It turns out that 11 o’clock on a Friday night is the perfect time to do some research.

For the past year and a half, Illinois State senior Katie Karas has burned the midnight oil for her study of the University’s Up Late at State program, which offers late-night events to give students an alternative to consuming alcohol. Karas and the other student, staff, and faculty researchers on the project have been asking those who attend Up Late events all sorts of questions: Why did you come? If you skipped it, would you be drinking instead? Did you consume alcohol after the event?

Their answers—in surveys, interviews, and focus groups—are the foundation of ongoing research into the effectiveness of the Up Late alcohol alternative program. That research, which is attracting national attention, is also winning praise because it’s a collaboration between Illinois State’s faculty and those in the Division of Student Affairs, which oversees student life and programming such as Up Late.

Students at Up Late's Casino Royale event

Illinois State students attend Up Late’s Casino Royale event in 2014 at the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center in nearby Uptown Normal.

The project has also sparked a passion for research among undergraduate students, including Karas, who began the project as part of their Needs Assessment in Health Education class (HSC 286) in the Department of Health Sciences.

“This experience really, really made me realize I am really passionate about prevention of alcohol abuse,” said Karas, a community health education major. “I feel so grateful to have the opportunity to grow closer with my professors and do something that was a little out of the norm.”

Up Late launched in 2011 to give students an alternative to drinking, and the Dean of Students Office wanted to know if it was working. At the same time, Assistant Professor Jackie Lanier ’96 wanted to revamp her Needs Assessment in Health Education class in spring 2014 by adding hands-on projects.

Working in a team environment that’s so common in real-world community health programs, Karas and her group partners built, collected, and analyzed nearly 2,000 completed surveys collected at 13 Up Late events. They partnered with project co-leader Julia Broskey, the student activities and involvement specialist in the Dean of Students Office who oversees Up Late.

“That has been one of the biggest outcomes, knowing there are opportunities to collaborate with Student Affairs. It can be a win-win for everyone involved.”
—Jackie Lanier

The student researchers loved the experience, Lanier said.

“It was such a benefit to our students that we started talking about where to go next,” she said.

The class ended in May 2014, but Karas and then-graduate student Amanda Papinchock ’13, M.S. ’15, continued their research independently. (Another ISU student, senior health education major Nicole Jones, later took over as volunteer coordinator for the project.) Adding in focus groups and interviews, here were their findings:

  • Most Up Late attendees are white, female, and freshmen or sophomores.
  • The biggest draw for the events is free food, giveaways, or the activities offered, such as neon dance parties, casino nights, make-your-own stuffed animals, and movie nights.
  • Only 9 percent of attendees said they consumed alcohol after leaving an Up Late event.
  • Of the 5,000 students who attended Up Late events in spring 2014 and fall 2015 and were tracked, only four were cited with an alcohol violation by 6 a.m. the following day.

“That (number of violations) is extremely low,” said Broskey. “We’re seeing that it’s been very successful.”

Student at Last Blast

Students at the Last Blast event in April co-hosted by Up Late at State and UPB.

The assessment is already giving Illinois State staff insight into how to reduce alcohol abuse and subsequent issues such as alcohol violations, crime, and violence. The students’ findings have already shaped the type of events being offered in the spring 2016 semester in hopes of drawing out new students who don’t normally attend Up Late events, such as student-athletes and fraternity and sorority members.

Meanwhile, the partnership between Student Affairs staff and their academic colleagues grows. Lanier, along with Christy Bazan ’93 from the Health Sciences faculty, have completed or started work on separate studies into Family Weekend attendees and the sleep habits of on-campus residents.

“There are a lot of offshoots related to this Up Late project,” said Bazan.

Added Lanier: “That has been one of the biggest outcomes, knowing there are opportunities to collaborate with Student Affairs. It can be a win-win for everyone involved.”

The Up Late research is ongoing, but its findings so far have already been presented at several conferences, including the American Public Health Association and NASPA regional.

Broskey, Lanier, and Bazan are working together on a major academic article for submission to a peer-review journal, as well as a shorter “white paper” for submission to the National Association for Campus Activities (NACA). The project received NACA’s Advancing Research in Campus Activities grant in 2015.

For Karas, her time-intensive leadership role in the research will be useful in other ways. She’s now completing an internship at a Naperville-based substance abuse prevention group, and she thinks her Up Late project will give her another experience to tout as she job-hunts before her December graduation.

“I think I’m now much better prepared because of this project. I’ve already done work in the field,” she said. “I feel very confident that when I show future employers this, it’ll be very helpful in my career.”

Ryan Denham can be reached at