the Department of Kinesiology and Health Studies and many involving political science polls.
Her composite approach to teaching is working. Kenneth Bolton, head of the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, said her selection as the faculty recipient of the 2008 President’s Award for Excellence in Service is long overdue.
“Her commitment to community service is so strong that it is difficult to separate her teaching and research activities from her service activities,” said Boulton. “She continually pushes her students and other faculty members, from our department and others, to be involved in service/research/teaching activities that benefit all involved.”
While the scope of her work has taken her out of the classroom and into the community on more than a few occasions, she always manages to find time to make it back on campus for a myriad of committee assignments.
Lewis’ name can be found on up to seven university committee rosters at one time beginning with the Sociology Departmental Faculty Recruitment Committee in 1991. She coordinates the department’s graduate internships, sits on the Sociology Graduate Faculty Committee and has served as a volunteer judge of the Social Studies Fair
for nearly 20 years.She serve on several other university committees as well.
“I’ve never known Dr. Lewis to turn down a request to serve on a committee,” said Bolton.
While teaching, coordinating, directing and volunteering, Lewis has also found time to apply for and receive $981,000 for research and development projects. Since assuming directorship of the SSSRC in 1996, the center’s reputation has grown to become a respected branch of Southeastern’s community outreach.
“The center has gone through a wide variety of studies and projects,” she said. “Throughout, however, there has been one constant: that is a mission to assist faculty, students and the community in their social science research needs.”