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Research Conference Participant's Topic is Rural Child Care

Published Monday, November 28, 2016

Christopher Ross
Christopher Ross

Working parents of young children understand there’s a real need in rural Minnesota for affordable, accessible child care.

There are a number of reasons why that is the case, as SMSU senior Christopher Ross found in studying the problem for his presentation at this Wednesday’s Undergraduate Research Conference.

His poster presentation is entitled “Decline of Child Care in Greater Minnesota.”

Ross is a political science major who will graduate this coming May after just three years. He took advantage of concurrent enrollment classes while at Glencoe High School and has taken full credit loads —20 credits this semester, and 18 in the spring semester — during his time at SMSU. He also took 6 credits last summer.

His child care research was the suggestion of Political Science Professor Dr. David Sturrock. ”I was struggling to find a (research) topic,” he explained. “I was going to do something on lead poisoning of eagles — I’m a huge bird fan — but that didn’t work out.”

So he dove into the rural Minnesota child care issue, finding along the way “that the average home day care provider makes about $20,000 per year, which surprised me. I thought it would be more. Then I got to thinking about it. There’s food to buy, safety updates to the home, things add up. Those who do have child care centers have rent, they pay their staff. It gets to a point where you aren’t making a lot. Some providers get out of the businesses and go to work somewhere else, where they can make more money.”

Home child care providers must limit the number of children they care for to 10, he said, and there are state regulations regarding the various ages of those under their care.

 “In Greater Minnesota, too, distance seems to be an issue,” he said. “I interviewed a single father who took his child 14 miles in the opposite direction of his work. He then drove 15 miles the other direction to work, so every day he was driving 60 miles for child care. It’s something you have to deal with in Greater Minnesota. Some have to quit their job because there aren’t enough providers.”

It’s a shortage that concerns young couples who discover they are pregnant, and immediately work their contacts to find child care once their child is born and maternity/paternity leave is over.

There’s also a bureaucratic frustration, too, said Ross, due to a myriad of state regulations and the paperwork that goes along with that.

Ross combined personal interviews with data from several Minnesota governmental websites. He said proved to be very helpful, as well as the state’s Health and Human Services website.

Now in its 11th year, the Undergraduate Research Conference will have an all-time high of 285 students representing 21 separate academic areas, said Dr. Emily Deaver, Environmental Science Professor and the originator of the event. Students will give poster presentations, or oral PowerPoint presentations.

Ross was an intern for the Nokes Law Firm in Glencoe this past summer and hopes to get into law school next year. “It was hands-on,” he said of the internship. “I learned about the process — you don’t get to see a lot of that in the classroom, as far as going into a courtroom, seeing how a case plays out. I did a few affidavits and plea petitions, and seeing how that works was a great experience. I think I’m leaning toward criminal defense,” he said.

He’d like to get into Stanford Law School, and if that doesn’t work out, the University of Iowa or George Mason.

Ross decided on SMSU late in his high school career. He enlisted in the military the summer before his senior year. He was supposed to report for basic training in July after he graduated, but he developed migraine headaches in December. “I was medically disqualified,” he said. “It was the middle of the summer and I had nowhere to go. I came to SMSU and my tour guide was Rachael Posusta (a past student body president and herself a Glencoe native). It was great to have a familiar face to connect with. I liked it right away —  it felt like home. Everyone is so nice and welcoming and open, and you can talk to anyone on campus and they are all so receiving and will listen.”

He has a sister who loves cats, but for him, it’s always been about birds. “I wanted to collect the state bird books. I have Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota. I have a lot of those Audubon Society birds, the ones you squeeze and they make their call. I can name almost every bird in Minnesota by sight.”

Ross and 284 other SMSU students are looking forward to this Wednesday, Nov. 30, when they will be able to show the results of their months of research at the Undergraduate Research Conference.

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