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It’s not everyday you get to send some of your staff overseas, and it’s especially rare to get to experience a place as culturally significant as Beirut.

In May, our data scientist Bill Shi and senior statistical consultant Chris Wiesen taught a five-day workshop in Lebanon’s capital city on quantitative data analysis for the social sciences.

The workshop was co-organized with the Arab Council for the Social Sciences (ACSS), which hosted the event, and arranged by Charles Kurzman, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and co-director of the Carolina Center for the Study of the Middle East and Muslim Civilizations.

Kurzman reached out to Odum staff in the fall of last year about the possibility of organizing the workshop as part of a grant for which he is the Principal Investigator, having worked with the Institute on multiple grants in the past.

“I’ve been working with the Odum Institute for several years to bring talented social scientists to UNC from Arab universities for semester-long fellowships, and this workshop offered an opportunity to bring the Odum Institute’s expertise in methodological training to an even larger group of scholars at Arab universities, where such training is not always available,” said Kurzman on his decision to contact the Institute about sending statisticians to Beirut.

“This workshop also offered an opportunity to road-test a collaboration with the Arab Council for the Social Sciences, the preeminent social science research network in the Arab world – we hope that this will lead to future collaborations.”

Established in 2010, the ACSS is a regional non-profit organization based in Beirut. According to its mission statement, the Council is dedicated to “strengthening social science research and knowledge and production in the Arab world. By supporting researchers and academic/research institutions, the ACSS aims to contribute to the creation, dissemination, validation and utilization of social science research and to enrich public debate about the challenges facing Arab societies. The ACSS also aims to enhance the role of social science in Arab public life and inform public policy in the region.”

The workshop was advertised as an introductory series for students enrolled in graduate programs relating to the social sciences at universities in the Arab region. Twenty applicants were accepted from 11 different countries in the Middle East, including Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Qatar, Somalia, Sudan, and Syria.

Upon arrival Shi and Wiesen found that, despite the workshop being billed as introductory, some participants were very advanced, so they adjusted their content accordingly. Topics covered in the five-day series included univariate and bivariate

descriptive statistics, SPSS, multiple linear regression, the regression of nominal variables, and hypothesis testing.

Evaluations by participants were very positive, and though the workshop was designed to benefit the students, the instructors felt the value of this international collaboration as well.

“This trip to Beirut [was] not only a new teaching experience but also an amazing learning experience for me,” said Shi. “I learnt how to teach a semester-long statistics course in a very short period of time, I learnt how to work with students from dramatically different cultures, religions and academic levels, and very importantly, I gained a whole new view on the education, research and general life in the Middle East from this experience.”

“I had very pleasant interactions with the students and organizers, and what is more pleasant is to see that they start forming a small network of social science research… I am very grateful [for] this opportunity.”

For more information on the ACSS, please visit http://www.theacss.org/.

For more information on Charles Kurzman, please visit http://kurzman.unc.edu/.

For more information on our quantitative analysis consulting and services, please visit https://odum.unc.edu/research-support/quantitative-analysis/.
 
 
 

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