A team of Hope College researchers will be traveling to Romania next month to consider what non-governmental agencies (NGOs) in the young democratic nation can do to survive.

Dr. Roger Nemeth and Dr. Deborah Sturtevant of the college's sociology and social work faculty will lead three students to Romania later this month to begin the work.

Social services in Romania, according to the two professors, are in a time of transition. Prior to the late-1989 overthrow of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and the subsequent end of communism, such services had been provided entirely by the state. That has changed in the years since, they note, and international agencies have stepped in to help fill the void, particularly to offset the lack of available funding. Nemeth and Sturtevant believe that in the long term, Romanian agencies need to be able to stand on their own.

"We're trying to understand how these organizations can sustain themselves over time," said Sturtevant, who is a professor of sociology and social work and chairperson of the department.

"They're building up the capacity to take up these roles, and that's a relatively new thing in these emerging states," said Nemeth, a professor of sociology.

The NGO research project has grown out of contacts that Sturtevant made during two previous trips to Romania, during 1999 and 2002. In 1999 she conducted social work professional training with direct care workers and with NGO leaders, leading workshops on leadership, management, networking and collaboration. She also visited maternity hospitals and orphanages to gain a better understanding of the scope of the problem of child abandonment. In 2002, she conducted a program evaluation for a USAID/World Learning/Bethany Christian Services organization called "Healing Hands," which is a sensory stimulation program intended to reverse the harmful effects of institutionalization of young children.

The Hope research team will be interviewing the executive directors of Romanian NGOs who, Sturtevant noted, tend to be young - university curriculum in Romania for those interested in social work has developed since 1990. The group will spend most of its time in Romania's capital of Bucharest. They will also meet with university faculty in Cluj and Timisoara.

The students who are working with Nemeth and Sturtevant are Daniela Banu, a junior from Bucharest; Audra Jobin, a senior from Spring Lake; and Jeffrey Seymour, a senior from Holland. Banu, who is a mathematics, computer science and French major at the college, will help interpret, although the team members are all practicing Romanian in anticipation of the trip. Jobin and Seymour are both majors in the sociology and social work program who will help develop the research instrument and will also conduct interviews in Romania.

After spending May abroad, the group will return to the U.S. and analyze the data and ultimately report the findings.

Several campus and external programs are underwriting the current research project. Nemeth and Sturtevant have received a travel grant from the ACM/GLCA (Associated Colleges of the Midwest/Great Lakes Colleges Association). Support from the college has come from the CrossRoads Project; the Carl Frost Center for Social Science Research; a faculty development grant; and the Office of International Education.