Wes started out with an interest in engineering but quickly learned that it was not the right fit for him. "After that, I tried to like journalism and then English but then I found sociology and liked it," he says. "It could have been that being raised in a sociological household, I had a certain perspective on people and groups; it was sort of intuitive."
The Shreveport, LA, native, now a doctoral student in sociology, is researching for a paper on the level of trust between Americans and Middle East Muslims. "There's a lot of buzz going on in sociology about all this trust stuff and community cooperation," he says. "The interest in the level of trust for Muslims came from a data set from the Baylor Religion Survey." The study, conducted by the Baylor Institute on Studies of Religion, analyzes religious attitudes in America.
In addition, Wes works extensively with his fellow graduate students at the Community Center for Research and Development, a non-profit organization that conducts research for private organizations in Central Texas. "We had to do everything from countywide telephone surveys to statewide focus groups," he says. "We do the research, which is client driven, but then we are able to write academic papers about it." His current project includes research for the Public Improvement District of Waco, which is currently spearheading efforts to revitalize the downtown area of Waco.
He feels that he is entering the field when it is on the cusp of change, as traditional methodologies are challenged by technology. "The main challenge right now in telephone research is cell phone versus household phones," Wes explains. "Reaching a representative sample is difficult when you have some people only using cell phones."
As such, he predicts that the trend of Web-based surveys, which accounts for a growing percentage of research, will become even more prevalent. In addition, because of the increased competition to gain the attention of the public, he has found that more and more surveys are designed with built-in incentive. "It's good to send a letter from a major institution like a university or even the government, briefly describing the research," Wes says. "And then they'll put in a dollar or two in the envelope. If you don't answer, they will usually send another letter with a little more money to get you to respond."
He works closely with faculty members, which includes Dr. Charles Tolbert, chair of the department, and Dr. Larry Lyon, dean of the Graduate School. "Our faculty write excellent papers that get published in top journals," he says. "and yet they always make time for students."