2018 Cohort, Community Conversations Research Competition

In 2018, the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) awarded 16 research grants to 18 different institutions of higher education and their community partners in the Community Conversations research competition. The cohort represents researchers from institutions of higher education that work with and in local communities to use a participatory research approach to:

  • actively engage residents and other local stakeholders in a research process,
  • identify a local issue of concern to the community,
  • understand what may facilitate or hinder participation to address the issue, and
  • create a collaborative action plan to increase civic engagement and build relationships to tackle the community-identified issue.

Click on each grantee’s name to learn more about their CNCS funded research.

Carleton College

Principal Investigators: Dr. Anita Chikkatur, Professor and Chair of Education Department, Carleton College, and Dr. Amel Gorani, Director of the Center for Community and Civic Engagement, Carleton College

Community Partners: Faibault Public Schools, Somali Community Resettlement Services, Community Without Borders

Title: Participatory Action Research on Rural Secondary Education: Experiences of Diverse Students, Parents, and Teachers

In an effort to promote inclusivity, Carleton College's Community Conversations project facilitates conversations about race, gender, class, and privilege, what makes for a healthy community, and the ways the community falls short of its aspirations.

As a 2018 National Service and Civic Engagement Competition grantee through CNCS, Carleton College and its community partners are conducting research on a rural community with rapidly growing Latinx and Somali populations. This research hopes to understand the experiences of Latinx and Somali high school students and their parents as well as white teachers with the Faribault school system. This project will use participatory action research (PAR) to empower these students and their parents to document their experiences with the Faribault public school system, and to equip teachers to conduct parallel PAR research on teaching Somali and Latinx students.

While anticipated outcomes are unknown, Carleton researchers seek to:

  • Collect more data about specific aspects of education in Faribault
  • Create more PAR groups to advance the research in specific directions
  • Recommend specific policies to policy and decision-makers, from high school or school district administrators to the school board and city council
  • Convene public meetings, dialogues, town halls, or other events to share findings, test recommendations, and gather additional information
  • Develop strategies to address key challenges facing Somali and Latinx students, their parents, and their teachers
  • Produce materials that present research findings and recommendations that are appealing

Additional Resources:

Drew University

Principal Investigators: Dr. Kesha Moore and Dr. Susan Rakosi Rosenbloom, Drew University, Department of Sociology

Community Partner: Alicia Alvarez and Crystal Rodriguez, community researchers

Title: Neighbors in Need: Housing the Most Vulnerable in Morris County

This Morris County, New Jersey project will provide an important opportunity for Drew University faculty and students to collaborate with community residents, organizations, and government representatives to expand the United States’ ability to provide an effective safety net to end homelessness for the most vulnerable members of local communities.

The goals of the research are to:

  1. Articulate the existing barriers to housing our most vulnerable populations
  2. Identify the services and supports our landlords need to effectively house this population
  3. Build the public and private financial and civic infrastructure to support and implement a county-wide intervention program

The proposed study will investigate how to overcome the stigma of homelessness, enabling community groups to quickly place this population in affordable, permanent housing through the effective use of vouchers and the provision of appropriate services by community partners.

This project will enhance the county’s civic infrastructure, expand research skills and knowledge throughout the community, and mobilize collective action on a critical social problem facing the community. The objectives of this research will help Morris County achieve the goal that it has set for itself of eliminating homelessness in 10 years.

Additional Resources:

Drexel University

Principal Investigators: Dr. Ayana Allen-Handy, Drexel University, School of Education, Department of Policy, Organization, and Leadership; and Rachel Wenrick, Drexel University, Writers Room, College of Arts and Sciences

Community Partners: De’Wayne Drummond, Mantua Civic Association; Carol Richardson McCullough, Writers Room Drexel; George Jenkins, YouthBuild Philadelphia; and Christine Witkowski, Artist Year

Title: Anti-Displacement: The Untapped Potential of University-Community Cooperative Living

Drexel University’s project brings together an intergenerational research team of university faculty, community residents, Drexel undergraduate and graduate students, Drexel alumni, as well as students from YouthBuild Philadelphia to investigate the landscape of residential displacement and affordable housing options in the rapidly gentrifying and federally designated West Philadelphia Promise Zone. The proposed Community-led Participatory Action Research (CPAR) project seeks to illuminate the existing housing options that are available, how well these options are understood by residents in need, and whether the community is interested in alternative options, specifically in university-community cooperative living.

The university’s research is based on the concept that without knowledge of the complex systems affecting rapid urban change, there can be no meaningful ground level response. Therefore, their project focuses on building community partners’ capacity in education and the dissemination of knowledge, both of which are essential steps to achieve engaged participation and comprehensive community involvement.

Researchers expect that the research gathered and disseminated will be used to highlight the urgent need for more affordable housing in the Promise Zone through centering the funds of knowledge of the neighborhood residents to generate meaningful conversations with community and city stakeholders. Additionally, they hope to provide tangible products that can be easily disseminated and used as resources to inspire and support other residents, youth, practitioners, policymakers, researchers, and organizations with an interest in responding to this issue.

Additional Resources:

Fielding Graduate University

Principal Investigators: Dr. K. Melchor Hall, Fielding Graduate University, School for Leadership Studies

Community Partners: Stacey Waterman-Hoey, Arbutus Folk School and Dawn Jackman Murphy, Folk School Alliance Community of Practice

Title: Leading from the Roots: U.S. Community Based Folk Schools Inspiring Social Action

Fielding Graduate University (Fielding) and Arbutus Folk School (Arbutus), in collaboration with Highlander Research and Education Center's Education Team, seek to develop and implement a Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) project in the Pacific-Mountain Workforce Development Region, a five-county region in Washington State that includes Thurston, Pacific, Lewis, Grays Harbor, and Mason counties. According to the Census Bureau, three out of the five counties were classified as mostly rural counties, and four of the five counties were classified as low-employment counties in 2015.

Unemployment rates in the area have improved since 2015, but only slightly, and the region continues to struggle with persistent issues of economic vitality. The project's research questions seek to identify the following:

  1. How can place-based, traditional artists and craftspeople make a positive impact on the regional concerns of reducing dependency on external or unsustainable economic drivers by developing economic vitality and resilience in rural communities?
  2. What impact does connection to a Community Based Participatory Research process have on expansion of folk school scope of service?

Through this two-year project, university and community researchers will engage in Participatory Action Research to examine economic resiliency and vitality options through the lens of sustainable, bottom-up arts based economic development.

Additional Resources:

Mississippi State University

Principal Investigators: Dr. Carol Cutler White, Mississippi State University, Department of Educational Leadership

Community Partner: Jim McHale, Woodward Hines Educational Foundation

Title: Voices of Hidden Figures in the Quest to Increase Postsecondary Access and Success through Civic Engagement

The residents of Greenville, MS in the Mississippi Delta trail behind both state and national educational attainment levels. American Community Survey data indicates just 20 percent of Greenville’s population hold a bachelor's degree or higher compared with 22 percent across the state and 30 percent nationally. For students who aspire to attain a postsecondary education, the process of choosing a college, applying to college, and applying for financial aid (college access services) is a complex ecosystem of school, family, and community expectations and relations. This process is especially difficult for students in low educational attainment communities such as Greenville.

Researchers at Mississippi State University and Woodward Hines Educational Foundation seek to:

  1. Give voice to community members in low social capital groups in conceptualizing a community-engaged college access model
  2. Document socio-networked learning across and between Greenville co-researchers and community stakeholders in creating a shared vision and action plan
  3. Establish or expand civic infrastructure through a loosely organized network of national and community volunteers providing college access and success services in the community
  4. Document a replicable model of engaging hidden figures and social innovation networks in the work of college access and success

This project’s most immediate outcome will inform philanthropic organizations and state and federal policy makers investing in college access on how to create a community-engaged college access model of service delivery. In the long-term, it’s expected that Greenville will experience increased civic engagement and improved civic health through a more highly educated citizenry.

Additional Resources:

Smith College

Principal Investigators: Dr. Sam Intrator, Smith College and Founder of Project Coach; Denys Candy, Jo Glading-DiLorenzo, Erin DeCou, Nancy Zigler, Smith College

Community Partners: Yesenia Valentin, Project Coach, Joesiah Gonzalez, New North Citizens' Council

Title: Transfer and Transition – The Challenge of Sustaining Impact beyond Community-Based Youth Programs

While schools and out-of-school programs have demonstrated the ability to improve high school completion rates and develop life skills, significant disparities persist in patterns of educational attainment – particularly in college enrollment and completion rates for students from economically disadvantaged communities. Smith College faculty and staff, in collaboration with Project Coach, a college-community youth program, are investigating these challenges, as well as potential solutions economically disadvantaged youths face as they transition from high school to young adult life.

Researchers will engage youth participants and young adult graduates of Smith College's Project Coach as a part of the participatory action research youth-adult partnership model. They will ask participants questions related to how emerging adults in Springfield experience the transition to adulthood after high school. Smith College hopes to understand their initial aspirations, how those aspirations played out or changed after leaving high school, and how they navigated the barriers and obstacles they encountered.

  1. How do emerging adults in Springfield envision their futures after high school, and how does this change over time? What factors determine what they will do after high school?
  2. What, if any, supports and resources do emerging adults have as they navigate the transition to young adulthood and what resources would be helpful to better support the transition?
  3. How are high schools and out of school programs in Springfield preparing young people to transition out of high school?
  4. How do financial, community, and family resources impact the aspirations of these emerging adults and their ability to reach them?

Research will advance current scholarship and inform educational practices for schools, out-of-school programs, and higher education institutions; support students intensively through K-12 schools; and seek to develop programming to support transition planning.

Additional Resources:

SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry

Principal Investigator: Maren King, State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry

Community Partners: Sarah Reckess and Leah Russell, Near Westside Peacemaking Project, a project of the Center for Court Innovation

Title: Raising the Next Generation of Community Leaders: A Participatory Research Process with Teenagers of the Near Westside Neighborhood of Syracuse, New York

The Center for Community Design Research (CCDR) is an outreach program within the Environmental Science and Forestry Department of Landscape Architecture at State University of New York (SUNY), located in Syracuse. CCDR partners with communities, elected officials, agencies, not-for-profit organizations, and other academic programs to provide technical assistance, educational programs, and research projects that build community capacity to manage sustainable futures. SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, in collaboration with Westside Peacemaking Project, a project of the Center for Court Innovation, are investigating how to “Rais[e] the Next Generation of Community Leaders".

Neighborhood youth are "growing up quickly" amidst a backdrop of poverty, gun violence, and drug sales, and have few opportunities for growth and skills-oriented activities, relatable mentors, learning job skills, and earning a good wage. Adult research team mentors and neighborhood teenagers as co-researchers plan to investigate, better understand, and communicate the issues that are affecting young people's lives and develop plans for actions that provide pathways for positive growth as individuals and as community leaders. 

The findings will inform a Youth Community Impact Team that will work in collaboration with partners; two or more additional action projects that communicate positive change, teen leadership skills, and civic engagement; and youth participants with choices stemming from their participation for continued education and higher wage employment.

Additional Resources:

Tufts University

Principal Investigator: Penn Loh, Tufts University, Senior Lecturer and Director of Community Practice, Department of Urban & Environmental Policy & Planning

Community Partner: Joceline Fidalgo, Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative

Title: From Civic Participation to Community Control: Assessing and Strengthening Participatory Planning for Commercial District Development in Boston’s Dudley Neighborhood

This project will explore how civic engagement can strengthen community capacity for control over land use and economic development in Boston's Dudley neighborhood. The Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI) was formed in 1984, contributing to the neighborhood’s highly developed civic infrastructure, making Dudley a nationally renowned model for community control that guides development without displacement. Despite the high degree of civic infrastructure and success with developing permanently affordable housing, the neighborhood still is in social crisis, experiencing persistent poverty and high un/underemployment.

Tufts Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning (UEP), a graduate planning program, has been working with DSNI since 1990. UEP and DSNI established a three-year Co-Research/Co-Education partnership in 2016 to investigate and advance strategies for community control of land and the local economy. This project will build on that partnership to pursue strategies for commercial development without displacement, with a focus on the Upham's Corner commercial district.

Specifically, this project will assess the impacts of civic participation in the planning process for revitalizing Upham's Corner into a commercial arts and innovation district by conducting a participatory assessment of the impacts of engagement on the development process and outcomes in Upham's Corner, as well as civic infrastructure.

Expected outcomes include increased capacity within DSNI and among Dudley residents to conduct participatory assessments, deeper understanding of the impacts of community engagement and measures of community control, deeper relationships between DSNI, City, and other stakeholders, and lessons learned that can be more broadly shared with other practitioners and researchers.

Additional Resources:

University of Cincinnati

Principal Investigators: Dr. Anjali Dutt and Dr. Farrah Jacquez, University of Cincinnati, Department of Psychology

Community Partner: Bryan Wright, Cincinnati Compass

Title: Civic Action for Refugee Empowerment in Cincinnati (CARE Cincinnati)

According to estimates, Greater Cincinnati has approximately 25,000 refugees, with 200-300 new refugees resettling in the area every year. The Civic Action for Refugee Empowerment in Cincinnati (CARE Cincinnati) project is bringing together researchers, refugees, and community partners to explore strengths in the Cincinnati refugee community that can be harnessed to actualize community identified goals and identify empowering changes that can be made to promote civic engagement.

In this participatory research and action project, refugees in the Cincinnati region are developing and enacting an agenda for increasing civic engagement in our community. The collaborative research team has developed research tools to identify areas of focus and strength.

The research team will analyze and interpret the results to collaboratively plan follow-up actions. The overarching goal is to develop an agenda for inclusive civic engagement by and for local refugees, and a series of actions that serve the entire Cincinnati community.

Additional Resources:

University of Denver

Principal Investigator: Dr. Kimberly Bender, University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work

Community Partner: James Erangey, Connor Marvin, Meredith Mollica, and Tom Lucas, Colorado Coalition for the Homeless

Title: Mutual Aid as a Bridge to Social Capital and Civic Engagement among Youth Experiencing Homelessness

Using participatory research methods, this study aims to partner with the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless (CCH) to understand how mutual aid (i.e., peer-to-peer support) can support young people experiencing homelessness to build social capital and civic engagement. The CCH team will serve as co-researchers with the University of Denver and will be active partners in study design, data collection, analysis, interpretation, and dissemination.

Together, the research team will conduct individual interviews, collect structured weekly journal entries and facilitate three photovoice projects with 24 young people experiencing homelessness to build deep insight into how:

  1. Young people experiencing homelessness perceive mutual aid provided by peer workers
  2. Peer workers experience their role, including the personal benefits, challenges and needs associated with providing mutual aid
  3. Young people experiencing homelessness conceptualize social capital and civic engagement

Using a grounded theory approach to analysis, the team will create an empirically driven, youth-informed model of mutual aid (i.e., peer programming) for young people experiencing homelessness, including strategies for recruiting, selecting, training, supporting, and supervising peer workers as agents of social capital and civic engagement. All team members will collaborate to share findings via established local and national community-based provider networks and the scientific community. 

Additional Resources:

University of Houston & Texas Southern University

Principal Investigators: Dr. Suzanne Pritzker, University of Houston, Graduate College of Social Work, Dr. Denae King, Texas Southern University, Barbara Jordan – Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs

Community Partners: Bridgette Murray, Founder and Executive Director of Achieving Community Tasks Successfully; Maria Aguiree-Borrero, Director of Community Initiatives, Avenue; Deborah Chen, Civic Engagement Programs Director - OCA-Greater Houston Chapter; Becky Edmondson, President, Westbury Area Improvement Corporation

Title: Building Civic Engagement in the Post-Harvey Context: Exploring Facilitators and Barriers to Civic Activity in Four Hurricane-Affected Communities in Houston Brief

On Aug. 25, 2017, Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Houston, TX as a category 4 storm. Recorded as the second-most costly hurricane to strike the United States as of Jan. 2019, the damage that followed in its aftermath left the nation stunned at the forces of natural disasters. The greater-Houston area was left with extensive water damage after severe flooding.

University of Houston, Texas Southern University, and their community partners are studying four Houston-area communities (Near Northside, Alief, Pleasantville, and Westbury) affected by Hurricane Harvey to better understand how residents perceive civic engagement and how the disaster experience has impacted their civic engagement.

Through partnerships with community organizations, researchers will delve into civic engagement conceptually by investigating how community members perceive, define, and experience facilitators and barriers to engaging civically within their neighborhoods. Race and economic diversity play an integral role in this research, as low-income neighborhoods have struggled to rebuild after Hurricane Harvey’s devastation. The purpose of the research is to understand how the crisis and recovery process from Hurricane Harvey impacted community members and their experience with civic engagement.

Additional Resources:

University of Nevada

Principal Investigators: Dr. Jennifer Willett and Dr. Mary Hylton, University of Nevada, Reno, School of Social Work

Community Partner: Communities in Schools

Title: Making the Invisible Visible with Photovoice: Addressing Slow Violence through Community-Based Participatory Research and Civic Engagement with Youth in Nevada

University of Nevada, Reno’s School of Social Work’s mission is to educate, train, and nurture competent, committed, compassionate, and diverse social work leaders who advance the social justice mission of social work through their leadership in research, public policy, academics, and clinical practice at local, national, and global levels.

The university is Making the Invisible Visible with Photovoice through community-based research, connecting high school students as ‘youth scientists’ with academic researchers and local partners. The research seeks to understand and resolve complex problems arising from manmade and natural disasters.

‘Youth scientists’ will receive training and information about civic engagement, particularly methods to influence and shape public policy, as they develop an actionable intervention plan. They will also lead critical dialogues within their local community, talking to those whose lives have been impacted by disasters. The research team will then develop a civic engagement intervention plan to address the major findings.

Additional Resources:

University of Pittsburgh

Co-Principal Investigator: Dr. Mary L. Ohmer, University of Pittsburgh, School of Social Work

Co-Principal Investigator and Community Partner: Dr. Shannah Tharp Gilliam, Homewood Children’s Village

Title: Strengthening Resident Civic Engagement on Behalf of Equitable Development: Partnering for Community-Based Participatory Research in Homewood

Located in East End of Pittsburgh, Homewood has seen significant population declines, vacancy, and blight. However, its location makes it an attractive target for gentrification. Much like many other neighborhoods across the United States, Homewood is changing more quickly than residents can adapt. Homewood Children’s Village (HCV) has advocated for residents since its inception 10 years ago. Despite numerous planning processes, residents' fears and the reality of displacement persist.

This project engages residents as leaders in understanding and acting on the local definition of civic engagement and the community's desire to strategically foster equitable development. Through this participatory research, the University of Pittsburgh and HCV are exploring what the community considers civic engagement, development, and equity. We are gaining insight on the perceived power residents have to tackle these issues, and empowering residents to develop an action/advocacy plan to address these issues.

The research design draws from best practices for community-based participatory research. It also benefits from the unique role of HCV as a community social service provider with research capacity within their community.

The goals of the project are to:

  1. Increase knowledge and understanding about how to increase civic engagement and community capacity to tackle revitalization while facing the pressures of gentrification.
  2. Build and strengthen relationships among youth and adult residents and key stakeholders who share mutual concerns about this issue.
  3. Increase the capacity of Homewood residents to act strategically on this issue in ways that foster equitable development that benefits current residents.

Additional Resources:

University of Puerto Rico at Humacao

Profile coming soon.

University of Wisconsin Whitewater

Principal Investigator: Dr. Jenna Cushing-Leubner, University of Wisconsin Whitewater, College of Education and Professional Studies

Primary Community Partner: Pang Yang, Park Center High School

Additional Community Partners: Hmong teaching artists, Hmong 18 Council, Douachaka Her, Vang Vegetables, Chef Yia Vang, Hmong Educational-Resources Publisher, DictumDose, Oskar Ly, Tou SaiKo Lee, Nicollazzi Xiong, Cia Siab, Inc., East Side Freedom Library Hmong Archives, Minnesota Council on the Teaching of Languages and Cultures, Dr. Zha Blong Xiong, Bee Vang-Moua, Sydney Change, Dr. Yang Dao, Txiabneeg Vang, Center for Hmong Studies at Concordia University, St. Paul, Hmong National Development, Hmong Americans Partnership Schools, The Dial Group

Title: Lub Zej Zog: Hmong Midwestern Community Care Project

Minnesota and Wisconsin are home to the country's second- and third-largest Hmong populations, respectively. Hmong communities in these areas are the result of decades-long refugee resettlement programs. These communities were initially thinly dispersed across the United States; however, familial and clan movements since 1975 reshaped the Hmong community in three central locations: Minnesota, Wisconsin, and northern California. This recovery and reconvening of the Hmong community over several decades has resulted in disparities in Hmong civic leadership, governance, and civic involvement. This study seeks to identify and develop pathways for intergenerational Hmong civic engagement. The work is anchored on focal points where community members, youth, elders, and Hmong teachers meet: in Hmong language and culture educational settings (K-12 and higher education).

This research will inform understandings of key pathways to civic engagement and culturally responsive and appropriate processes for developing healthy civic and ethnic identities amongst dispersed refugee communities in the United States. This study will focus on creating opportunities for Hmong youth, community leaders, and elders by leveraging the emergence of community-informed curriculum and goals for Hmong heritage language and culture courses in K-12 schools and higher education.

Researchers expect the results to include community dissemination events, deepened partnerships with Hmong community organizations and youth, and development of curricular materials that focus on community-driven learning experiences for Hmong youth in heritage language and culture education contexts.

Additional Resources:

Virginia Commonwealth University & Virginia Tech

Principal Investigators: Dr. Carlin Rafie, Virginia Tech Department of Human Nutrition, Foods, and Exercise, and Extension Specialist/Virginia Cooperative Extension, and Dr. Emily Zimmerman, VCU Department of Family Medicine and Population Health and Senior Researcher/Director of Community Engaged Research and Qualitative Research at the VCU Center on Society and Health

Community Partners: Martinsville Opioid Task Force, Piedmont Community Services, Sovah Health, and the West Piedmont Department of Health

Title: Participatory Action Planning to Address the Opioid Epidemic in a Rural Virginia Community

Martinsville, VA is a rural area with one of the highest opioid prescription rates in the United States. Virginia Tech and Virginia Commonwealth University’s two-year project will bring together community partners and stakeholders in Martinsville to address the local opioid crisis. Due to the complexity of factors involved in the opioid crisis, a multisector response is needed for effective intervention with collaboration among a broad array of stakeholders to identify strategies, and plan and implement changes.

The project will be led by a community-based participatory research team, Engaging Martinsville (EM), in collaboration with the Martinsville Opioid Task Force. Researchers will use the Stakeholder Engagement in question Development (SEED) Method, a multilevel stakeholder model, to build conceptual models that explore potential causal factors leading to health outcomes, and to collaboratively develop and prioritize research questions, interventions, and/or policy approaches.

The researchers will then use these results to create multisector action plans to address the opioid epidemic in Martinsville and to share the results nationally to assist other communities struggling to develop effective means of reducing the impact of opioid abuse and drug overdoses.

The project aims to:

  1. Develop stakeholder conceptual models related to opioid abuse
  2. Generate stakeholder priorities for addressing the opioid epidemic in Martinsville, including strategies, policies, and research questions
  3. Facilitate development of action plans and support next steps based on action priorities
  4. Disseminate findings locally, regionally, and nationally

Additional Resources:

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