American Sociological Association

Sociology in Action: Joyce A. Miller

Joyce A. Miller, KeyStone Research Corporation, worked with the United Way of Erie County in Erie, PA, on a school success program. ASA asked Miller about that work:

What is the mission of the Erie County United Way? On behalf of the residents of Erie County, United Way brings the community together to provide resources that help people in need or at risk solve their problems.

Could you describe the project? Campaign for Grade Level Reading is a collaborative effort by foundations, nonprofit partners, business leaders, government agencies, states and communities across the nation to ensure that more children in low-income families succeed in school and graduate prepared for college, a career, and active citizenship. The Campaign focuses on an important predictor of school success and high school graduation—grade-level reading by the end of third grade. The three areas of focus in this campaign include: school readiness, school attendance, and summer learning. Although schools must be accountable for helping all children achieve, providing effective teaching for all children in every classroom every day, the Campaign is based on the belief that schools cannot succeed alone. The United Way of Erie County made the decision to submit an application and Community Solutions Action Plan to be designated as one of the communities that is mobilizing to address this issue. The impact of this effort will be an engaged community that has helped to remove barriers, expand opportunities, and assist parents in fulfilling their roles and responsibilities, as full partners in the success of their children.

What sociological knowledge and/or skills do you use? I served as the chair of the school readiness subcommittee, working with representatives from a variety of community agencies, including schools and social service organizations. In the capacity as chair, I not only served as an organizer of the meetings, but also provided the expertise to develop the section of the Community Solutions Action Plan that delineated the goals, targets/milestones, measures, outcomes, and timeline. As an applied sociologist, my expertise has been in program evaluation. Hence the leadership role I played in this committee was directly related to my expertise in system design and assessment.

How did you connect with the United Way? Over the years I have served on a number of committees established by the United Way to address a variety of issues related to poverty reduction, early care and education, and workforce development.

Duration of the project? The project began in early 2017 and is ongoing.

Is there anything else you would like to share about this work? The model I created for delineating goals, measures, targets/milestones and timeline was used by the other subcommittees that were struggling with their task. Over the past several decades I have served on many committees similar to this and have always represented myself as an applied sociologist. I find that my sociological knowledge and skill, particularly in organizational theory, system design, and assessment, enable me to be a valuable contributor and/or facilitator for these groups since there are often individuals on these committees who struggle with conceptualizing goals, identifying realistic measures, and stating expected outcomes.