The Center for Rural Studies, housed in the sociology department of SHSU, will provide research and outreach services to rural Texas communities, which make up nearly 80 percent of all counties in the state.
The program will be directed by Dr. Gene Theodori, associate professor in the sociology department. He feels there are not enough agencies and educational institutions to address problems in the rural areas of Texas.
“When you’ve seen one rural community, you’ve only seen one-each place is unique in terms of its major issues. One may need help with educational financing and high school dropouts, while another may need help with transportation and tourism,” Theodori said.
SHSU professors from almost every department on campus will be involved in the center. This will allow it to focus on various issues such as law enforcement, small town government, education and healthcare.
“I think we are positioned to be a leader when it comes to providing research for rural chambers of commerce, county judges, county commissioners, and also to provide the technical assistance that they need,” Theodori said.
The center will consist of faculty and staff, as well as graduate and undergraduate students. Theodori believes it is important for everyone to realize the work being done in rural areas.
“Many students come from urban areas and aren’t familiar with the fact that rural folks are stewards of the nation’s natural resources,” Theodori said.
SHSU has one of the largest concentrations of rural sociologists in the country, so Theodori feels this program is a natural progression of the department.
“We are an inter-disciplinary faculty here and I think we are onto something. I look forward to business to start booming quite soon,” Theodori said.
Another professor associated with the center, Dr. Douglas Constance, has high hopes for its future. His projects will focus on agricultural issues relating to changes in the community.
“We will provide research such as community attitude surveys, economic base analysis, quality of life surveys, and social impact assessments,” Constance said.
Over the past few weeks Theodori has met with numerous state agencies, including the Texas Department of Agriculture. In collaboration with the TDA, he hopes to create an internship program that takes students from metropolitan areas and places them with rural Texas families.
“We are not merely theorists-we’re actually going to get our hands dirty with the intention of solving problems in rural areas,” Theodori said.
The center had its first official meeting yesterday and will continue to develop in order to make it available to rural Texans as soon as possible.
“It comes down to improving the quality of life in rural areas. My passion is in rural studies. When I look at the world, I focus on the rural and the urban is residual,” Theodori said.
Any faculty or staff interested in the Center can contact Dr. Gene Theodori at (936)294-4143.