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Research Notes

Enigma + Puzzle = Teen Culture in an Algebra Class
Lynda Stone


Herbie Meets Hal — Computer Behind the Wheel
Mahlon Heller


Exposing Horror of Human Trade
Xin Ren


New Professor Investigates COPS
Ricky Gutierrez


ID Strategy Gets Under the Skin
Ruth Ballard


Help for Caregivers
Cheryl Osborne


California’s Poverty ‘Time Bomb’
Robert Mogull



Enigma + Puzzle = Teen Culture in an Algebra Class
Lynda Stone


Lynda StoneSac State child development professor Lynda Stone often plays anthropologist. Twice a week, Stone treks to a Sacramento middle school to observe young American teens in their native habitat. She’s trying to understand how they work in classroom groups and, specifically, if doing so helps them learn algebra better.

It’s a project of long-term interest to an emerging group of educators seeking to understand classroom culture with hopes of helping teachers create better learning environments. But her work has more immediate implications in California.

Here, students who hope to graduate from high school are now required to pass algebra, a notoriously difficult subject. That’s made a good number of students—and adults with long memories —cringe. And educators are hoping group work will help meet the challenge.

“We don’t have nearly enough understanding about what is going on in these groups, or how to make them more effective in teaching,” Stone says. “We need to know more.”

So Stone sits and watches groups of students at work. Her camera records them on videotape. Wireless microphones catch the conversations. She pulls students aside for individual interviews.

Stone is far from completing her study, but her work so far is tantalizing. It suggests some students benefit from “copying” and that seemingly useless “chit chat” can actually help students use life experiences to solve problems. Stone also says student groups seem to mimic class norms—such as expectations of being helpful.

With additional grant funding, Stone plans to expand her analysis to other classes and even to playgrounds and neighborhoods in which students live. She envisions a small army of graduate students doing the same type of fieldwork she’s now doing.

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Herbie Meets Hal Computer Behind the Wheel
Mahlon Heller

Mahlon HellerComputers that think remain the futuristic vision of sci-fi buffs. But a computer that can drive. . . that’s another story.

A team of Sac State engineering students, under the direction of professor Mahlon Heller, have designed and built a computer-operated driverless “shadow vehicle” for use in protecting highway maintenance operations.

The prototype, called the Autonomous Shadow Vehicle, may someday save the lives of highway construction workers. The unoccupied vehicle is designed to replace the human-driven trucks that follow Caltrans repair trucks engaged in low-speed operations like sweeping or paint striping.

Today, shadow trucks act as buffers on freeways to prevent drivers from rear- ending maintenance vehicles. Unfortunately, highway drivers often hit the shadow vehicles instead. Every year, shadow truck drivers are killed or seriously injured.

The Autonomous Shadow Vehicle is actually part of a two-truck package of lead vehicle and shadow vehicle. The shadow vehicle is an imposing four-ton diesel, with a battery of computers and sensors on board. It is designed to absorb the first impact if a car hits it from behind. A four-wheel drive truck with a litany of tracking equipment mounted on the back is used as the lead vehicle.

The Autonomous Shadow Vehicle automatically follows the lead maintenance vehicle at 20 to 100 feet. It can move up to 40 mph while tracking a lead vehicle such as a paint striper.

The project was funded by a nearly $700,000 grant from Caltrans, along with support from the state of Minnesota and the Federal Highway Administration.

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Exposing Horror of Human Trade
Xin Ren

More than 100,000 people have been sold as wives, sons or daughters in China since 1980. Young girls are lured away with the promise of jobs. Poor parents sell their child.

It’s a harrowing trade and Xin Ren, a Sac State criminal justice professor, is helping lead a United Nations Children’s Fund effort to stop it. Her work is part of a global campaign by the U.N.


Ren recently spent several months in her native China, helping UNICEF and Chinese police develop prevention strategies and evaluating past efforts. She interviewed victims, traffickers, social workers and police detectives across China.

“Trafficking of women and children is a devastating human tragedy,” Ren says. “There are some savage and outrageous stories, and some heroes in rescuing victims from the misery.”

Police officers told her of a 13-year-old girl sold as the shared wife of three brothers. She heard of a couple that employed a whole village in a baby trafficking operation. Ren also met a railway police officer who had arrested more than 130 traffickers and rescued nearly 100 women.

Ren says China has become intent on doing away with the problem, launching crackdown campaigns five times since 1991.

But trafficking women is not merely a crime problem, Ren says, it is also social and economic.

Rural populations in China have historically accepted the selling of brides. Most of the victims are poor and uneducated. Finally, the old custom of continuing the family name with male offspring remains important in rural China, and restrictive family planning has put this tradition under siege.

Selling wives was formally made illegal in China in 1950, but buying a wife was not criminalized until 1991. Now, buying an underage wife (younger than 14) gets life in prison or the death penalty.

During an early, tentative effort to stop the trafficking, many police rescue officers were attacked by townspeople defending men who had purchased a wife.

A Chinese victim shortly after rescueRen says the government’s education campaign has helped. In the most recent crackdown that began in early 2000, there haven’t been such attacks on police. And in recent years, Chinese police have managed to rescue thousands of women and children.

Ren says the men who purchase wives are often physically or mentally disabled, or over the typical marriage age. Many are too poor to afford the traditional Chinese rural wedding (US$1,200 to $5,000 compared to the US$500 to $1,000 it costs to buy a wife).

Ren also says many women don’t see being rescued as in their best interest. As many as 75 percent of women sold as brides turn down a chance to be rescued. Being rescued might mean losing a child a woman had with the man who bought her and being ostracized in her home village.

And Chinese police don’t have the resources to give the women more than one chance. The case is closed if the woman refuses the first rescue attempt.

As for traffickers, Ren says that most live a hard life without ever making the fortune they had sought. Many are drug or alcohol addicts, compulsive gamblers or prostitutes.

Among Ren’s recommendations to UNICEF are better education and early prevention. In China, Ren says, more than 20 percent of women living in urban areas and 40 percent in economically disadvantaged regions are illiterate, and poor education makes a woman more likely to be a trafficking victim. “There are some savage and outrageous stories, and some heroes in rescuing victims from the misery.”

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New Professor Investigates COPS
Ricky Gutierrez

Ricky Gutierrez In 1994, Congress and President Clinton promised 100,000 new police officers on America’s streets by 2000. Their plan, they said, would jumpstart community oriented policing services (COPS), an approach that stresses neighborhood foot patrols, school-based officers, community meetings and the like.

It was a lofty goal, and one backed by $7.6 billion in federal matching funds.

But seven years later, the big question has yet to be answered: Did it work?

That’s what Ricky Gutierrez, a new CSUS professor of criminal justice, is assessing.

He’s armed with a comprehensive set of statistics on the topic, which he painstakingly compiled. The database includes census data, civic involvement surveys, reports from local law enforcement agencies, and funding information.

Gutierrez wants to know which agencies received grant funding and where crime rates dropped, why some areas are more accepting of COPS efforts, and whether there was gender or racial bias in the programs. The first of numerous papers will be completed next year.

“This bill was an effort to change the police force, to recreate the bond between officers and law-abiding citizens that was lost with the advent of the police car,” Gutierrez says. “What I want to find out is whether we’re moving to more community- oriented policing, or if we’re just subsidizing more of the same old approach.”

Gutierrez has doubts that the program met its goal of 100,000 new officers, though official data is not yet available. More importantly, he frets that most police agencies still aren’t sold on COPS.

“I think that when the money runs out, if it isn’t renewed in some way, then community policing will fall by the wayside. Local agencies, by and large, won’t keep the programs running,” he says.

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ID Strategy Gets Under the Skin
Ruth Ballard


Ruth BallardIn the shadow of Africa’s tallest mountain, Mt. Kilimanjaro, a small tribe of Massai encountered a safari van this past January carrying two researchers from Sac State.

The researchers had a strange request. For $2 apiece, a princely sum in the desert economy, the researchers would buy a swab from inside the cheek of each tribe person. It was a simple exchange that in the long run will help solve crimes and identify individuals worldwide with greater precision at less cost.

The Massai contributions will be used by Ruth Ballard, a specialist in DNA forensic research, to add to the global understanding of DNA markers. She was accompanied by graduate research student Mary Hansen, who has worked nearly 16 years in Sacramento County Forensic Services.

Both are involved in building a DNA coding system to identify individuals. Looking for markers in a small population such as the Massai helps establish the probability and frequency measures of such markers worldwide.

In recent years, Ballard says, DNA identi- fication has become so accurate that an individual can be identified through DNA alone. “While the statisticians may say that you cannot identify one individual, really we are talking about numbers like one in a quadrillion, so that in practice, it is now a test of identity,” Ballard explains.

Ballard calls DNA an objective form of evidence, like a videotape, a record that cannot lie or change its story over time.

In England, which has an extensive DNA database, researchers have found that crime is a revolving door, Ballard explains. “The fellow arrested in the bar brawl, when tested, turns out to be a match for a rape case from years before from which there was semen, but no suspect. In this country we have more civil liberties issues and are more cautious.” But as the accuracy improves so will its uses, she predicts.

Already the database that exists is more accurate than “eye witnesses and jailhouse snitches,” and less expensive than long investigations.

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Help for Caregivers
Cheryl Osborne

Cheryl OsborneIt seems simple—don’t assume, ask. And when researchers from Sac State’s gerontology program surveyed Baby Boomer and other caregivers about caring for elderly friends or relatives, they found their assumptions turned upside down.

More than 90 caregivers from five Sacramento- area counties ranked issues that matter most in their efforts to care for a senior. Instead of more about disease or health costs, they wanted to know about staying healthy, says Cheryl Osborne, director of the gerontology program. “No one knew what caregivers in the Sacramento area want because no one had ever bothered to ask them,” Osborne says. “In this project, we are actually planning our programming and outreach based on the survey answers.”

Nationwide, about 25 percent of households are involved in caregiving for older persons.

In the Sacramento area survey, respondents said they wanted to hear about positive outcomes. Forty-seven percent wanted information on aging well, twice as many as were interested in disease.

Caregivers also wanted to know how to keep themselves healthy while involved in caregiving responsibilities. They weren’t as concerned about rising health care costs as researchers had expected. Only 24 percent thought information about financial assistance was important.

The survey results will determine the topics for 28 informational radio spots to be broadcast on Sacramento’s Capital Public Radio. Funding is from a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant. More: www.csus.edu/gero.

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California’s Poverty ‘Time Bomb’
Robert Mogull


Robert MogullThe 1990s were anything but economic boom times for Southern California’s Hispanic population, which is in danger of becoming an “immense impoverished underclass,” according to Sac State professor of business statistics Robert Mogull.

The trends, Mogull says, show an “impending economic and social disaster.” He predicts state and local policymakers in California face a daunting challenge without easy solutions.

Mogull bases his predictions on trends since 1959, using decennial census data and his own annual projections.

Since 1959, the poverty rate among greater Los Angeles area Hispanics grew from 8.8 percent to about 23 percent. Meanwhile, the Hispanic population has exploded, from 15 percent of Los Angeles County in 1970 to a projected 46 percent (4,483,000) in 2000.

Such growth is expected to continue, and Mogull predicts the Hispanic poverty rate will remain the same. The result, he says, is growing overall poverty in Los Angeles for the foreseeable future. The trend is so strong, Mogull says, that even economic gains often seen among immigrant groups would take many decades to help, at best.

“Politically and socially, I think we’re sitting on a time bomb,” Mogull says.

One silver lining for the Hispanic population, Mogull says, is that their rate of poverty is no longer rising. Roughly the same proportion live in poverty today as in 1990.

Mogull says there are several reasons likely for the persistent high poverty among Hispanics. They include increases in immigration, competition for entry-level jobs, comparatively low-level work skills, a static job market for low-skilled labor, a language barrier and a tendency to have more children than other ethnic groups.

For other groups in Los Angeles poverty has been decreasing or relatively steady since 1959. The elderly poverty rate is 16 percent, down from 26.3 percent; the female-headed families rate is 25.7 percent, down from 31.5 percent; the African American rate is 21.8 percent, down from 28 percent; the white rate is 13.8 percent, up from 11.2 percent.

The poverty level for a family of three was an annual income of $13,290 in 1999. For a family of four it was $17,029.

Mogull’s studies on the Los Angeles/ Long Beach metropolitan area were recently published in the Journal of Business and Economic Perspectives and the Journal of Sociology and Social Welfare. They utilize a statistical method of predicting poverty that Mogull has developed over the last decade.

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