Camarillo, Calif., June 11, 2013 – Four CSU Channel Islands (CI) students will be honored for their roles in a landmark study highlighting the status of women and girls in Ventura County. The Ventura County Commission for Women (VCCW) will recognize recent CI graduates Mia de Paula, Celene Fuller, Marisol Rincon, Bernadette Kajaty and Associate Professor of Sociology Dennis Downey with awards Monday, June 24, at 6:30 p.m. at the Camarillo Police Department’s Community Room, located at 3701 Las Posas Rd. in Camarillo.

The students spent a semester collecting and analyzing data that formed the basis for the first comprehensive report ever conducted on Ventura County women, released earlier this year. They completed the work in spring 2011 as part of their Sociology Capstone course, which allows graduating seniors to apply what they’ve learned in college to a meaningful community service project. They presented the first phase of the report to VCCW in more than 40 carefully crafted pages that illuminated some surprising inequities, patterns and hardships affecting the lives of Ventura County women and girls.

“Without their help, this project could not have moved forward,” said Lee Riggan, Chair of VCCW. “The students' work allowed VCCW to win $20,000 in grants to fund completion of the report. We were highly impressed by their dedication, drive and professionalism. Their hard work will continue to benefit Ventura County women for years to come.”

“I cannot thank professor Dennis Downey, the young women in the Capstone program and CSU Channel Islands enough for committing to this project,” said Shanté Morgan-Durisseau, a VCCW commissioner who co-chaired the study. “Their work helped to connect concrete facts and figures to a project that had only been a concept. I don't think we would have secured the additional funding and support from others without the work they did on Phase I. They played a critical part in taking the study to the next level and re-energized us as a commission.”

VCCW, a non-funded county commission appointed to advise the Ventura County Board of Supervisors on issues impacting women, first decided to embark on the study in 2007. Over the next few years, the group worked to secure financial backing and assistance for the study, a historic undertaking that would examine the state of women and girls throughout the county in areas including health, safety, education, economics and quality of life, and provide recommendations for improving their future outlook and opportunities.

As VCCW looked for cost-effective ways to make the report a reality, they turned to Downey, who eagerly accepted the task as an ideal learning and community service opportunity for his students.

“The students clearly took ownership of the project,” said Downey, also faculty director of CI’s Center for Community Engagement. “They were inspired by the goal and because of that, they were motivated to work harder on it and to invest more time and energy far beyond what they would for a regular class. They learned about research – and about working in a professional manner with the community – in a way that would have been impossible in the classroom alone.”

The final report, released by VCCW earlier this year, revealed that despite living in a “paradise on Earth,” Ventura County women face significant barriers to success, health and safety. It relied heavily on the research and analysis of secondary data provided by the CI students.

Mia de Paula, who worked on the report as a Capstone student and as a consultant after graduating in 2011, said the knowledge that her work would help future generations of women was inspiring. De Paula’s presentation of the students’ preliminary research before the Ventura County Community Foundation resulted in $20,000 in funding for the report.

“It’s a great feeling to be able to help people in your community and make a difference as a sociology student,” said de Paula, now working as a social media and consumer insights manager at DocAquarium in Malibu. “I felt that the data I was collecting was really important because it highlighted a lot of inequalities in the county that people weren’t aware of. With sociology, you try to use your research to do good for the masses and help as many people as you can.”

“The students’ contribution will have unknown long-term benefits to the women and families of Ventura County,” said Diana Goodrow, Co-Chair of the Committee on the Status of Women & Girls Study and also an Officer on the VCCW Executive Committee. “The findings of this study will inform the work of all the groups whose mission is to improve the lives of women. We are grateful for the partnership with CSU Channel Islands.”

Service learning and community engagement are defining components of a CI education. CI has earned national recognition for its commitment to serving the community on the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for four consecutive years. During the 2011-2012 academic year, more than 1,900 CI students participated in over 24,000 hours of community service. The University offered 40 courses that engaged nearly 1,300 students in service learning, while contributing an estimated economic benefit of $580,000 to Ventura County. Students serve the community in projects ranging from coastal monitoring and watershed protection to and tutoring disadvantaged students in math and science.

“There is a lot of discussion these days about the value of higher education – and when we see projects like this where students work so closely with the community to address important issues and needs, we’re seeing some of the most valuable examples of what a university has to offer and how it contributes to better lives for all of us,” said Downey.

For additional information contact Dr. Dennis Downey, Associate Professor of Sociology and Faculty Director of CI’s Center for Community Engagement, at dennis.downey@csuci.edu. Read the VCCW report at http://vccw.net/ or contact VCCW at info@vccw.net.

# # #

About California State University Channel Islands
CSU Channel Islands (CI) is the only four-year, public university in Ventura County and is known for its interdisciplinary, multicultural and international perspectives, and its emphasis on experiential and service learning. CI's strong academic programs focus on business, sciences, liberal studies, teaching credentials, and innovative master's degrees. Students benefit from individual attention, up-to-date technology, and classroom instruction augmented by outstanding faculty research. CI has been designated by the U.S. Department of Education as a Hispanic-Serving Institution and is committed to serving students of all backgrounds from the region and beyond. Connect with and learn more about CI by visiting CI's Social Media.