Washington, DC – In recognition of their extraordinary community outreach initiatives, four member universities of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) have been selected as regional winners of the 2018 W.K. Kellogg Foundation Community Engagement Scholarship Award. As regional winners, Ball State University, University of Florida, Texas Tech, and Virginia Tech will represent and compete for the national C. Peter Magrath Community Engagement Scholarship Award, which will be announced during the APLU Annual Meeting November 11-13 in New Orleans, Louisiana.
The C. Peter Magrath Community Engagement Scholarship Award includes a sculpture and $20,000 prize. The three other regional winners will each receive a cash prize of $5,000.
Since 2007, APLU and the Engagement Scholarship Consortium, with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, have partnered to honor the engagement, scholarship, and partnerships of four-year public universities. The award recognizes programs that demonstrate how colleges and universities have redesigned their learning, discovery, and engagement missions to become even more involved with their communities. The national award, which includes a sculpture and $20,000 prize, is named for C. Peter Magrath, APLU president from 1992 to 2005. The three other regional winners will each receive a cash prize of $5,000 to further their engagement work.
The community engagement awards also include a class of exemplary designees. In addition to the regional winners, four exemplary designees are recognized for their outstanding efforts. Those institutions — Cornell University; Kansas State University; the University of North Carolina Wilmington; and Pennsylvania State University — will be showcased at the 2018 Engagement Scholarship Consortium’s Annual Conference in October.
“Community engagement is at the heart of public universities’ mission,” said APLU President Peter McPherson. “We congratulate this year’s Magrath Award finalists and exemplary designees. What sets their community engagement efforts apart is their exceptional partnerships with community organizations to identify, address, and overcome challenges facing their regions.”
A team of community engagement professionals judged this round of the award. A second team will pick the national winner following presentations at the 2018 National Engagement Scholarship Conference in September.
Ball State University
Ball State University’s Schools within the Context of Community (SCC) program takes a unique approach to teacher education to help prepare culturally responsive and community-engaged teachers. Launched in 2009 as a partnership between Ball State and Whitely Neighborhood of Muncie, SCC immerses education students in low-income, predominately African-American communities where they’re matched with community mentors who educate student-teachers on the community’s values and strengths. As part of the initiative, Ball State faculty designed a research agenda examining the impact of community-engaged teacher preparation on aspiring teachers, children, and the wider community. Researchers working on the project have produced 12 peer-reviewed research papers, a co-authored book, and a wide array of national presentations – all while leveraging over $3 million in funding to support programming for children in the community. Working with community partners, the program has helped prepare nearly 200 culturally-responsive, equity-focused future teachers.
University of Florida
The University of Florida’s Healthy Gulf, Healthy Communities (HGHC) worked to address human health effects of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in Gulf Coast communities throughout Alabama and Florida. Active from 2010 to 2017, the project combined community-based research, laboratory research, and community outreach efforts. The project helped ameliorate the psychological impacts of the oil spill, build community resiliency, and address contamination of local seafood. Heavily dependent on tourism and fishing, the oil spill threatened to wreak havoc on affected communities – which were among the region’s poorest before the spill. Partnering with community stakeholders, the university determined unmet community needs and developed research initiatives that led to useful programs for residents. Researchers also followed 260 residents for five years, tracking the psychological effects of the oil spill and publishing recommendations for future relief efforts – focusing on financial literacy and strengthening of community-based programs to address substance abuse. Another set of researchers examined the role of social networks in disaster recovery with the aim of improving post-disaster recovery programs.
Working under a U.S. Department of Education grant with more than 75 regional partners, Texas Tech’s East Lubbock Promise Neighborhood project has revitalized one of the poorest and most under-served regions in the state and region. Using a community-action research model, Texas Tech formulated evidence-based solutions that empower the community to increase its long-term health, safety, and economic well-being. East Lubbock faces a variety of challenges, including endemic poverty, high rates of child abuse and child delinquency, and a low rate of college attendance. To increase educational attainment, the project’s early learning initiative provided 62,000 children and families with after-school enrichment programs in music, art, nutrition, and cooking in 2017 alone. High school graduation rates in the area have increased dramatically – from 67 percent in 2013 to 93 percent in 2017. The program also provides free support for adults aiming to obtain their GED, enroll in vocational training, or take continuing education classes. Documenting and analyzing the variety of the program’s components, the Promise Neighborhood project has resulted in over 11 peer-reviewed publications, two dissertations, and important changes to curriculum for teacher preparation programs.
For nearly a decade, Virginia Tech faculty, students, and community partners worked together to analyze drinking water to ensure it meets safety standards. The Virginia Tech Water Study Research Team has discovered and disclosed harmful levels of lead in drinking water in several communities across the country – including Durham and Greenville, North Carolina; Flint, Michigan; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Washington, DC. After identifying regions with contaminated drinking water, the 45-member team collaborates with community stakeholders to solve problems that are leading to contaminated drinking water. In 2015, Flint faced an increased incidence of childhood poisoning and one of the worst outbreaks of Legionnaire’s disease in U.S. history. Helping oversee a citizen-science effort of Flint community members, the effort tested 800 water samples at 277 homes across the city. Virginia Tech researchers also sampled water in hospitals and businesses for heavy metals, dangerous chemicals, and pathogens and published their findings. The coalition of Flint organizations and Virginia Tech researchers ultimately led to the exposure of lead contamination and misconduct by the State of Michigan and the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Building on these efforts, the research team coordinated extensive outreach – including phone calls, letters, and press conferences – to educate the population about the imminent health threat posed by Flint drinking water. The revelation of contaminated drinking water led to corrective action by the state of Michigan and hundreds of millions in emergency federal support.
Cornell University’s Rust to Green (R2G) community university partnership is aimed at fostering community development and urban resilience in New York State’s rust belt cities. The effort, established in 2010, is working to restore prosperity and establish environmentally friendly futures for Utica and Binghamton. In Utica, the initiative has aimed to revitalize the community by creating new spaces and revitalizing neighborhoods. The effort secured $5 million in state and federal funding for community development projects in Utica – the creation of two new city parks, the launch of community gardens, and remediation in distressed areas. The Binghamton efforts, meanwhile, have focused on flood resiliency and community-based decision-making. A $200,000 grant supported community-engaged learning centering on flood resilience and sustainable development. At both sites, Cornell students can undertake summer-long R2G Civic Fellowship to help work on the projects.
University of North Carolina Wilmington
The University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Recreation Therapy facility provides adaptive, accessible, and affordable recreation and exercise programs to underserved populations in the region. The push to create the facility was born out of an American Journal of Public Health study identifying Wilmington as one of 20 metro areas with the highest prevalence of disability and a significant body of research showing that individuals with disabilities are less likely to exercise and face higher mortality rates. The project works to eliminate barriers to health and wellness for individuals with disabilities while providing opportunities for applied learning and scholarship. The facility is result of a partnership with the non-profit ACCESS of Wilmington. It has served 13,000 children, 50,000 adults, and 10,000 veterans with disabilities across six counties in southeastern North Carolina. The initiative has also attracted significant volunteer interest – with UNC Wilmington students, faculty, and staff providing 12,800 hours of volunteer service since 2013.
Pennsylvania State University
The Penn State Berks Center for Service Learning and Community-Based Research has facilitated academic-based university-community partnerships since it was founded in 2010. The projects under the Berks Center’s direction are as diverse as the communities they serve – ranging from addressing invasive species to combating stereotypes in the community to documenting the community’s history. To date, the center has guided 50 university-community projects. One such initiative – the Schuylkill River Trail Revitalization and Litter Reduction project – worked with a diverse array of community partners like the City of Reading Department of Public Works, the Olivet Boys and Girls Club and Reading, and the Reading School District to clean up and protect the river basin. Annually, 150-200 Reading School District students work to remove invasive species, plant native species, and disseminate educational materials – all while redeveloping a local school garden. The effort has resulted in new nature trails as well as safer and cleaner ones that already existed.
Kansas State University
Kansas State University launched its Rural Grocery Initiative in 2007 to increase rural access to healthy food and strengthen rural communities. Rural areas struggle to maintain groceries offering wholesome produce, dairy, grains, and meat. Eight percent of the country’s rural population lives in food deserts, putting them at increased risk of obesity. To strengthen rural grocers, the project has worked collaboratively with store owners to produce a common research and outreach agenda while providing technical assistance from university-based experts in a variety of fields. The Rural Grocery Initiative has facilitated the construction of new stores, helped renovate old ones, bringing healthy food to thousands of Kansas residents who previously lacked access. The project has grown to include faculty and Extension professionals representing 13 different disciplines across Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, and North Dakota. The initiative has also played a vital convening role, bringing rural grocers together to address shared challenges and opportunities facing their businesses. What’s more, researchers working on the project have presented their work before the U.S. House and Senate Hunger Caucuses as well as presenting their findings at dozens of academic conferences.