How scholars conduct time-sensitive research at warp speed

The Understanding America Study, created and managed by the USC Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research, enables scholars at USC and other institutions to quickly take the pulse of the country.
ByMeredith McGroarty

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, government officials, scientists, researchers and the world at large were scrambling to understand (and contain) the virus. But some scholars were already turning their attention to how the crisis was affecting nearly every other facet of life, including the mental health of youth, children’s education, and small businesses.

One tool proved particularly useful for researchers to quickly gather and synthesize nationally representative data related to the pandemic’s impact: the Understanding America Study (UAS), based at the Center for Economic and Social Research (CESR) at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

“By the end of March 2020 we were already surveying parents about their children’s educational experience,” says Anna Saavedra, behavioral scientist at CESR, whose research was widely reported by news media. Findings from this and subsequent surveys were reported under the banner of the Understanding Coronavirus in America study, a tracking survey that ran bi-weekly through June 2022 and every four months since. Findings from the survey have been cited frequently by national news media and policymakers.

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