Fulfilling the Potential of a Partnership

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Tuesday, December 13, 2022
By Fernando Garcia, Victor B. Marshall, Dong-gook Kim, Jon Littlefield
Photo by iStock/PeopleImages
How the results of just one research project with a local partner will help our business school generate long-term impact in our community.
  • A request for proposal sent by a local association became an opportunity for Dalton State College to conduct research that revealed insights about the pressing needs of local Hispanic residents.
  • Although survey respondents asked for more services related to their financial or immigration status, many also expressed a desire for courses in entrepreneurship and computer skills.
  • The college and its business school will use the results of this project to help target future initiatives and courses in ways that more directly meet the needs of the local Hispanic population.


As more business schools strive to make greater societal impact, they are looking for ways to improve the quality of life for local residents. That is the case for Dalton State College, part of the University System of Georgia. As the only Hispanic-serving institution (HSI) in the state, DSC has a strategic goal of engaging with the surrounding community.

In the fall of 2019, Dalton State College (DSC) had an opportunity to support that goal when we received a request for proposal (RFP) from the Latin American Association, headquartered in Atlanta. Founded in 1975, the LAA works to empower Latin Americans in Georgia to adapt, integrate, and thrive through programs related to civic engagement, economic empowerment, youth empowerment, family stabilization, well-being, and immigration services.

In its RFP, the LAA was seeking a partner to help its leaders assess the well-being and needs of the local Hispanic populations that it serves. In its response, our research team, made up of faculty from across DSC’s campus, proposed taking both a quantitative approach (via surveys) and a qualitative approach (via focus groups) to hear directly from LAA clients.

Our team was awarded the grant. Led by a professor from DSC’s C. Lamar and Ann Wright School of Business (WSOB), the resulting project serves as an example of how business schools can work closely with local partners to become forces for good in their communities.

Designing Our Survey

Our first step was to choose our survey methodology. We reviewed various scales and instruments that are commonly used to measure an individual’s sense of well-being. We determined the best fit to incorporate into the survey was the Brief Inventory of Thriving (BIT), created by professors at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign and Purdue to measure levels of well-being and predict health outcomes.

After interviewing the LAA leadership team, we developed questions that asked respondents to answer five types of questions. First, we asked respondents to indicate their levels of well-being, using a seven-point Likert-type scale. Second, we asked current and former LAA clients to rate their degree of satisfaction with the association’s services received by type. We also asked all respondents to indicate additional services that they wished were available, as well as to rate their degree of need for each one.

Among respondents’ greatest needs were entrepreneurship classes, adult English classes, adult computer classes, and job placement services.

Third, we asked questions specifically about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fourth, to give us better context for our survey results, we asked for background information about race, ethnicity, gender, countries of origin, age group, religion and religiosity, level of education, employment status and occupation, income, geographical location, and the number of people living at each participant’s residence.

Finally, we asked respondents to indicate their citizenship status, as well as whether they were registered to vote. If applicable, we asked them to tell us how their quality of life in the United States compared to what they had experienced in their countries of origin.

The LAA promoted the survey through social media ads, in both Spanish and English, targeting the ZIP codes of the communities it serves. The association’s team collected responses at sponsored community events, where respondents could complete the survey in Spanish or English, either on paper at the event or online (accessed using a scannable QR code).

Sharing Our Findings

In all, we collected 1,741 responses, mostly from individuals in the Atlanta metro area and northwestern counties of the state of Georgia. Because not all participants responded to each question, we ended up with a sample size of 536.

We conducted a hierarchical linear regression analysis of the data to identify statistically significant antecedents that determined three aspects of people’s lives: well-being, personal income, and negative impacts from the COVID pandemic. We also were able to provide the LAA a list of needs emphasized by respondents, in order of priority.

Well-being. We found that respondents’ well-being was positively related to factors such as having a certain level of personal income, being male, and being Hispanic. It was negatively related to the adverse financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

We also found that well-being was positively related to religiosity, which we define as “the extent to which a person’s personal decisions are based on their worldview or religion.” For individuals born outside the U.S., well-being was positively related to the perception that their living conditions in the U.S. were better than their living conditions in their countries of origin. 

Personal income. We found that personal income was likely to be higher for individuals who are male and can communicate in English, while it is lower for individuals who are Black. We also found that the personal income of many immigrants is negatively impacted when they hold visas, are undocumented, or have Temporary Protected Status (TPS).

Impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Those who suffered negative effects from the pandemic were more likely to be Native American and have TPS status. Males and individuals who could communicate in English were less likely to be affected.

Prioritization of needs. Respondents indicated that their greatest needs, in decreasing order, were entrepreneurship classes, adult English classes, adult computer classes, job placement services, affordable housing, and legal assistance with immigration matters.

Hearing From Focus Groups

For the qualitative portion of our project, we conducted two focus groups in the city of Dalton and two in Atlanta. Participants gathered in meeting rooms that allowed social distancing, and each participant was provided a laptop and headset. The moderator, who interacted with participants virtually using Microsoft Teams, conducted the sessions in Spanish, but respondents were allowed to provide their answers in English if preferred.

Focus group members were most concerned about being the targets of discrimination, striving for a better life, and pursuing college education.

The moderator asked participants to share their views on issues related to well-being, housing, employment, language barriers, and medical care. The most significant concerns that the focus group members raised included those related to being the targets of discrimination, striving for a better life, pursuing college education, managing the conflicting priorities of education and family, accessing health care (related to COVID-19), and helping others get ahead.

As a result of these focus groups, we were able to offer the LAA several recommendations for future services. These included providing its clients with more help learning English, information on the rights of undocumented persons, resources for addressing discrimination, and resources related to helping immigrants get fully integrated into their new communities. We also noted that respondents had asked for access to mentoring groups, in which they could receive guidance and support from other immigrants who had made the transition to the U.S. successfully.

Moving From Research to Action

The LAA is sharing our study with its board of directors and plans to use the results to inform its strategic planning process. Furthermore, in partnership with the Georgia-based flooring company Mohawk Industries, the LAA has set up a private scholarship for DSC students in need of financial aid. The association also is working with DSC’s School of Health Professions to help with the Prevent Blindness Georgia program.

The DSC and WSOB will use the project’s results to determine how to design their initiatives and participate in local activities. For example, the DSC is a partner in the Latina Empowerment Program for Northwest Georgia. After the survey revealed that the local Hispanic population sees a need for entrepreneurial training, we will ensure that these LAA participants have access to a new incubator, as well as the Dalton Innovation Accelerator.

Participants also will work with faculty and student mentors from Dalton State College, who will help them hone their entrepreneurial skills. The WSOB, which continues to offer entrepreneurship courses for our students, will host the Latino Youth Leadership Conference in March 2023. The DSC and the LAA will work together to plan this event with the aim of encouraging students from the local community to pursue higher education.

We have shared our results with the Hispanic Advisory Board for Dalton State College, and we will continue to use this research to support our planning process for future activities, including those we undertake in partnership with the Latin American Association.

Through just one dedicated research project, we have been able to support our mission as an HSI, more effectively target our programs, and identify ways to benefit the larger community. More important, by partnering with the LAA, we have been able to have a far greater positive impact in our region. This project could serve as a model for future partnerships that will help us do even more of the same.

Fernando Garcia
Associate Professor of Management, Wright School of Business, Dalton State College
Victor B. Marshall
Assistant Professor Emeritus of Management, Wright School of Business, Dalton State College
Dong-gook Kim
Associate Professor of Supply Chain Management, Wright School of Business, Dalton State College
Jon Littlefield
Associate Professor of Marketing, Wright School of Business, Dalton State College
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