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Beza honored with Massey Award


Editor's note: This is the first of four Massey Award winner profiles.

Angell Beza has worked on countless social science studies, covering topics from crime victimization to the impact of welfare reform.

And while Beza's name doesn't appear as an author on any of the studies he's worked on, legions of faculty members and graduate students he's worked with are quick to say they couldn't have done their work without Beza's expert guidance.

Beza has spent 36 years at Carolina working at the Institute for Research in Social Science. His area of expertise is helping researchers design surveys. And many a researcher credits Beza with helping them avert disaster.

Those decades of selfless service led to Beza getting a surprising message on his answering machine. Chancellor Michael Hooker called to say that Beza had won the C. Knox Massey Distinguished Service Award.

"It was a complete surprise," Beza said. "You hear about these things, but I never connected myself to winning such an award."

The late C. Knox Massey, a former Durham advertising executive who served 20 years as a University trustee, created the award in 1980. The program is supported by three generations of the Massey and Weatherspoon families.

Selfless service

To those researchers who have benefited from his help, the Massey Award is a richly deserved honor for Beza.

One of those people is Provost Richard J. Richardson, who worked with Beza in 1970 -- Richardson's first year at Carolina-- on the first statewide survey of crime victims.

"He saved the project," Richardson said. "Angell was there every day, with consistent professionalism and constant encouragement."

Richardson said that the survey involved interviews with 1,200 households, and the research team had enormous trouble getting the interviews completed. Thanks in large part to Beza's help, the project ended successfully, with numerous articles published and three graduate students using the data to complete their doctoral dissertations.

"Angell is one of the most selfless people at this University, and one of the most critical," Richardson said.

Thad Beyle, Pearsall professor of political science, has known and worked with Beza since Beyle arrived on campus in 1967. Beyle was one of many people to nominate Beza for the Massey Award.

"Angell is a professional of the first order," Beyle wrote to the Massey Award committee. "His understanding of the problems which social science researchers face is unmatched -- as are his suggestions as to how to overcome these problems."

Beyle concluded his letter with this description of Beza: "This award would be a fitting tribute to someone who has spent so much of his time helping others in their careers. This is a most worthy candidate for this award."

The committee agreed.

Institutional pillar

Beza came to Carolina in 1957 to continue his studies after graduating from Dartmouth College. Carolina's excellence in quantitative research methods drew him to Chapel Hill and excellent mentors kept him at the Institute for Research in Social Science.

Now the senior associate director, Beza has held the gamut of positions at the institute. He held a variety of graduate assistantships before 1962, when he started working at the institute full time. Since then he has held nearly every job, including supervisor of the statistical laboratory and twice being named interim director.

And while he is responsible for day-to-day operations of the institute, Beza said he has stayed because of the wide range of compelling research topics he gets to work on and the daily interactions with faculty members and fellow staffers.

"Everyone here is just top notch," he said.

Beza has seen dramatic changes during his years at the institute, especially in the ways computerization has changed social science research.

When he arrived data was still stored on punch cards.

"We had huge numbers of file cabinets filled with cards," he said.

That all changed in the late 1960s, when Carolina became a Center of Excellence for the National Science Foundation. That led to dramatic increases in computer power.

The rapid increase in computer power -- which continues today -- has meant the University now has huge data collections, including the Louis Harris Data Center, the famous bank of polling information.

"It used to be not many people would do computerized data research because so much effort was required," Beza said. "Now huge amounts of data are easily available. It's an amazing change."

Beza continues to teach courses, mainly to graduate students, on research methods. And he continues to help researchers with their projects. One of his top ongoing projects is a study of whether North Carolina counties have the capacity to administer welfare reform, the responsibility for which has been passed from the federal government to states and, in North Carolina, to the counties.

He appreciated the Massey Award not only for the recognition that comes with winning the top service award, but for the many notes it prompted from people he's worked with over the years.

"I didn't expect I would enjoy this award as much as I do," Beza said.



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