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Mellon Grant Sends Sociology Professor to China

Photo credit: Ariana Stone

This summer, sociology professor Chenyang Xiao received a Mellon grant from the College of Arts and Sciences to teach a quantitative methods course at China’s Renmin University.

The course explored structural equation modeling—a quantitative method used by a variety of disciplines, including political science, sociology, psychology, economics, and business. In the case of sociology, structural equation modeling can be used to help measure complicated concepts, such as attitudes towards the environment. Xiao’s main research interests include environmental beliefs, attitudes, behaviors, and public opinions over environmental issues. In determining a person’s environmental attitudes, it’s necessary to ask a series of questions. Structural equation modeling can help gauge what that person’s overall attitude is based on their answers to the individual questions.

Xiao primarily taught the course in English, except for some concepts that were difficult to explain in the students’ non-native language.

“When you’re dealing with highly specialized topics, if you teach in English, it’s very difficult for the students to grasp what you’re talking about,” says Xiao. “I had to step in and do real-time translation. A lot of words and phrases are really hard to translate.”

Another purpose of Xiao’s trip was to begin the formative stage of a future research project. Xiao plans to conduct a survey of Chinese and American college students and compare their attitudes toward global warming. Ideally, the Chinese students will be from Renmin University; Xiao spent some of his time this summer talking to university officials about the project and getting their consent to conduct the research.

“What I expect to find is that in the United States, the majority of students will believe that global warming is happening and that we need to do something about it,” says Xiao. “But in China, you won’t see that. They may think that maybe global warming exists but it’s not nearly as urgent as we feel it is over here. It will be good to see some solid data that will show the differences between the two countries.”