Campus wide

Partnership’s research benefits local companies

By Jan Joslin | December 17, 2020

Community Research Institute, launched in May, grew out of a partnership between Abbey Research and the CSU College of Business. 

Dr. David Palmer, dean of the College of Business, said the partnership came from the relationship the College of Business has with alumnus Roger Nielsen ’72, a member of the COB board of advisors. He said, “Roger’s daughter, Dr. Kristen Donnelly, and her brother, Brian Nielsen, are an integral part of their family-owned business, the Abbey Companies.”  

Dr. Erin Hinson and Dr. Kristen Donnelly of Abbey Research. Photo provided

Dr. Erin Hinson and Donnelly are social science researchers who offer consultations, workshops, and teaching engagements to a diverse range of clients discussing such topics as diversity and inclusion, conflict management, and various workplace situations. Donnelly is the founder and executive vice president of Abbey Research and also serves as COO of Abbey Companies. Hinson is vice president of research development for Abbey Research. 

Donnelly said, “As I’ve spent time on campus, and my business partner, Erin, has joined me, we started to feel a strong connection to the community at CSU. The passion of the faculty and staff to both empower students to be the best versions of themselves and to serve the local and global community aligns with our values.” 

The first research project was conducted virtually over the summer, but the long-term goal is to send interns to Philadelphia, where Abbey Companies is located, for full-summer internships. Donnelly said, “Our first project centered on COVID responses, but we learned quickly that there is significant COVID fatigue – people are just sick of talking about it to researchers!”  

Switching gears, the Community Research Institute has turned its work toward learning more about multigenerational workspaces. “The average American workspace has employees from four generations and that average is moving into five,” said Donnelly. “That is a lot of worldviews and experiences and different perspectives in one place attempting to work toward one goal.”  

Donnelly said, “For the future, we hope to continue asking questions that are relevant to business owners, community leaders, students, and the wider public, and we are absolutely open to requests. CRI is here to serve the community, and we are excited about all the different avenues that can take.” 

The Community Research Institute will provide Charleston and the Lowcountry with localized data about community opinions, behaviors, and beliefs so that organizations can make informed decisions about their futures, and neighbors can potentially understand each other better. “A lot of data quoted in studies come from national surveys conducted by multinational firms or large think tanks,” said Donnelly. “Abbey Research’s mission is to bring specific answers about specific places, and we’re excited that CSU has joined us in that vision.”  

CSU students will have the opportunity to learn to ask questions and seek answers through data-directed research. “They’ll be able to carry those skills into whatever profession they choose, serving the Kingdom however they feel called to do. Leaders are listeners, and listeners know how to ask exceptional questions. Our hope is that CRI will provide a training ground for students to do just that,” said Donnelly. 

Research summaries and in-process findings will be shared at, and students will write blogs, film videos, and disseminate the research in as many ways as possible. For up-to-date information, people can sign up for CRI’s newsletter on the website.  

Donnelly said, “Between the two of us, Dr. Hinson and I have over 20 years of research experience in a variety of fields and contexts. This has created in us both a posture of knowing how little we know and a hunger for knowledge. We’re armed with skills and training from world-class research institutions and a passion for students, and we’re honored to be able to employ both of those at a place such as Charleston Southern.” 

For more information about Abbey Research, visit 

First published in CSU Magazine, Fall 2020.

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