Las Vegas, N.M. — Master of social work students at New Mexico Highlands University are collecting data for a statewide alcohol and substance abuse survey that could lead to more community substance abuse prevention and treatment services.
The 15 students are administering the confidential written survey to people in San Miguel, Mora and Guadalupe Counties through the end of May. They are the only college students in the state to work on the survey. The federal Center for Substance Abuse Prevention is funding the research.
All the students were enrolled in social work professor Rey Martinez’ evaluative research course this spring semester. He is supervising their work on the study.
“The purpose of this research study is to track changes in alcohol and other drug use over time and assess community need for services,” Martinez said. “The New Mexico Behavioral Health Services Division will use the data to determine which prevention and treatment services to plan throughout the state.”
The students fanned out across the three counties with the survey, asking people to participate in places like recreation centers, senior centers, libraries, state motor vehicle offices, restaurants and other businesses.
They have until May 31 to gather the 600 completed surveys in their sample size, enter the data, and submit it to the state.
“Participation in this statewide study allows these students to experience the connection between research, policy and clinical practice in a personally meaningful way,” Martinez said. “I’m impressed with my students’ ability to engage people, obtain consent, and enter the data. They’re showing professionalism and accuracy, as well as a genuine interest in the people who provided the data. They’re doing a great job.”
Martinez said the research project gave the students an opportunity for service learning, where they give back to their community while they are still in training to be social workers.
Angel Benavidez is one of the social work students working on the research project. The 27-year-old is from Buena Vista, N.M., a small agricultural community near Mora.
“My goal is to become a social worker in mental health with juveniles or adults who have experienced substance abuse,” Benavidez said. “It was a great professional experience to administer this survey in my own community of Mora. I hope it will lead to more substance abuse services in Mora County and surrounding areas.”
Benavidez has conducted research as both an undergraduate and graduate student at Highlands. She said the more research she does, the more she realizes how important research is in identifying social problems and possible clinical solutions.
“Dr. Martinez is an awesome professor at teaching research methods,” Benavidez said. “He’s always willing to guide you through the research concepts and content in a very patient, supportive way. I’ll also be working with him this summer on an independent study that involves heroin research.”
Benavidez said the university’s social work professors are inspirational and made her want to continue her education at the graduate level.
This fall semester, the students will study the alcohol and substance abuse research findings in depth in Martinez’ advanced clinical research course. In addition, the students have been asked to present their findings to organizations like the San Miguel Health Council and the Mora Valley Community Center.
“When the students see this massive data set in the fall, they’ll know it’s about more than a spreadsheet because they collected the data. It’s about real people with real stories, some that are quite tragic,” Martinez said.