Building Community through Education, Sociability, and Shared History

A quilt square created by IPUMS/MPC staff.

Building a strong sense of community is fundamental to nurturing and sustaining successful organizations.  IPUMS and the MPC pursue three avenues—educational, social, and historical—for building community for its faculty, research associates, staff, and affiliates.

First, building, nurturing and sustaining the MPC/IPUMS community flows from engaging with other population studies professionals. These opportunities for professional engagement—in the form of seminars, workshops, blogs, and social media—are free, varied and plentiful.

The MPC Seminar Series is offered weekly throughout fall and spring semesters in the MPC seminar room at Willey Hall. Since 2004, the seminar series has provided a forum for national and international demographic scholars to meet with interested researchers, present their latest work, and receive formative feedback. In addition to receiving obvious professional rewards, presenters are awarded the coveted MPC Seminar Series mug. A selection of these seminar presentations is available on Youtube.

The MPC Workshop is a casual forum for faculty, staff and students to keep abreast of MPC data products, present work in progress, and receive training and professional development.  The workshop is held weekly in the IPUMS/MPC seminar room during fall and spring semesters.

IPUMS Data training workshops on campus offer a gateway to census and survey data addiction.  Spring 2017 offerings include training in how to use IPUMS NHGIS, IPUMS CPS, and IPUMS International data.

The IT Tech blog was conceived as a platform for IT staff to engage with IT peers across the social science community. According to IT Core Director Fran Fabrizio, “We think that there’s a leadership role to play in Social Science IT. That’s part of the reason we put our blog together. We blog there about how we solve particular problems.”

Use It For Good, the news and information blog for IPUMS and MPC, and Twitter (@minnpop, @ipums) and Facebook (Minnesota Population Center,  IPUMS) accounts share information with the broad research community of IPUMS users. Pop Posts, an email newsletter for staff, reports on local news and resources at the University.

The second main avenue for nurturing community is through social activities in spaces both inside and outside the building walls.  Brouhaha, aka Weekly Wrap-up, a casual gathering of the IPUMS/MPC community and fellow travelers, occurs weekly on Fridays throughout the year. Former history graduate student Dan Kallgren remembers the informal nature of brouhahas (which predated the formal founding of the MPC) and the weekly order for beer:  “I always sort of got the feeling that for a bunch of the other grad students, we were just these kind of freaky quant-heads who were working with Ruggles, but they certainly appreciated brouhaha!”  

Demographer and economist Deborah Levison says “I got to know more people in History than anywhere else in the University because they invited me to brouhaha … My regular Friday afternoon thing was to go and hang out with the historians at brouhaha.”  Since 2001, Matt Sobek (and occasionally others) have disseminated a wry weekly invitation to brouhaha, such as the following:

“What’s the difference between MPC and Scientology? One indoctrinates its initiates with pseudo-scientific babble while providing a warped, but oddly appealing, support structure that’s irresistible to a certain personality type.  The other was founded by L. Ron Hubbard. All staff and affiliates are welcome at the MPC Weekly Wrap-up, Fridays at 4:30 in the Willey lounge.”  

Staff outside at a summer barbeque.

Other opportunities to connect with colleagues socially include monthly BBQs from late May through August, an annual chili cook-off and charity fundraiser, the Yearly Wrap Meeting in December (with teams vying to win the annual trivia contest), and the Tuesday lunchtime knitting group (with quilters, crocheters and embroiderers also welcome). The “textile core” has organized crafting special occasion quilts for demographic events like births and becoming president of PAA. Seasoned quilters guide the less seasoned (i.e., those unfamiliar with the wonders of the rotary cutter and sewing machine) in creating a quilt square. These social events and activities are attended by a cross section of the MPC/IPUMS community and serve to build relationships beyond work tasks.

For those who prefer more physically exacting socializing, there are wellness challenges (miles walked, steps climbed, bike and pedestrian commutes, planking, and so on, with results quantified in spreadsheets), summer softball (no skill required), yoga relaxation and stretching sessions, and, recently, the Twin Cities 10K Corporate Challenge.

Lastly, IPUMS and the MPC are fostering strong community ties through a shared knowledge of its institutional history. New employees hear a presentation from Steven Ruggles on the history of IPUMS and the MPC and how its work fits into the larger architecture of social science infrastructure. “State of the Center” addresses connect individuals’ work with the larger whole of data integration projects.  Annual Outstanding Service Awards allow staff to nominate their colleagues and publicize the winners’ innovative and exceptional contributions to the MPC and IPUMS enterprises. A planned archival display with rotating exhibits will soon provide a visual representation of the IPUMS/MPC story.

Story by Diana Magnuson.