Community Initiated Student Engaged Research (CISER)

Community Initiated Student Engaged Research or CISER is a form of organic public sociology that brings together 3 key groups - community organizations, university researchers, and students - into collaborative research partnerships to jointly tackle critical local issues.  CISER starts by listening to our local partners, who are most knowledgeable about the needs of the local community.  Through long-term partnerships and responsiveness to local needs, CISER help construct more durable and meaningful ties between the university and the surrounding community.

Once we collaboratively hammer out our research questions, we then train a large cohort of undergraduates students through our courses on action research. Through this process, undergraduate students and faculty co-construct knowledge with community partners and at the same time gain valuable experience, important relationships, new skills, and a deeper understanding of course-based materials.

Our projects so far have explored issues such as low-wage work, mixed legal status families, the affordable housing crisis, middle school culture and climate, and youth civic engagement.

We invite you to explore some of our collaborative work presented here.

No Place Like Home

No Place Like Home focuses on the affordable rental housing crisis faced by those that work for and serve the Santa Cruz community. Our project website - - includes background research on the crisis, data from our over 1700 surveys with local renters, resources for tenants, and housing policy tools and analyses. The on-going project also engages in community-wide conversations on solutions. Our public events have featured panel discussions on such topics as: renter protections (rent control and just cause eviction); the preservation and production of more affordable housing; and de-commodified housing alternatives such as Community Land Trusts. Speakers have included local tenants and landlords, housing policy experts, affordable housing developers, and more. A wide range of community groups working on issues such as affordable and alternative housing, tenant rights and protection, emergency rental assistance, homelessness, voter registration, and housing justice have also participated, providing information about services and how you can get involved building local housing solutions for all. 

Working for Dignity

Our first CISER project, Working for Dignity aimed to collect baseline data on workers and working conditions in the low-wage sectors in Santa Cruz County.  Yet often lost in discussions of the economy are people’s own understandings of work. Thus a second major goal was to provide more than just a statistical portrait by using in-depth interviews to listen to oft-ignored voices of low-wage workers themselves. Work has long been a key source of human dignity, a central way we realize self-worth and respect. But low-wage jobs all too often leave workers struggling in poverty, exhausted or hurt, harassed and demeaned, and with few ways out or up. So is there still dignity in work? The study aimed to comprehensively assess low-wage labor, mindful that the meaning of work cannot be divorced from those who perform it.

Finally, the project also aimed to conduct outreach to low-wage workers about available services and worker rights; and build a digital, interactive archive to allow low-wage workers to share their stories of work and dignity.  That archive, and the data from the over 1200 surveys and 75 interviews with low-wage workers, and our final report can be found on our project website: