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NMSU to unveil new Southwest Survey Research Center this semester

New Mexico State University's College of Health and Social Services has named Joe Tomaka as its new associate dean for research.

CHSS Associate Dean of Research Joe Tomaka poses inside the Southwest Survey Research Center at NMSU. The center is expected to provide services such as questionnaire design, sampling, data collection and statistical analysis for telephone, mail and Internet services, as well as interviewing and Spanish/English translation.

Born and raised in Buffalo, N.Y., Tomaka previously worked at UTEP for 18 years. He will lead the development and operational phase of the Southwest Survey Research Center at NMSU.

"The facility has been in development over the last couple of years," he said. "We're moving into the operational phase. The purpose of the center is to assist researchers and be a resource for the university and the community."

The center, which is housed inside the Health and Social Services Annex, will provide services such as questionnaire design, sampling, data collection and statistical analysis for telephone, mail and Internet services, as well as interviewing and Spanish/English translation.

"What we noticed is that - not just within the university, but in the state of New Mexico - agencies are going to research companies that are out of state, even to the East Coast, to get surveys done," Tomaka said. "We thought, 'Wouldn't it be terrific if we could complete that work right here at NMSU as part of our land-grant mission to serve not just students, but the entire state of New Mexico?'"

Most of the surveys are expected to address health-related issues, but the services the center provides will not be limited to the health community. Tomaka said he anticipates SSRC will be a hub for an array of clients, including researchers in political science, business and marketing.

"Any area where you need the input, advice and what people in the community are thinking and what they believe, is an area for survey research," he said, adding that SSRC is expected to open later this semester and will be staffed by students. The center also has an academic mission.

"Part of the mission is to work with students to cultivate their skills, and provide them with opportunities to learn about survey research.

"This is meant to be a comprehensive center. We can do all kinds of surveys and focus groups. We are here to assist researchers with all aspects of the design of surveys."

Tomaka's other responsibilities will include teaching graduate-level courses, as well as assisting faculty and students with all phases of research. His goal is to boost the research profile of the entire college, and help community agencies.

"We have a history of excellent teaching and some research funding at NMSU," he said. "Helping faculty become more productive in the research side of their job is something I hope to accomplish."

As an associate professor at UTEP, Tomaka taught courses in research methodology, applied statistics and health behavior. He cited working with students as one of the highlights of his tenure at the school, especially students earning master's and doctoral degrees.

"Many of those students were the first in their families to go to graduate school, so that was particularly rewarding," he said.

His own background, he explained, is in social and health psychology. He has studied brief interventions for motivating individuals to make lifestyle changes - research he said he will continue.

His interests include stress and coping, with an emphasis in stress reactions and health outcomes, interventions to reduce use of alcohol by college students and communities, and weight management practices, such as assessing the different ways people try to manage their weight.

Before his tenure at UTEP, Tomaka spent almost two years teaching at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand.

"It was gorgeous, a sheer beauty of mountains, coasts and wildlife, but it was a long way from home. We were roughly 17 hours ahead of local time. I remember watching the Super Bowl early Monday afternoon local time in New Zealand," he said, laughing.

Tomaka's wife, Rebecca Palacios, is also an NMSU professor in CHSS. The couple has two daughters; one studying economics, the other a graduate student in speech language pathology in El Paso.

"We are excited to have Joe with us, and anticipate that his leadership of the survey research center and in the area of research will be a great benefit to our faculty, the college and the community," said Donna Wagner, CHSS associate dean for academics.

"It's been a smooth transition," Tomaka said of his professional move to NMSU. "It's been challenging and exciting. This position was a real opportunity to move from being a faculty member to part of the administration. It's a lot of additional responsibilities. I hope to help others build their skills and capabilities.

"I am enjoying the culture and atmosphere of the campus," he said. "I'm really looking forward to launching the Southwest Survey Research Center."

To learn more about the Southwest Survey Research Center, contact Tomaka at tomaka@nmsu.edu.