Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars progam adds new faculty members

By Macon Gambill – The Daily Tar Heel

Ten UNC faculty members were recently selected for the sixth class of Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars. The program, named for former chancellor Holden Thorp and sponsored by the Carolina Center for Public Service, aims to bring together distinguished faculty from a variety of fields to learn from one another and advance their engaged scholarship.

Faculty Director Ronald Strauss said the selection process for the program is competitive, with less than half the applicants for a given class typically receiving spots.

“Engaged scholarship is scholarship that is developed in collaboration and in consortium with community members,” Strauss said. “It allows a scholar to address issues of concern within communities and return benefit to communities by involving the participants in research, not just in selection of the topic, but the decision of how the research will be done.”

The sixth class will begin the program in fall 2016. As part of the two-year program, scholars will decide how they will advance their engaged scholarship individually through group dialogue and community excursions.

“The first year is a year of sessions of really going out on the road, learning from community, learning from each other, learning from faculty who are doing the work and then reflecting on that,” Lynn Blanchard, director of the Carolina Center for Public Service, said. “And then the second year is more focused on the individual scholar’s work, where each scholar has a chance to present their work and really use their group as kind of a sounding board to bounce questions off of.”

“One of the things that I like most about the program is that it attempts to bring in scholars from different disciplines,” Community Director Melvin Jackson said. “They come with an idea or a project that they are interested in working on…But something I have seen is there have been instances in which the scholars have engaged within their class and with classes that preceded them and have developed reshaped agendas that complement themselves.”

Members of the sixth class see the program as a way to build upon previous research and extend its benefits beyond the walls of the academy.

“I’ve been interested in and have done engaged scholarship kind of on my own for quite some time,” Thorp Scholar Anna Agbe-Davies said. “I’m pretty deeply embedded in the community of archaeologists who are doing this work, but aside from people in my own department, I didn’t know what people across the University were doing.

“Having a chance to learn from people who are doing this work full-time, embedded in their communities, is really valuable,” Agbe-Davies said.

“I saw the problem as a way to kind of accelerate the translation of my research and other relevant research to the communities in a way that helps me understand methods and gain tools to do these projects because we’re not all the time trained to engage with communities,” Thorp Scholar Kimon Divaris said.

“It’s a great way to connect very good faculty that we have across the board at UNC with the community, which is, I think, ultimately what we should be thinking all the time, even if we’re doing basic research or other types of development — thinking how they will translate to meaningful improvement in people’s wellness,” Divaris said. “I think that’s the way to serve them better.

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Ten faculty members selected for Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars program

Ten faculty members at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill were recently selected for the sixth class of Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars (FES). These scholars will develop projects in partnership with community organizations like Historic Stagville in Durham to study the skills and expertise of enslaved laborers and The Farm at Penny Lane to improve housing and other community-based services for individuals with severe and persistent mental illness.

Anna Agbie-Davies field researchLeaders in their respective fields, these 10 faculty members will participate in the two-year program sponsored by the Carolina Center for Public Service. The Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars program brings together selected faculty from across campus to engage in an experiential, competency-based curriculum designed to advance their engaged scholarship. The ten faculty members selected are:

  • Anna Agbe-Davies, associate professor, Department of Anthropology
  • Antoine Bailliard, assistant professor, Department of Allied Health Sciences
  • Leisha DeHart-Davis, associate professor, School of Government
  • Kimon Divaris, associate professor, School of Dentistry
  • Julia Haslett, assistant professor, Department of Communication
  • Coretta Jenerette, associate professor, School of Nursing
  • Alexandra Lightfoot, research assistant professor, Gillings School of Global Public Health
  • Enrique Neblett Jr. associate professor, Department of Psychology and Neuroscience
  • Dana Thompson Dorsey, assistant professor, School of Education
  • Rachel Willis, professor, Department of American Studies

Every other year, eight to 10 faculty members are selected to participate in the program aimed at understanding and pursuing community engagement through scholarly endeavors. During the two-year program, scholars participate in sessions in community settings focused on exemplary University-community partnerships. While developing their own projects with community partners, scholars form a learning community with the course directors providing guidance and support. Dr. Ronald Strauss serves as faculty director and Melvin Jackson as community director.

In 2013, the Chancellor Holden Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars Endowment was established at the Carolina Center for Public Service. The endowment was created with a $1 million gift from an anonymous donor to name and support the Center’s Faculty Engaged Scholars program.

Since the program began in 2007, 53 faculty members have been selected from 11 schools and 21 departments to participate in the program. The growing network of Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars reports outcomes including new interdisciplinary collaborations, successful grant applications and both traditional and non-traditional products of their scholarship. Through these efforts, the program continues to build strong university-community relationships.

About the Carolina Center for Public Service

The Carolina Center for Public Service connects the energy and expertise of both the University and the community to provide students, faculty and staff with deep and transformative experiences. Through engaged scholarship and service, we work together to create collaborative and interdisciplinary solutions to local and global challenges.


Faculty Engaged Scholar serves to help seniors maintain mobility

By Janell Smith

Vicki Mercer FES Champ and clientThrough a combination of community engagement and experiential education opportunities, Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars become champions of their research. Vicki Mercer, associate professor in the Department of Allied Health Sciences and a member of Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars class V, also supports champions through her falls prevention program, CHAMP (Community Health and Mobility Partnership).

This project helps older adults and individuals with disabilities remain as active and independent as possible. The program was the first of its kind to advance home care excellence for older adults.

Mercer has been involved with clinical practice in physical therapy for most of her career. It was her experience working with older adult patients, who are worried about falling and other mobility concerns, which inspired her to create this initiative.

“This fear [of falling] causes [some older adults] to restrict their activities, and can lead to a downward spiral of decreased activity, worsening strength and balance, increased risk of falling and greater activity restriction,” Mercer said. “The individual may stop participating in activities with family and friends and may venture out into the community only rarely.”

She added that this fear not only restricts activities, but has negative consequences for overall health and quality of life.

“I am passionate about trying to help older adults remain as active and independent as possible throughout their lives, helping them to really ‘live’ as long as they are living.”

The CHAMP program works with community partners, including senior centers, hospitals, physical therapy clinics, universities and community colleges in McDowell, Caldwell and Watauga counties in western North Carolina.

Weyland Prebor, director of the McDowell Senior Center, is a partner of the CHAMP project. He said that Mercer and the CHAMP initiative have been good medicine for McDowell County, encouraging the community to play an active part in their health.

“By bringing the CHAMP program to our community, Dr. Mercer has helped seniors become proactive in preventing their own fall injuries,” Prebor said. “Dr. Mercer has changed the lives of hundreds of senior adults in McDowell County helping them to take ownership in their own strength and mobility.”

Mercer used funds provided by the Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars program at the Carolina Center for Public Service to expand the program into Caldwell County after it received accolades in nearby McDowell County. Plans are for the program expand to other counties, including Cumberland and Hoke.

“The program specifically targets more rural areas that may not have resources for fall prevention interventions,” Mercer added.

Established in 2009, CHAMP has been well received by communities and lasted long after its initial grant funding ended. In 2010, the initiative won 2010 Outstanding County Program Award from the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners. Mercer said this success and longevity demonstrates the commitment of its community partners. It also serves as an example to her students, who she hopes will develop a commitment to the individuals they serve and to lifelong learning.

“This is a wonderful synergy,” Mercer said about the community and classroom engagement.

“I have been blessed to find a career that I love (physical therapy), and I want to live out the mission of the physical therapy profession by working to enhance physical health and functional abilities among all people, including those who might have limited resources or limited access to health care.”

Faculty Engaged Scholar Cheryl Giscombe is dedicated to serving

By Janell Smith

FES Cheryl Giscombe teaching shotThorp Faculty Engaged Scholar Dr. Cheryl Giscombe, an assistant professor in the School of Nursing, is undertaking research to combat inequities in the healthcare system.

“I am motivated by my desire to contribute to the elimination of health and healthcare disparities,” Giscombe said.

“My goal is to be an ambassador for mental health so that all people have access to high-quality mental health.”

Giscombe’s current research, which ranges from an emphasis on the Superwoman Schema to community-based research on substance abuse relapse prevention, aims to fight the siloing of biological, mental and emotional aspects of health. Giscombe’s research has proven that the intersectionality between these three factors are important. Her findings from the Superwoman Schema, which studies stress and obesity in African-American women, have been cited on the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Fact Sheet on Stress and Health Disparities.

“Psychological stress is a major contributor to health behaviors and physical processes that lead to undesirable health conditions and ultimately influence an individual’s quality of life.

“I am dedicated to partnering with communities, families and individuals to facilitate holistic, culturally-relevant and sustainable strategies to produce optimal health.”

But, Giscombe isn’t the only hero in this fight. She incorporates students and the community in her studies. Giscombe has designed community-based training opportunities for nursing students, providing multi-level benefits to underserved groups, patients, healthcare providers and health researchers in North Carolina.

“I want to develop students who are dedicated and committed to caring for those who are underserved and underrepresented, as well as all people who need quality healthcare,” she said.

Cheryl Giscombe cropped in clinicGiscombe also has a robust relationship with Healing with CAARE, Inc., a Durham-based health clinic and wellness center that serves people at-risk, empowers the community through preventive health education and counseling, and provides decent, affordable low-income housing.

Giscombe has worked closely with CAARE’s founder and executive director, Dr. Sharon Elliot-Bynum, creating CAARE’s mental health services program, training health-profession students in community-based approaches to health and developing and leading the Inter-professional Leadership Institute for Mental Health Equity. She is developing the institute through an award she received after being named a 2015 Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation Macy Faculty Scholar. In addition, Giscombe was selected to serve on the APA Taskforce for Stress and Health Disparities.

During her time as a Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholar, Giscombe has strengthened relationships with other community partners in Wake and Warren counties. She’s also reinforced existing relationships with her alma maters: the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics (NCSSM) and North Carolina Central University (NCCU). Through these relationships, she encourages a pipeline of students interested in health professions education.

“I am committed to an academic career that enables me to engage in research, practice and the education of future health professionals to eliminate health disparities and improve the overall health of our population,” Giscombe said.

Cheryl Giscombe research shot“But I love to serve because I live to help others and give back. It makes life meaningful. My parents, grandparents and previous educational experiences at NCSSM and NCCU emphasized the importance of service.

“Now as a Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholar, this service is being supported as well as enhanced by supporting the ways in which service can be integrated with scholarly endeavors.”

Read more about Cheryl Giscombe in the University Gazette.

Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars Class IV graduate

Nine Carolina faculty members have been honored for their engaged scholarship over the past two years. As part of the Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars program, these professors worked to strengthen university-community partnerships through such work as training teachers to integrate experiential learning into their classrooms.

Tamera Coyne-Beasley, Barbara Fedders, Jocelyn Glazier, Leigh A. Hall, Jill B. Hamilton, Brian Hogan, Shawn M. Kneipp, Linda Watson and Ted Douglas Zoller were recognized as graduates of Class IV of the Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars program during a lunch celebration at the Carolina Inn Friday, Aug. 22.

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.

“Participating in the Faculty Engaged Scholars program has enabled me to better understand the concept of engaged scholarship, particularly its multiple and varied forms. There’s no one way into and through engaged scholarship,” said Jocelyn Glazier, associate professor in the School of Education. “Hearing about my colleagues’ work has really expanded my understanding of the extensive and limitless boundaries of engaged scholarship.”

The Faculty Engaged Scholars program was established in 2007 as an initiative of the Carolina Center for Public Service 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 its inception, 43 faculty members from nine schools and 21 departments have been selected to participate in the program.

“The Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars program opened my eyes to the dramatic needs of the state of North Carolina and the importance of core economic insights to unlock its long-term economic prosperity,” said Ted Zoller, director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies and associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at the Kenan-Flagler Business School. “This experience served to raise the stakes and motivate my work at a higher level to make sure that it wasn’t just another unread analysis, but instead a call to action. I learned that sound research can result in important insights and be a tool of transformation. This project served to distill in me a passion to serve our citizens by promoting the economic prosperity of the state of North Carolina.”

Faculty Engaged Scholars 2014 Graduation Program.

The graduates and their work

These nine faculty members have distinguished themselves as engaged scholars through their commitment to serve others and strengthen university-community relationships.

Dr. Tamera Coyne-Beasley, professor of pediatrics, established the North Carolina Child Health Research Network as part of the North Carolina Translational and Clinical Science Institute to build partnerships among community organizations, community-based and ambulatory practices, and research communities. As the network director, she engages in multiple projects with adolescents in western and central North Carolina. Coyne-Beasley focuses on testing the effectiveness of school-based telemedicine programs, texting and social media for increasing knowledge of human papilloma virus disease and related-cancers, and increasing adolescent access to healthcare including human papilloma virus vaccination.

Barbara Fedders, clinical assistant professor in the School of Law, teaches and supervises law students who represent youth in North Carolina delinquency cases. Her scholarship focuses on improving policies, practices and legal representation for young people in the child welfare and delinquency systems. She serves on the advisory board for the Equity Project, a national organization promoting policy and practice reforms for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in the juvenile justice system, and helped produce a report for stakeholders. At the state and national level, Fedders trains lawyers on incorporating clients’ educational histories and using education law in delinquency representation. In collaboration with an education lawyer, she is producing a practitioners’ manual based on those trainings.

Jocelyn Glazier, associate professor in the School of Education, focuses on exploring the impact of experiential pedagogy on teacher and student learning, particularly with regard to minority populations. Glazier worked with teachers from different schools in what she has called a Teacher Collaborative (TC), a space where teachers work with one another to study experiential teaching and learning in their own classrooms. In addition to honing practice, teachers in TCs learn together how to assess the impact of these approaches on their students and share their findings with colleagues and stakeholders, empowering both each other and their students in the process.

Dr. Leigh A. Hall, associate professor in the School of Education, addresses issues relevant to adolescents’ literacy development and particularly those who have been labeled as having reading difficulties. Her project centered on creating an online community for teachers to help them examine how patterns in their teaching did or did not support students’ academic literacy development and how to reconfigure their instruction in ways that would do so. Teachers received regular input and feedback on their ideas from each other, Hall and graduate assistants. As a result, teachers engaged professional development that was meaningful and connected to the issues in their own practice.

Dr. Jill B. Hamilton, former assistant professor in the School of Nursing (now at Johns Hopkins University), is published on topics related to social support, religion and quality of life among African-American cancer survivors. She was a Georgia Cancer Coalition Distinguished Cancer Scholar from 2003-2007 and a Faculty Scholar at the Center for Spirituality, Theology & Health at Duke University. Hamilton’s research interests include health disparities, social and cultural factors that influence health, and the coping strategies used among older African-American cancer survivors and their families. She has developed measures of preferred coping strategies and spirituality, and is exploring the sociocultural factors that influence how older African-Americans use social support and religion/spirituality as mental health promoting strategies when there is a diagnosis of cancer.

Dr. Brian Hogan, a research assistant professor in the Chemistry department, is the academic director for the Scholars’ Latino Initiative, a program dedicated to increasing college access for Latino high school students. Dr. Hogan’s research focuses on increasing the number of Latino and Latina students graduating in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. He helped build “SLIence,” a collaboration between McDougle Middle School and the Scholars’ Latino Initiative. Each week, Latino science majors work with the middle grades after-school program Las Guapitas y Los Caballeros Guapos to bring STEM outreach and mentoring.

Dr. Shawn M. Kneipp, associate professor in the School of Nursing, conducts research of health disparities and social determinants of health. Her work focused on health conditions and unmet needs of women in welfare-to-work programs in the United States, where symptoms associated with chronic health conditions pose significant barriers for women as they attempt to become economically self-sufficient. In collaboration with community partners, her current projects focus on improving longer-term health and employment conditions using peer-mentored problem solving methods and examining the role of minor criminal offense charges as both barriers to self-sufficiency and social determinants of health.

Dr. Linda Watson, a professor in Allied Health Sciences, focuses her scholarship on autism research, addressing issues of early development, early identification and social-communication interventions. She sought to increase engagement with varied stakeholders across multiple projects. One project is collaboration with public school educators to test the efficacy of a school-based intervention for preschoolers with autism. Watson also worked on a collaborative effort with stakeholders in Bolivia with an interest in improving autism services there. Watson and a Bolivian collaborator began preliminary planning for sustainable ways to address community-identified needs for greater autism awareness and expertise in Bolivia.

Ted Douglas Zoller is director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies and associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at the Kenan-Flagler Business School. Zoller is the founding instructor of Launching the Venture, a start-up creation program that increased the number of spin-offs from UNC-Chapel Hill. Zoller’s project entailed developing a comprehensive analysis of the social capital of the Research Triangle Park and the engagement of the network of UNC entrepreneurial social capital in the North Carolina economy. The Blackstone Foundation recognized this work as the basis of a new intervention to increase the performance of regional entrepreneurial networks through the Blackstone Entrepreneurs Network (BEN) in Research Triangle Park. Based on project outcomes, the Blackstone Foundation issued UNC a $1.1 million grant to replicate the network nationally.

Faculty Engaged Scholars receive national award

Professors Analyze Media Coverage of Sex Trafficking

By Maura Devetski for The Daily Tar Heel 6/30/2014

UNC professors Barbara Friedman and Anne Johnston were recognized for their work on the Irina Project with the Donna Allen Award for Feminist Advocacy by the Commission on the Status of Women.

The purpose of the project, co-directed by School of Journalism and Mass Communication professors Friedman and Johnston, is to analyze the media coverage of sex trafficking and promote the fair and accurate reporting of the issue.

“We came together as researchers with an interest in gender issues,” Friedman said.

Friedman said they noticed a trend of criticism in the media coverage of sex trafficking that lacked evidence, which inspired their first study of sex trafficking coverage in the media.

“We are not only talking about (sex trafficking) but linking it to how it is covered in the media,” Johnston said.

Friedman and Johnston collaborate with other groups involved in the movement against sex trafficking such as survivors, social workers and law enforcement officials.

The Commission on the Status of Women within Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication gives the Donna Allen Award to a woman or group that exemplifies the values of Donna Allen, founder of the Woman’s Institute of Freedom of the Press.

Chairwoman for the Commission on the Status of Women Spring Duvall said it was the dedication of its co-directors and the real world application of their research that set the project apart.

“All of the judges commented on (the impressiveness) of the scope of the work that Dr. Johnston and Dr. Friedman are doing,” Duvall said. ”(They recognized) how passionate and committed they are to the project.” 

Susan King, dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said the award was an indication of how important the work of scholars is in the journalism school.

“It’s an affirmation that the work (of Johnston and Friedman) has real meaning and is a challenge for others,” King said.

She said Friedman and Johnston managed to identify an important issue in the country and receiving the recognition is an added bonus.

Friedman and Johnston were recently selected for the Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars program, which brings together faculty in the development of engaged scholarship projects, like the Irina Project.

Friedman and Johnston said they would like to develop a standing website that will be based on their research as well as contributions from other sources like journalists and healthcare professions.

“That will help us take the project where we want to go,” Johnston said.

Read more about Friedman and Johnston’s award and work at

Nine faculty members selected for fifth class of Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars

The next class of Faculty Engaged Scholars, leaders in their respective fields, will address a wide variety of issues including analyzing the administrative burden of summer meal programs for children in need, developing web-based resources for journalists who cover sex trafficking, and creating a clinical scholars forum to involve local speech-language pathologists in the research process.

Nine faculty members were recently selected for the fifth class of Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars (FES), a program sponsored by the Carolina Center for Public Service at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The program brings together selected faculty from across campus to engage in a two-year experiential, competency-based curriculum designed to advance their engaged scholarship.

Every other year, eight to 10 faculty members are selected to participate in the program aimed at learning about and pursuing community engagement through scholarly endeavors. The nine faculty members selected for the fifth class of Faculty Engaged Scholars are:

  • Maureen Berner, professor, School of Government
  • Juan Carrillo, assistant professor, School of Education
  • Barbara Friedman, associate professor, School of Journalism and Mass Communication
  • Cheryl Giscombe, assistant professor, School of Nursing
  • Adam Jacks, assistant professor, Department of Allied Health Sciences
  • Anne Johnston, Shumaker Distinguished Term Professor, School of Journalism and Mass Communication
  • Steven May, associate professor, Department of Communication Studies
  • Vicki Mercer, associate professor, Department of Allied Health Sciences
  • Cherie Ndaliko, assistant professor, Department of Music

During the two years, scholars work with community partners to develop projects and participate in sessions in community settings to learn about each other’s projects. While developing their projects, each class of scholars forms a learning community with the course directors to support one another’s projects. Dr. Ronald Strauss serves as faculty director and Melvin Jackson as community director.

In 2013, the Chancellor Holden Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars Endowment was established at the Carolina Center for Public Service. The endowment was created with a $1 million gift from an anonymous donor to name and support the Center’s Faculty Engaged Scholars program.

Since the program began in 2007, 43 faculty members have been selected from nine schools and 21 departments to participate in the program. The growing network of Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars reports outcomes including new interdisciplinary collaborations, successful grant applications and both traditional and non-traditional products of their scholarship. Through this engaged scholarship, the program continues to build strong university-community relationships.

Early action can help with autism

Linda R. atson

Autism Researcher, Linda R. Watson

By Linda R. Watson

One in 68 children show symptoms of autism spectrum disorder by the time they reach 8 years of age, according to statistics released last week by Centers for Disease Control. The meaning of these numbers is highlighted for me as I hear more and more stories from friends and acquaintances whose families include a member with ASD.

As an autism researcher, I am asked many questions about autism for which we continue to lack definitive answers, including, “Why is autism increasing so much?” But I welcome these hard questions, because they open conversations about some of the important progress we have made in understanding this neurodevelopmental disorder.

One important advance is much more knowledge of the early risk markers for ASD. This has led to improvements in our ability to identify toddlers with ASD. Through early identification, we increase the chances that these toddlers and their families will have access to early intervention programs.

Although good intervention programs at all ages can improve functioning for individuals with ASD, the most dramatic improvements have been seen among toddlers and preschoolers who participate in intensive intervention programs. Improvements include better language and cognitive skills and fewer problem behaviors, which are associated in turn with better school performance and a greater likelihood of independent living as adults. For these reasons, early identification of children with ASD is a priority for the Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics, among other organizations.

Through the Program in Early Autism Research, Leadership and Service at UNC-Chapel Hill, my colleagues and I are examining the risk markers for ASD in infants and young toddlers.

We previously developed a research version of a questionnaire for parents of 12-month-olds that identifies about half of the children who will be diagnosed with ASD as preschoolers. Many parents of children eventually diagnosed with ASD express concerns about their child’s development by the child’s first birthday, but the risk markers at this age are often subtle. Thus, both parents and physicians are hard-pressed to know how seriously to take the concerns in the absence of a good screening tool.

Our questionnaire, the First Year Inventory, provides information on whether a 12-month-old is at high risk for ASD or other developmental problems sharing some of the same early risk markers.

This questionnaire also has made it possible for our team to begin evaluating interventions with 1-year-olds and their parents prior to the time that autism symptoms have fully emerged. Our hope is that starting appropriate interventions at such a young age will be especially effective because the brains of infants and young toddlers are growing rapidly and are very “plastic,” meaning that their future brain growth can be altered by their early experiences.

This month, 40,000 families in North Carolina will be asked to assist in the very early identification of children at risk for autism and other developmental problems. These are families who have infants between the ages of 9 and 16 months, as identified through public birth records in our state.

Parents will receive a postcard early this month inviting them to participate in the North Carolina Developmental Survey online or by mail. Our PEARLS team is doing this survey to improve our parent questionnaire and adapt it for a broader age range of infants. Through these changes, we aim to make the questionnaire useful for pediatricians and other community professionals who see infants and young toddlers and talk with parents about their child’s development. The more responses we receive to the North Carolina Child Development Survey, the more confident we can be about what behaviors are typical for infants in this age range, and what behaviors best identify infants likely to have later developmental problems, including ASD.

April is Autism Awareness Month. Without question, the awareness of autism is at an all time high. As a society, we face a major public health challenge of how we will respond to the increasing prevalence of ASD. Early detection and early intervention are important components of a comprehensive approach.

North Carolina is at the forefront in our country in lowering the age at which ASD is diagnosed, but the average age of diagnosis in our state is still a relatively old 46 months. Thus, many children are being diagnosed too late to participate in early intervention. We can do better. The North Carolina Child Development Survey provides an opportunity for North Carolina parents to help meet this challenge.

Linda R. Watson is a clinical associate professor of speech-language pathology in the Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences, Department of Allied Health Sciences at the UNC-Chapel Hill School of Medicine.

Originally appeared in The News & Observer.


Fedders submits brief to N.C. Center for Safer Schools

FES Barb Fedders law school orientationUNC School of Law clinical assistant professor Barbara A. Fedders co-authored an issue brief submitted May 7 to the North Carolina Center for Safer Schools, a state program created in March 2013 that is currently seeking public comment on school safety issues. The brief, endorsed by 56 organizations in North Carolina and across the country, provides a comprehensive, research-based approach to the issue of school safety, according to Fedders.

Fedders developed the brief with attorneys from Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Advocates for Children’s Services project. She says they drafted the response out of concern that the school safety debate that has emerged after the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., is too narrowly focused on physical security. To better inform the debate, Fedders says the brief provides important and often-overlooked facts about school safety, recommendations for proven methods of ensuring student well-being, examples of reforms from other cities and states, and an extensive bibliography of literature on the issue.

Read more about Fedders in Carolina Law.

Faculty Engaged Scholar Malinda Maynor Lowery named Tar Heel of the Week

FES Malinda Maynor Lowery Finding the beauty of story in a difficult history

By Marti Maguire — The News & Observer

CHAPEL HILL — As a youth, Malinda Lowery considered history’s three most important figures to be Moses, Harriet Tubman and Henry Berry Lowrie – leader of a band of outlaw Lumbee Indians and African-Americans who fought Confederate soldiers seeking to enlist them and, later, the Ku Klux Klan.

As a historian, her intellectual journeys have also led her from more commonly tread historical territory to the arena of her own heritage – and away from the two-dimensional representation of the written word into film and audio recordings.

Lowery has studied the Lumbee tribe, of which she is a member, for much of her career as a professor and documentary filmmaker. Her recent book on the tribe during the Jim Crow era won several awards from Native American organizations.

Earlier this month, Lowery took over as director of the Southern Oral History Program at UNC, a collection of more than 5,000 recorded interviews that celebrates its 40th birthday this year.

Those who know Lowery and are familiar with the archive say her personal and scholarly background will help usher in a new era of exploring missing segments of Southern history – starting with its native people.

“I see her coming as a sea change for oral history and our relationship to American Indian history in the Southeast,” said William Ferris, a UNC folklorist and co-editor of the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture. “And oral history is key to the South. We are a region of talkers and storytellers.”

Lowery, 40, says she hopes to boost the collection of recordings centered on the Lumbee, Cherokee and other tribes of the American South. But she notes other priorities, such as documenting the influence of the media and lifting the collection’s profile.

“In the short term, my interest is less in creating new knowledge and more in making people aware of the knowledge that already exists here and how it might be used,” she said. “I’ll be working hard to make sure the university and the state understand the value that oral history can have.”

The collection is one of the largest of its kind and is poised to be the first that is entirely digitized, allowing researchers to search transcripts of the interviews for key words.

The interviews illuminate a wide variety of historical and contemporary topics: Southern politics, the creation of Research Triangle Park, notable North Carolinians such as Jesse Helms and William Friday, industrialization and Latino immigration.

Lowery says the interviews could be used not only by students of history, but by students and others interested in public policy, family histories and more.

A number of the projects focus on social movement such as the civil rights era, and Lowery would like to see that the Native American roles in these events are also documented – a task she has begun with her study of the Lumbee tribe.

The Lumbee connection

North Carolina’s Lumbees, centered in Robeson County, make up the largest American Indian tribe east of the Mississippi, with nearly 70,000 members, according to census estimates. But the tribe has not been recognized by the federal government, despite efforts to do so spanning more than a century.

A bill to recognize the tribe has been filed in Congress again this year.

Lowery grew up in Durham, where her parents were both professors at N.C. Central University. But her parents took pains to expose her and her siblings to Lumbee culture.

They felt strongly enough about the connection to have each of their children at a Lumberton hospital; Lowery did the same with her daughter.

While Lowery says she learned the specifics of the Lumbees’ struggles as a scholar, she grew up learning it from her parents, fervent Episcopalians who often drew parallels with Scripture.

“My father emphasized how much the Lumbee had in common with the Jews, an oppressed but chosen people,” she said. “And they would point out to us when we visited Robeson County, which was often, how blessed we were to have this land and family relationships.”

Her parents also stressed education; she and most of her seven siblings, four from her father’s previous marriage, earned advanced degrees.

Lowery always loved writing and stories, and initially thought she would study English literature. But as a Harvard undergraduate she chanced upon a job helping to make documentary films.

“That introduced me to the idea of film as a storytelling medium that can have an incredible impact in changing people’s minds, raising awareness, and just being beautiful and engaging,” she said.

She earned her degree in history and literature, and went on to film school at Stanford University. Her first research on the Lumbee was for student film projects during that time.

She went on to work in filmmaking, co-producing several documentaries for PBS and other outlets. Two of those films, one on Native American sacred places in the Western United States, went to the Sundance Film Festival.

But the work was grueling, and the need to render her topics in a way simple enough for television was frustrating.

So she came back home to North Carolina, where her intention to study the culture and identity of her ancestors found a ready audience. There were fewer recent works on Lumbee history, and none had examined the Lumbee in the Jim Crow South, which became Lowery’s focus.

“They were under-appreciated in terms of their presence and role,” she says. “Their history speaks to how we think about race in the segregated South.”

Not a beautiful story

In describing her work, Lowery alternates between using “they” and “we” to describe the Lumbee.

As a Ph.D. student at UNC, she worked as a research assistant on a project chronicling school desegregation in Robeson County. It’s an interesting case because desegregation there involved both African-American and American Indian schools.

And Lowery says the Lumbee were fearful of losing their cultural identity through integration.

She taught at Harvard and other places, but she came back to Chapel Hill for post-doctorate work and ended up joining the history faculty. She was there until July 1, when she took over the oral history program.

Lowery also met her late husband, Willie French Lowery, at UNC. He a Lumbee musician well known in his community and beyond who wrote popular music focused on the Lumbee. He died last year.

She later expanded her research to encompass the entire era from Reconstruction through the beginnings of the civil rights movement, using oral histories, written account and photographs.

At times, her work has hit too close to home, particularly when her research has revealed divisions among a group that has tried to keep a unified front in its fight for federal recognition.

“History is not beautiful,” she said. “People are not nice to one another.”

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