This summer, I worked on a project entitled “How Do Bronx Residents View Their Natural Surroundings?” with Dr. Toomey. My goal was to gain further insight into how Bronx residents view their urban surroundings in terms of nature and wildlife through park surveys and interviews. At first, I helped the Gotham Coyote Project maintain cameras in Van Cortlandt Park. This allowed me to become more familiar with the advances in research the Gotham Coyote Project has made, so that I could relay relevant information to local residents. After deploying cameras, I conducted short surveys of Van Cortlandt Park park goers and interviewed Riverdale/Kingsbridge residents. Through this research, I was able to learn more about the nuances in opinions of wildlife and nature in the area, how educated residents were on their local environment, and spread education through direct community engagement.
At first, I decided to focus on collecting surveys in the park and using “snowball sampling” to find qualifying interviewees. However, it soon became apparent to me that this method wasn’t feasible for a project with a shorter time frame. By speaking with a local community member, I was made aware of the fact that most neighborhoods have private Facebook pages where residents can interact. As a Riverdale resident, I was able to join my community Facebook page and directly engage with community members. Using social media as a means of recruitment was very successful as many residents reached out to me to indicate their interest in being interviewed.
To analyze the responses I received from my interviews, I used qualitative coding. This method was appropriate for my research as my data came in the form of interview transcripts. When coding, I first read through all of my transcripts as a whole. I then went through each transcript one by one and color coded words and phrases with negative and positive connotations. From that, I was able to look at the transcripts again and made notes of themes. This allowed me to create larger categories from the themes, and see how often they appeared in responses.
Originally we aimed to collect 5-10 interviews. At this point, I have interviewed 6 people in total, which is a huge accomplishment. Each interview consisted of 17 questions and took roughly 30 minutes to complete. After completing the survey, interviewees had the opportunity to ask me any questions they had in regards to coyotes in the Bronx.
Throughout my interview transcripts, the themes that appeared most often in my transcripts were habitat, distance, animalistic, curiosity, and safety. I coded for habitat whenever responses indicated or mentioned resources, human development, the state of the environment, and wildlife protection. I coded for distance whenever responses mentioned keeping coyotes away from humans, avoiding interaction, and leaving coyotes alone. Animalistic was a code I used for responses that discussed what people perceived to be the natural and uncontrollable tendencies of coyotes to hunt and exhibit other predatory behaviors. When responses indicated a lack of knowledge in regards to coyote ecology or interactions, I coded them under the theme of curiosity. Finally, when responses mentioned awareness or feelings of fear or threat in regards to coyotes, I coded them under the theme of safety.
Overall, I had a very positive experience with this program and research. It exposed me to a different side of scientific study that I’m less familiar with. The combination of bad weather, language barriers, and many New Yorkers’ avoidance of people armed with clipboards and questions made it difficult to find park goers and Riverdale/Kingsbridge residents to participate in this study. However, this program gave me a greater understanding of the challenges that can arise when doing research in the social sciences and how one can adapt. My mentor has helped me in recognizing my strengths as a researcher and a person, and using them to my advantage. She has also helped me in learning how to be independent from a research perspective, how to build upon previous research effectively, and how I can use my strengths to guide me down a career path I will enjoy. I have also learned a great deal about research ethics and how to do qualitative coding this summer. This project was the first time that I have ever used qualitative coding and I now have a great appreciation for the usefulness of this research method. Finally, this project and my mentor has made me incredibly interested in the social science field.