Research, Insights, and Grants

Student showing research photo

Residence Life & Student Housing (RLSH), along with our partners, continues to produce research that’s having a positive impact on residential life at SMU.

View our research projects, insights, and grant opportunities.

News & insights

The Research Team generates insights to improve residential life and success at SMU. We aid the department in making data-informed decisions to improve life on the Hilltop. Take a closer look at our research insights.

More about RLSH research

The Research Team fosters interdisciplinary inquiry through intensive efforts to break down barriers and advance interdisciplinary research related to student success and learning.

The Research Team comprises faculty, staff, and students—both undergraduate and graduate— from all disciplines who produce original empirical research related to residential life and students.

The Research Team’s findings aid in the improvement of university policies, practices, and programs to support residential student success and positively contribute to the field of higher education.

Historical Academic and Student Success in Residential Life 

Residence Life and Student Housing has designed an exploratory research study to understand variables associated with student retention, graduation, and other student success indicators based on existing housing and institutional data from current and former on-campus residents at SMU. Specifically, the study intends to understand the potential impacts of housing and the Residential Commons model on the included indicators. The study is intended to include a timeframe that encompasses the establishment of the Residential Commons circa fall 2012 to spring 2019. SMU IRB: H19-069-GRAD 

Developing a Thriving Student Experience 

The overall purpose of the study is to understand the thriving of underrepresented college students. For the purposes of this study, underrepresented students include transfer students, international students, and first-generation college students. This study uses a sequential exploratory design consisting of two distinct phases. In this design, quantitative, numeric data will be collected using the Thriving Quotient instrument. These data will aid in purposely sampling participants for the second phase. The second phase of the project will help explain or elaborate on the quantitative results obtained in phase one. Individual interviews will be used to elaborate on the quantitative findings for each of the underrepresented student groups. SMU IRB: H19-112-GRAD 

Student Engagement in Residential College System

Residence Life and Student Housing staff are interested to understand resident engagement within a Residential College model. Utilizing data from an engagement tracking database, we hope to answer, what does engagement look like across residential communities? What demographics of students are most and least engaged? Plus, what is the relationship between student engagement levels and GPA? Persistence? SMU IRB: H20-001-GRAD 

The Impact of COVID-19 on the College Student Experience 

The purpose of this study is to explore how the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the college student experience of undergraduate SMU students. The research team will conduct semi-structured, individual interviews with students to gather information around the positive impact on their experience, the drawbacks around this pandemic, and the impact on institutional affinity. This qualitative study will give a basis for additional quantitative analysis in the future. SMU IRB: H20-058-GRAD 

A Longitudinal Study of Sense of Belonging to a Residential College 

Since the implementation of the Residential Commons (RC), SMU Residence Life and Student Housing has widely discussed the idea of residents belonging to their Residential Commons. Each Commons has a unique identity, crest, and members which has led to the creation of unique programs, traditions, and experiences for each RC. To this point, SMU RLSH has not identified or measured strategies for increasing belonging, or examined the impact RC belonging has on the overall student experience. This research is focused on identifying factors that cause affiliation towards a student’s Residential Commons. The research will be conducted in two parts, a pre and post-test, to examine student self-reported affiliation factors. Students do not need to complete both parts of the survey for research to be completed. SMU IRB: H20-126-GRAD 

Residential Colleges & Culture Development 

The framework for this research is developed from Schein's model of Organizational Culture and Leadership and incorporates relevant residential college examples from our own practice as new professionals entering an already established residential college culture. PIs will interview Residential College Senior Leadership to understand their experiences entering into, making sense of, working with, and shaping/changing culture within residential colleges while working within departmental structures and working in collaboration with faculty and students. SMU IRB: H19-105-NICB 

Employability (Project CEO) for On-Campus Residents 

Project CEO (Co-curricular Experience Outcomes), looks at how institutions can better prepare students to make the transition from their campuses to the career marketplace? Using the annual Job Outlook survey from NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers) as a starting point for data collection, Project CEO focuses on student perceptions of skill development and attainment, especially in relation to co-curricular experiences. The research also considers the impact of off-campus employment as well as the first-generation student experience. SMU IRB: In Preparation 

Engage Dallas: Test Re-Test of Place-based Community Engagement 

The overall purpose of this study is to determine the impact that a new place-based community engagement program has on undergraduate students at SMU. Engage Dallas, a new community engagement initiative that links undergraduate students at SMU with underprivileged communities in South and West Dallas, will be implemented beginning in Fall 2020 as an opportunity to fulfill the Community Engagement requirement of the University Curriculum. In order to measure the impact that this program has on participating students, a pre/mid/post-test survey will be designed and given to students. This instrument will be administered through Canvas, at the beginning of the student's experience with Engage Dallas, after the student completes three engagements related to the course, and again at the conclusion of the student's experience with Engage Dallas. An analysis of the completed surveys will allow us to determine the impact that Engage Dallas has on students' attitudes toward community service and inform the larger higher education community. SMU IRB: H20-129-GRAD 

Faith and Spirituality On-Campus: Exploring the Spiritual Needs of Students

This project will focus on analyzing student engagement with spirituality through the Office of the Chaplain and Religious Life as well as other faith-based campus resources. The project will use both qualitative and quantitative methods to understand and gauge if the spiritual needs of students are being met, and how SMU can support students' spiritual lives. Utilizing Astin, Astin, and Lindholm (2010) national study of undergraduates’ spiritual growth, we seek to understand the spiritual and faith needs of on-campus residential students. Results may inform the work of religious and spiritual life centers. SMU IRB: In Preparation

A Thematic Analysis of Conference Programs for Residential College Professional Associations

In this study, team members will review past conference program materials for two leading residential college conferences, the Collegiate Way and the Residential College Society (RCS). This content analysis will reveal topics covered each year, and analyze repetition and importance of the material covered at each conference. This analysis will hopefully provide insight into common struggles of residential colleges nationwide. SMU IRB: N/A

RLSH created a funded research grant program with the goal of cultivating knowledge related to residential life and student success on campus. The aim of this program is to encourage SMU scholars and practitioners to conduct high-quality research in support of the research agenda areas.

Financing and Research Team support are available for selected studies that address any of the three research priority areas within residential life at SMU:

Accepted research grant proposals will receive funds of up to $5,000. An application for a funded research grant should (1) include a budget and (2) follow a traditionally structured one-page abstract format—see Mosteller, Nave, and Miech (2004) for an example. Structured abstract components:

  1. Background
  2. Purpose
  3. Setting
  4. Participants
  5. Intervention (if relevant)
  6. Research design
  7. Data collection and analysis

Complete applications for grant funding should be submitted to the director of academic initiatives. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis until fiscal-year funds are depleted. The proposal review process can take up to one month.

The Research Team is responsible for approving requests to use RLSH information (e.g., housing applications, demographics, building occupancy, etc.) for the purposes of research. Persons or groups who want to survey or use the on-campus resident lists for research purposes should follow and understand the protocol below.

A written request (email) to the director of academic initiatives. This request should include detailed information about the research study and the Institutional Review Board (IRB) application.

  1. This request is reviewed by the assistant vice president and the dean of residence life and student housing, director of academic initiatives, and/or Research Team.
  2. If the request is approved, the director will submit the proposal to the vice president of student affairs.
  3. The vice president of student affairs or designee will provide final approval.
  4. The applicant will receive an official letter/email informing them of the final decision.

This letter will include any associated costs (if applicable), the reason for denial or conditions of approval, and contact information for those involved in supporting the research. A letter of support for the research study can also be provided at this time.

Please submit the request, information regarding the research study, and IRB approval document to the director of academic initiatives. The Research Team will review the study and the proposed IRB application and will make a decision on providing data for the study. Please allow up to one month for review and approval.