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Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Kerri Tobin

Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Kerri Tobin

Dr. Kerri Tobin

Homelessness can often seem like a problem without a solution.  In Assistant Professor of Education Kerri Tobin’s course “Homelessness in Our Community,” Ogden Honors students are learning in depth about the challenges residents of Baton Rouge face finding safe, decent, and affordable housing.

Dr. Tobin has been studying homelessness as it pertains to the educational needs and experiences of youth for the last decade. In her research, she’s become familiar with how the issue impacts people of all ages, as well as policies and programs we use in the U.S. to try to alleviate it. The most striking thing that she’s found in her research, however, is the lack of public knowledge on the demographics of the homelessness. 

“Most people are really not at all aware of any of the demographics of our homeless population – they think it’s just the panhandlers on the sidewalk,” Tobin said. “So I wanted to have a chance to journey, along with a group of capable students, deep into the topic.”

So far, the class members have completed a policy brief on an aspect of homelessness between the local, state, or federal law levels. Not only have they spent time studying services for the homeless in Louisiana and Baton Rouge, but they’ve looked at how these local services compare to those in other places. 

The students have also been crafting surveys and interview questions that they’ll use to gauge what housed people’s perceptions are of homelessness. They’ll then use the responses to each prepare a letter to the editor of a major newspaper about one facet of homelessness. They start by choosing which topic they’d like to focus on, and then create a presentation with some sort of interactive, game-like activity that would better illustrate their topic in a hands-on way, and then facilitate open-ended discussion.

Cody Silas, one of Tobin’s students, did his project on homelessness in college. 

“It really opened my eyes to how incredibly difficult it can be for a severely financially disadvantaged student to succeed in college,” Silas said. “The dropout rates are astounding, as are the numbers of students who report experiencing food insecurity in an average school year.”

Silas and his class partner created a budgeting game where everybody starts off with $300, and they have to see how long they can hold on to their money as more and more expenses pile on. They inevitably made choices about what they found to be the most important things worthy of spending their money on, but at the same time, they had to be constantly cautious about how much they were spending, because they never knew what kind of financial issues the next day might bring.

“Our goal was to simulate what it might feel like to be in that same situation as so many other homeless and poor college students across the country, feeling that frustration and, often, hopelessness that comes from experiencing poverty,” Silas said. “Just as it was in our activity, for these students it can often feel like the game is rigged against them.”

Tobin said that through the help of guest lectures, students’ perspectives on the issue of homelessness have shifted. Guest lectures range from Randy Nichols (who was head of the Capital Area Alliance for the Homeless for 16 years) to Carrie Patterson (a social worker who spent several years at Youth Oasis, the only teen shelter in Baton Rouge) to Louisiana’s State Homeless Education Director, and a lawyer at the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.

“Their perspectives and stories ‘from the trenches,’ so to speak, really opened students’ eyes, and many have reflected on the change they feel since the class started, a deeper understanding of what causes homelessness and the impacts it has on people,” Tobin said.

This is Dr. Tobin’s first time teaching an HNRS seminar course. She says that the diversity and willingness of her students makes all the difference.            

“The main difference is in the students; they are so bright and inquisitive. It’s a real joy to work with them,” Tobin said. “I’ve got students from all years and a wide variety of majors, from pre-med to sociology. The diversity of viewpoints makes for wonderfully rich discussions!”

The students may make this class for Tobin, but they say that her enthusiasm for the subject makes the class interesting for them, too. Silas says that she’s well-versed on the subject, and that her passion really drives home the lessons for him and his classmates.

“It’s a topic that she doesn’t take lightly, and that’s something that definitely carries over into what she speaks about in the classroom,” Silas said. “It really puts everything we learn in the class into focus.”

LSU faculty members interested in teaching an HNRS course on a subject that they are passionate about may contact Ogden Honors College Associate Dean, Dr. Ann Holmes, at aholmes@lsu.edu

 

The Roger Hadfield Ogden Honors College
The Ogden Honors College, established in 1992, is a vibrant, diverse and prestigious community located at the heart of LSU. The Ogden Honors College provides students with a curriculum of rigorous seminar classes, as well as opportunities for undergraduate research, culminating in the Honors Thesis. Its focus on community service, study abroad, internships and independent research helps today’s high-achieving students become tomorrow’s leaders.

 

College of Human Sciences & Education

The College of Human Sciences & Education is a nationally accredited division of LSU. The college is comprised of the School of Education, the School of Human Resource Education and Workforce Development, the School of Kinesiology, the School of Library and Information Science, the School of Social Work, and the University Laboratory School. These combined schools offer eight undergraduate degree programs and 18 graduate programs, enrolling more than 1,900 undergraduate and 977 graduate students. The college is committed to achieving the highest standards in teaching, research, and service and is continually working to improve its programs. Visit http://chse.lsu.edu for more information.