OSU Professor Gets $1.1 Million In Stimulus To Study Alaskan Grandparents

Tuesday, September 29th 2009, 10:30 pm
By: News On 6

By Jennifer Loren, Oklahoma Impact Team

STILLWATER, OK -- A professor at Oklahoma State University received $1.1 million in stimulus to study Alaskan grandparents. The National Science Foundation made the grant possible through their pot of stimulus money. But some Oklahomans say this is just one more example of stimulus waste.

For more than ten years Oklahoma State University professor Tammy Henderson has been researching grandparents. She studies their relationships and responsibilities within their families.

"This is an opportunity for us to really build a body of research that people will be using far beyond our age," said OSU Associate Professor Tammy Henderson, PhD.

Henderson is now continuing her research with $1.15 million in stimulus money. She and two other social science professors from the University of Alaska will be leading the research project. The research project is called "From Their Perspective: Alaskan Grandparents' Roles, Strengths and Needs."

"Aren't there people here that you could study?" asked Oklahoma Impact reporter Jennifer Loren.

"Yes. But, again, if you go to another place it has implications for indigenous people here in their communities. And there's a correlation between the geographic and the historical composition of folks in Oklahoma as well as in Alaska. So why not Alaska?" said Tammy Henderson, OSU Associate Professor.

With the stimulus funding Henderson will hire two new university employees. But, they will only be employed for the two year duration of the grant. That, she says, is how this project is stimulating.

"It is bringing two new positions to Oklahoma State University in economically challenging times," said Tammy Henderson, OSU Associate Professor.

The team will travel back and forth to Alaska several times where a team of about 15 people will take part in the study. They'll investigate Alaska native grandparents living in rural, semi-urban and urban areas of Alaska.

"Travel to some of the rural communities is extremely expensive and so I admit there's some of that," said Tammy Henderson, PhD, OSU Associate Professor.

But many Oklahomans are outraged stimulus money is being used for this project.

"If they think we need to study grandparents in Alaska, so be it. I just don't think we should use the stimulus funds for that particular issue," said Oklahoma State Representative Earl Sears.

Sears is one of many lawmakers who say it's wrong to use stimulus funds this way.

"What my understanding was of stimulus funds was just that, to stimulate things in regards to job opportunities, infrastructure projects, shovel ready... I don't see this as a shovel ready project," said Oklahoma State Representative Earl Sears.

But OSU administrators say research projects like this are key to the success of the university and therefore key to Oklahoma.

"As a university, you know, we all need to find a way to sort of compare ourselves to each other and research funding is one of the tools we use to compare with," said Toni Shaklee, OSU Assistant Vice President for Research.

She says research projects like this one will bring a higher caliber of faculty to the College of Human Environmental Sciences and therefore, more esteem to OSU. That translates into more students, which means more money for Oklahoma.

For Tammy Henderson, money is not the issue. For her the science is priceless.

"Is it fair? Um, I do not feel that the political answer is one that I should take as a university professor. But I will tell you as a professor who is trying to change the world by giving it good science and good theory it was a good thing to do," Said Tammy Henderson, PhD, OSU Associate Professor.

OSU has applied for more than $100 million in stimulus money for research grants alone. So far they've received $3.3 million.