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2021 Community Engagement Fellowships

Unite Wilmington: Community Health Worker Pilot Program for New Hanover County Residents

Student: Marcellos J. Allison

Area of study: public health leadership

Community partner: MedNorth Health Center

Faculty advisor: Vaughn M. Upshaw


Unite Wilmington is a health initiative developed for MedNorth, a Federally Qualified Health Center in Wilmington, North Carolina. MedNorth is one of few health centers accessible to members of New Hanover County’s underserved population, which includes refugees, ethnic and racial minorities, and low-income families. This initiative will enhance health literacy and improve team-based care for residents of this Eastern Carolina community. The goal of this initiative is to develop and pilot a Community Health Worker program that addresses mental, behavioral and social health determinants for Wilmington residents. As a Master of Public Health student, Allison will provide a population-centered perspective to an interdisciplinary team of family physicians, pediatricians, social workers and behavioral health specialists to improve community health. Additionally, the community engagement project will include an academic research study titled Building Stronger Communities, which will assess the effectiveness of various health communication methods for addressing COVID-19, vaccinations and other community health issues.


Accelerating Generational Youth Leadership & Excellence (AGYLE)

Student: Roderick Gladney, Pharm.D.

Area of study: biomedical and health informatics

Community partner: Community Drug Fund, Inc.

Faculty advisor: Rachel Tates


The goal of AGYLE is to serve 10 to 12 highly motivated students from groups that are traditionally underrepresented in postsecondary STEM education. These students will come together each summer for four weeks, with the goal of improving leadership, professional and sociocultural skills. This program will aid in developing highly effective youth leaders seeking competitive postsecondary placements. Using volunteer mentors and counselors throughout the leadership program, participants will be engaged through a series of educational initiatives. Topics include college preparation (ACT/SAT prep, personal statement development, financial literacy for college, etc.), diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), and professional development topics such as personal branding, networking and resume building. Additional panels and discussions will focus on self-care, sustainability and community engagement practices.


Cities United Young Leader Network and Fellowship

Student: Margarett McBride

Area of study: developmental psychology

Community partner: Cities United

Faculty advisor: Shauna Cooper


Cities United supports a national network of mayors and stakeholders who are committed to reducing the epidemic of homicides and shootings among young Black males ages 14-24 and to promote safe, healthy and hopeful communities. One of Cities United’s core values is youth voice, highlighting young people as assets and emphasizing the need to include them in how their community operates. In alignment with this value, Cities United engages young leaders in the Young Leader Network and Young Leader Fellowship. Both the network and fellowship program work with youth from Cities United’s partnering cities who have been impacted by violence. These youth are working towards violence prevention efforts through policy, practice and programming. This CEF project is to help expand the Cities United’s network and fellowship initiatives by working with young leaders to elevate and include more youth voices, draft community violence-related policy/practice recommendations and develop engagement activities. These engagement activities are related to topics such as professional and leadership development, participatory research, public health and racial equity approaches to violence prevention, and youth-adult partnership. Young Leaders project outcomes will be presented at a national conference and inform future Cities United initiatives and violence prevention efforts.


Mapping the Challenges of the Rights of Nature in the Colombian Amazon

Student: Francesca Sorbara

Area of study: anthropology

Community partner: Centro de Alternativas al Desarrollo (CEALDES)

Faculty advisor: Florence E. Babb


In 2018, the Colombian Amazon region was declared an “entity subject of rights” by Colombia’s Supreme Court, in order to curb forest exploitation and destruction. Are the Rights of Nature (RoN) effectively protecting the grassroots communities that inhabit the Colombian Amazon, and slowing down deforestation? This CEF project investigates how one peasant community is coping with increasing environmental challenges, in tension with local extractive projects (logging, cattle grazing, oil extraction) and the Colombian state, and in articulation with other non-state actors. This engaged project has been co-designed and planned with CEALDES, a Colombian interdisciplinary research group working with grassroots communities across the country. Over four months the project leaders will develop a Participatory Mapping (PM) and compile the life stories of eight community members. This research-for-advocacy intervention will produce one awareness-raising article directed to an international audience.


Using High Spatial Resolution Data to Answer Policy-Driven Questions in an Urban System

Student: Keridwen Whitmore

Area of study: geography

Community partner: Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association (ECWA)

Faculty advisor: Diego Riveros-Iregui


The primary goal of this project is to answer the question: What is the value of protected riparian buffers in reducing nitrogen pollution? Whitmore will explore this question by sampling water chemistry at high spatial resolution within an urbanized river network, Ellerbe Creek. The river flows through downtown Durham and empties into Falls Lake, a major source of drinking water for Durham and Raleigh residents. Ellerbe Creek is an ideal study system as it is local, highly urbanized and listed as an impaired river by the EPA. As such, the City of Durham is obligated to reduce the nitrogen load delivered to Falls Lake. In addition, Durham County’s population is expanding at a rapid pace and land development is accelerating to keep up with the city’s growth. The need for science-based policy regarding development’s impact on water quality is immediate. This project would offer evidence for (or against) land protection in riparian zones and provide data that would help to optimize riparian buffer’s impact on nitrogen reduction. In addition, data collected during this study will inform future sampling efforts and continual monitoring of Ellerbe Creek.


Improving Well-Water Quality and Public Health Outcomes Through Community Work in Rural NC

Student: Hania Zanib

Area of study: environmental sciences and engineering

Community partners: American Indian Mothers, Inc. and Robeson County Department of Public Health

Faculty advisor: Emanuele Sozzi


An estimate of 2.4 million people in North Carolina use well water as their primary water source. This population is at risk for exposure to microbial contamination through contact and consumption of their water. This is because, unlike public water systems, private wells are not regulated under the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act set forth by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Groundwater can become contaminated by natural and anthropogenic activities, such as flooding, agricultural and urban runoff, decomposing waste, leaks in sewage systems, etc. These events can introduce enteric viruses and potentially pathogenic bacterial organisms into the ground water supply, which can cause significant health effects. Furthermore, flooding events, to which Eastern North Carolina is particularly susceptible, breach ground water supply, increasing the risk of introducing microbial contaminants. The presence of indicator viruses in private wells in Eastern North Carolina has already been established. However, few studies have investigated the prevalence of pathogenic viruses in breached wells. Hence, an investigation into detection of enteric viruses in the groundwater supply is extremely relevant and will establish remediation considerations for consumers and ultimately minimize the risk of negative health outcomes. This study will recruit owners of private wells in Robeson and Bladen Counties in eastern North Carolina, and well water from these sites will be sampled and analyzed for viral contaminants. Findings from this study will provide valuable data and evidence-based recommendations to identify and address the vulnerability of private water systems to extreme and adverse weather events.


The Hormone Access Project

Students: Chichi Zhu and Jessie Walter

Area of study: medicine

Community partner: The Gender Affirming Care Clinic (GACC) at Student Health Action Coalition (SHAC)

Faculty advisors: Rita Lahlou, Tonia Poteat and Karen Kimel-Scott


Transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) individuals face pronounced health disparities including higher risk of mental illness and suicide, increased incidence of interpersonal and institutional violence and increased risk behaviors, such as substance abuse. Gender affirming healthcare for TGNC patients has been shown to reduce these risks and improve health outcomes. However, access to care is often complicated by additional social vulnerabilities including economic hardship. GACC is a community-driven project that provides free appointments, labs and medical supplies to TGNC patients who may otherwise not be able to afford care. Presently, patients still face the financial barrier of hormone therapy, which has been identified as a significant burden by patients, providers,and the GACC’s Community Advisor Board. Through the Hormone Access Project, Walter and Zhu will work with the GACC and the CAB, SHAC Pharmacy and local pharmacies to develop a pilot program for hormone scholarships that can be continued by GACC for the foreseeable future.