First Beacom Research Fellows Reflect on Learning Opportunities

By Keeley Meier '20 | September 21, 2021
Beacom Fellows Web

Pictured: (Left to Right) Miles Beacom, Dr. Suzanne Smith, Grace Bucklin ‘22 (back), Charlotte (Berg) Poppinga ‘21, Annie Olson ‘22 (back) and Lisa Beacom


A generous donation from Miles and Lisa Beacom in February allowed Augustana students the chance to conduct impactful, hands-on research while better serving the Sioux Falls community.

Charlotte (Berg) Poppinga ‘21, Annie Olson ‘22, Grace Bucklin ‘22 and Gedion Alemayehu ‘23 had the opportunity to be the first Beacom Research Fellows. The 2-year pilot program, which is part of the Augustana Research Institute, made it possible for organizations with limited resources to access research, analytics and field-specific expertise in operations and data management.

Poppinga is a sociology major with an emphasis in family & community services and minoring in psychology and children & youth. The Rock Rapids, Iowa, native worked with Active Generations, researching aging trends as the non-profit organization prepares for the next generation of older adults. With a new location planned for the east side of Sioux Falls, the organization sought to understand the challenges they face and how the population is  changing.

Poppinga, along with the other fellows, first went through the process of obtaining approval from the Institutional Review Board (IRB), and then began her project in March. After interviewing Active Generations staff members, she drafted a “scope of work” document, performed a literature review, contacted neighboring senior centers and began her rough draft. After the draft was finalized, Poppinga presented her findings to the organization’s Board of Trustees. 

“Honestly, I am so glad that I got to experience this because undergraduates in social science fields don’t have many opportunities to actually do research,” Poppinga said.

Gerald Beninga, president and CEO of Active Generations, said that Poppinga’s research was not only helpful for their organization, but requested by similar organizations throughout the country.

“Charlotte’s research of our current programming and services, her contact with similar organizations in the United States and the analysis of the research was outstanding,” Beninga said. “Her detailed report helped support the design of our architectural process in evaluating a second location.”

Before becoming a Beacom Fellow, Poppinga had planned to pursue a career in social work for child protective services. Working with Active Generations, however, led her in a new direction.

“I definitely didn't think that I wanted to go down a research path,” Poppinga said. “I really enjoyed putting all this work together and presenting it. And, now, I'm thinking of getting my master’s degree in gerontology. This may have totally changed my career path.”

Olson had a similar career-altering experience with her research. The psychology major, who is minoring in biology and business administration, worked with the Sioux Falls Childcare Collaborative, a group formed to address funding and workforce issues for child care providers. 

“Being a part of this made me realize I really like research, but I also really like working in the community,” Olson said. “In the future, I'm excited to work with different people and help solve issues. Being a fellow made me sure that I want to pursue maternal and child health tracks in a public health program.”

Olson, who worked with the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Sioux Empire, Sioux Empire United Way and Sioux Falls Thrive, looked at what issues exist with the child care system locally, how those issues could be solved and how to garner support from local philanthropic and business sectors in the community. 

“The cost of child care for any kid — birth to age five — is close to $10,000 a year,” Olson said. “The median wage for an average Sioux Falls resident is around $39,000 a year. So, if one parent is paying for that, that would be close to a fourth of their income. And, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, child care is supposed to cost no more than 7% of a person's income.”

Christina Riss, Sioux Empire United Way’s community impact director, said that the pandemic further highlighted the challenges that exist within the child care industry. Riss worked closely with Olson to provide insight into Sioux Falls’ challenges.

 “With a greater understanding of this local data, United Way is hopeful that additional opportunities will be identified to ensure quality child care remains accessible for all families in need of such services,” Riss said of Olson’s research.

Olson echoed Poppinga’s thoughts that undergraduate social science fields, such as psychology, don’t garner the same number of research opportunities as other fields. She said she is grateful for the Beacoms' donation and hopes it will inspire others to invest.

“It's definitely worth applying,” Olson said. “It's a really good experience, and it was eye-opening to see that there are these real people who funded and created my experience. And, it's right here at Augie.”

Lisa Beacom, who serves on the Sioux Falls Thrive Board of Directors, has seen firsthand the struggle that nonprofit organizations face and how programs like these can benefit both parties.

“This is a great opportunity for students to get some real-life experience while they're in college,” Lisa said. “And, I like to hear about and follow all of the analysis.”

Miles Beacom, CEO of PREMIER Bankcard in Sioux Falls, said this partnership with Augustana and its students is critical to the continued success of Sioux Falls. 

“This project is a great one that really works with businesses, both in the nonprofit and profit sectors, that can't afford to have another set of eyes look at their business and say, ‘How do we improve as an organization?’” Miles said.

Alemayehu’s project, which transitioned into a group project, focused on EmBe, an organization dedicated to empowering women and families. Bucklin, who worked with Volunteers of America, extended their project into the school year. The second group of Beacom Research Fellows began their research in September. 

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