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April 25, 2019

Sociological study of Flint water crisis fallout part of SVSU student research symposium

Miller, AlexA Saginaw Valley State University student turned her passion for understanding the human effects of the Flint water crisis into a nationally-presented research project that will be among about 80 research initiatives presented at SVSU this week.

The annual Undergraduate Research Project Student Symposium is scheduled Friday, April 26, from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. in SVSU’s Gilbertson Hall. The public is invited to attend the event, which will feature students explaining research performed in a variety of academic fields.

Among those presenters will be Alexandria Miller, a sociology major from Saginaw, whose Flint water crisis-related research began as part of a pilot study in an independent studies course at SVSU. Since then, her work has developed into part of a course curriculum and was featured at a national conference.

“It's probably one of the most important things I've done in my undergraduate career,” Miller said of the research opportunity. “There's the things you hear about that are going to make you successful after graduation – like participating in an internship or co-op – and I think service learning is right up there, as well.”

To start the research, Miller surveyed 30 Flint residents in 20-minute, face-to-face interviews. She sought to better understand how the water crisis impacted the community sociologically.

“We're looking at how they have developed methods of resilience in the wake of the Flint water crisis, and how their relationship to water itself has changed,” Miller said.

Her results attracted the interest of individuals beyond Michigan. She was invited to present her early findings as part of a poster presentation at the Society for Applied Anthropology in Portland, Oregon on March 22.

Now other SVSU students are benefiting from the research project.

Miller's faculty adviser, Rosina Hassoun, SVSU associate professor of sociology, incorporated the research project into her Sociology of Medicine course at SVSU. After receiving a grant from the SVSU Foundation to expand the number of people surveyed in Flint, students in the class are adding to the data Miller began collecting.

With the help of community partners in Flint, Hassoun's students recently conducted 38 new face-to-face interviews with Flint residents to expand the survey findings. Hassoun said Miller plans to conduct another 30 surveys on her own while her classmates will conduct another 32 surveys over the course of the spring.

Hassoun said the data will paint a portrait – using both quantitative and qualitative data – showing how Flint residents are coping in the aftermath of the water crisis. Hassoun said she plans to publish the findings from the research in academic journals.

At the Undergraduate Research Project Student Symposium, Miller plans to describe the research's methodology and findings. Her classmates will present a panel presentation on their experience with the study and with service learning in the classroom.

Other research projects scheduled to be presented at the symposium include studies on topics including the public's perception of genetic testing, the effect of teacher salary on student outcomes, mental health issues in Japan, and the demographics of opioid use in Saginaw County, among others.

For more information about SVSU's Undergraduate Research Program, go to