CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Engaging the community to help hungry children access food during the summer months is Maureen Berner’s passion. For the past two years, Berner, a professor in the School of Government, and seven other UNC faculty members worked on a variety of projects that connected them to the community in many ways.
Maureen Berner, Barbara Friedman, Cheryl Giscombe, Adam Jacks, Anne Johnston, Steve May, Vicki Mercer and Chérie Ndaliko will be honored as graduates of class V of the Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars program during a lunch celebration beginning at noon, Aug. 31 at the Carolina Club in the George Watts Hill Alumni Center.
The program, an initiative of the Carolina Center for Public Service, brings together selected faculty from across campus to engage in a two-year experiential, competency-based curriculum designed to advance their engaged scholarship. Scholars participate in sessions in community settings to learn from Carolina faculty and their community partners. While developing individual projects, each class of scholars forms a learning community along with the faculty and community course directors to support one another’s projects and community partners. The growing network of Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars reports outcomes including new interdisciplinary collaborations, successful grant applications and both traditional and innovative products of their scholarship.
“The Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars program is transformative. Rather than trying to fit engaged work into the traditional mold of scholarship, now I see how it can be embraced,” Berner said. “The impact of my work has multiplied, opening more doors to more research, more outreach and more collaborations. I speak about my project all the time – from an audience of 2,000 through a TEDx Talk, to a small group of young social entrepreneurs, to an international academic conference in Spain and to middle school students in a Future Food Security Leaders summer camp in Wake County. I am still writing for the research community, but I am also invited to be at the policy-makers’ table.”
The Carolina Center for Public Service created the Faculty Engaged Scholars program in 2007 to advance faculty involvement in engaged scholarship. In 2013, an endowment honoring UNC’s former chancellor H. Holden Thorp was established to support faculty in the program. Selected through a competitive process, Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars learn about and pursue community engagement through scholarly endeavors during the two-year program. Since the program began, 53 faculty members have been selected from 10 professional schools and the College of Arts and Sciences, representing more than 20 departments.
“The Faculty Engaged Scholars program transformed the way we thought about our communities and their involvement in our research,” said Anne Johnston, a professor in the School of Media and Journalism, who co-directs The Irina Project (TIP), a project that monitors and studies media
representations of sex trafficking and provides resources to news organizations and others for
accurate and responsible reporting of the issue. “The groups and organizations we visited were so committed to serving and helping their communities and to involving these communities in the development and implementation of their research and programs. This model of interacting with communities really expanded our view of who our communities are and how we should be engaged with all of them.”
The graduates and their work
These eight faculty members have distinguished themselves as engaged scholars through their commitment to serve others and strengthen university-community relationships.
Dr. Maureen Berner, professor in the School of Government, wanted to know more about how communities can successfully address what she calls “wicked problems” – in her case, hunger and food insecurity. Her project focused on how hungry children access, or fail to access, available federally supported summer meal programs. Through in-depth interviews and data from across the state and close interaction with state officials and nonprofit leaders, Berner concluded that the key to feeding hungry children is building local government and nonprofit capacity. She is a founding member of a new consortium of university researchers providing monthly advice on these programs directly to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials and collaborating on new research projects prompted by USDA initiatives.
Dr. Barbara Friedman, associate professor in the School of Media and Journalism, and her colleague Dr. Anne Johnston, professor in the School of Media and Journalism, co-direct The Irina Project (TIP), a project that monitors and studies media representations of sex trafficking and provides resources to news organizations and others for accurate and responsible reporting of the issue. TIP is the only organization to have as its sole focus theoretical and applied research of media coverage of trafficking. For the Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars program, the two advanced a web-based resource that includes best practices, interactive data on trafficking, and interviews with expert sources including survivors, blog essays, tip sheets, research notes and more. Friedman and Johnston trained print, broadcast and digital journalists to cover trafficking and continue to field queries from reporters around the world working on this issue. Most recently, they partnered with a group preparing an anti-trafficking campaign for the state of North Carolina.
Dr. Cheryl Giscombe is the LeVine Wellness Distinguished Associate Professor in the School of Nursing. Her work as a Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholar strengthened her existing partnership with Healing with CAARE, Inc. Through the Faculty Engaged Scholars program, Giscombe completed two research studies in collaboration with her community partner; one focused on substance abuse relapse prevention and the other focused on chronic stress and diabetes risk reduction. Giscombe provides training in culturally sensitive, contextually relevant, team-oriented, evidence-based, holistic care including a focus on healthcare systems and policy. This type of learning for healthcare professionals has been found to increase empathy and insight, and to increase acuity of focus on changes needed to positively impact care, access and population health.
Dr. Adam Jacks is an associate professor in the Department of Allied Health Sciences – Speech and Hearing Sciences who studies the impact of stroke and other neurological diseases on communication. Much of his current work focuses on identifying predictors of life participation in community-dwelling stroke and brain injury survivors with impaired communication (i.e. aphasia). His Faculty Engaged Scholars project focused on providing language assessments to people with aphasia in the community with no access to treatment, as well as to those who attend communication groups at Triangle Aphasia Project Unlimited, a Cary-based nonprofit organization. Jacks’ project provided opportunities to build relationships with speech-language pathologists in the community, including a clinical research forum with equal contributions by academic researchers and practicing clinicians.
Dr. Steve May, associate professor in the Department of Communication, focuses his research on exploring organizational ethics and corporate social responsibility, with an emphasis on studying public-private, cross-sector partnerships that seek to solve a range of community problems. May’s Faculty Engaged Scholars project identified best practices of corporate social responsibility initiatives to understand successful strategies for business-community partnerships that are equitable, collaborative and produce sustainable impact. These best practices include creating a shared vision by focusing on common interests and values; identifying and engaging diverse sets of stakeholders, with mutually reinforcing activities; developing trust by communicating candidly and engaging in continuous learning; creating shared measurements of progress and impact; and providing knowledge and expertise through best practices. Using project findings, May produced a web-based knowledge database that includes scholarly findings, case studies, white papers, a blog and assessment tools used by cross-sector partners.
Dr. Vicki Mercer, associate professor in the Department of Allied Health Sciences – Physical Therapy, focuses her research on improving balance and preventing falls in older adults and individuals with neurological disorders. In her Faculty Engaged Scholars project, she expanded her work with the Community Health and Mobility Partnership (CHAMP) program in western North Carolina. CHAMP is a falls prevention program that Mercer developed in 2009 with community partners from senior centers, hospitals, physical therapy clinics and community colleges. Through CHAMP, interdisciplinary teams of health care providers work with older adults at senior centers and other community sites to improve their balance and muscle strength and decrease their risk of falls.
Dr. Chérie Ndaliko, assistant professor in the Department of Music, explored parallels between students in eastern Congo whose lives are inflected by war and violence and students in economically underprivileged communities in North Carolina. Common to both groups of students is limited access to arts education that leaves them with fewer opportunities to develop empowering critical thinking skills. To interrupt this cycle, Ndaliko created an interactive arts curriculum for North Carolina students that uses examples from Africa to foster critical thinking skills and cultivate global perspectives. In partnership with the Global Scholars Academy in Durham, North Carolina, the curriculum allows students to partner on creative projects with their Congolese peers, permitting those without the financial means to travel to have cross-cultural experiences.
About the Carolina Center for Public Service
The Carolina Center for Public Service engages and supports the faculty, students and staff of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in meeting the needs of North Carolina and beyond. The Center strengthens the University’s public service commitment by promoting scholarship and service that are responsive to the concerns of the state and contribute to the common good.
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