Uncovering histories

Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholar Anna Agbie-DaviesA past Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholar through the Carolina Center for Public Service and associate professor in the College of Arts & Sciences’ anthropology department, Anna Agbe-Davies works with community partners both in the Triangle and across the country to excavate history and share it with a broader audience.

Here she shares some of her most rewarding discoveries.

By Emilie Poplett, University Communications

What does a historical archaeologist do?

We’re trying to understand the lives of individuals and societies in the modern period by looking at the things they left behind. It’s like a detective story. You’re putting together all these clues. It’s a lot like forensics in that sense. You look at all these bits of evidence, and you try to create a living picture out of them.

Why is archaeology an essential part of understanding history?

I think a big part of it is that if you’re trying to understand the past through the things that people write down, there’s this whole selection process. Some things might not be expressed candidly. People don’t censor the objects around them the way that they censor their language.

The material record is a great opportunity to just have a completely different perspective on the past. It’s an independent data source, and it has biases, but they’re different biases. Just like it’s important to have many different people trying to solve a problem, it’s important to have many types of data to answer a question.

Can you tell us a little bit about your Pauli Murray Project? What did you discover at her home?
Pauli Murray was fundamentally a human rights activist who was engaged in the struggle against racism and sexism in the 20th century. She got her start in Durham, where she grew up, but she had a global impact. She was an attorney, an author, and a priest and a poet, among her accomplishments, and she helped craft the arguments that were the basis of Brown v. Board of Education.

One of the things that we discovered at her home was the efforts of her family to try to mitigate some of the environmental racism they were experiencing. The home is near a cemetery, which is higher up on the hill than the house, and all the water ran through the cemetery directly into their foundation. So, at that time she saw how structural racism works in a pretty concrete way. We got to understand how they responded to that by tracking the record of her grandfather’s complaints to the city, but we also uncovered drains and brick features they put in place themselves to divert the water. Seeing the material evidence of what they did physically to their space to cope was really a revelation.

The folks at the Pauli Murray Project brought me on board when they realized that the city’s efforts to finally fix the drainage problem, and the Project’s plans to restore the house, might damage archaeological evidence that could speak to Murray’s life there.

How does your current research build on that work?

I’m combining the study of the Pauli Murray house with a project I did previously on the Phyllis Wheatley Home for Girls in Chicago. They’re both places where African-American women were engaged in or prompted to do civic activism.

In the case of Pauli Murray’s home, she wrote an autobiography, so we have a lot of insight into her perspective on her own life, and she talks about how segregated Durham didn’t provide a lot of resources for black people. The neighborhoods they lived in were underserved and often in very bad shape, so she gives a lot of descriptions about what life was like in her neighborhood and in her home. So, there are interesting comparisons and contrasts. [The Phyllis Wheatley Home] was a residence as well as a place where people had job placement assistance and vocational training — a whole suite of services that they felt that women new to the city would need. Black women founded it to serve other black women. So, these are both interesting places to learn about their ideas about rights and to observe the physical evidence of the world they lived in and were trying to transform.

How does your work fit into the larger mission of the archaeology department at Carolina?

A lot of my colleagues work internationally or elsewhere in the U.S., and my work adds to that by giving us a sense of what North Carolina used to be, what we are now, and what we might be in the future.

Another point is that a lot of times there are barriers to students participating in archaeology, so there are a lot of good social justice reasons for giving people a chance to try archaeology in a place that is convenient to them. And selfishly I feel so much more connected and rooted to where I live because I’m also exploring it as a research topic. There’s so much to learn about this area.

There’s a saying that goes, “Dig where you stand.” The person credited with coining it is a historian, but it works really well for archaeology! There are amazing stories wherever you are, and archaeology is just one tool among many to make those stories more obvious and available to the rest of the world. I have this skill set that involves taking sites apart — reconstructing people’s experiences through the things that they leave behind — and if I can then tell those stories or present them in a form that’s accessible to a broader audience, it’s an awesome opportunity. I get lost in it.

As we celebrate Black History Month, what do you want people to know about the history you’ve uncovered as an archaeologist?

I think the thing that I’ve taken away is the incredible resilience and creativity of people. My original training was working in the colonial period, so I’ve done a lot of work on plantations, which means confronting slavery. It’s important to lay bare the structural forces that allow that kind of exploitation. It’s also fascinating to see how people’s lives unfolded in that context and their individual humanity. They’re not just cogs in this terrible wheel called racism, and when you excavate sites where they lived and worked and you spend day after day with the things that they used, that really hits home.

UNC faculty recognized for engaged scholarship; work connecting with the community

Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars class VIChapel Hill, N.C. – Nine Carolina faculty members were recognized as Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars for their community engagement through scholarly endeavors. Anna Agbe-Davies, Antoine Bailliard, Leisha DeHart-Davis, Kimon Divaris, Julia Haslett, Coretta Jenerette, Alexandra Lightfoot, Enrique W. Neblett Jr. and Rachel Willis will be honored as graduates of class VI of the Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars program during a lunch celebration 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 for 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 supportive learning community. 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 built my confidence, refined my approach and grew my skill set in conducting engaged scholarship,” said Enrique Neblett, an associate professor in psychology and neuroscience. “Through the program, I learned about how African-American youth and families in Southeast Raleigh view contemporary racism, the impact of these experiences on mental health and possible solutions to alleviate the suffering of those who experience racism and other social stressors. I will be forever grateful for the supportive community afforded by my fellow scholars and program colleagues, who sharpened my project and expanded my view – through sharing their own projects – of what constitutes effective, high-quality and high-impact engaged scholarship.”

Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars class VI visit CAARE in Durham, NC

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, 63 faculty members have been selected from 12 professional schools and the College of Arts and Sciences, representing more than 28 departments.

“The Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars training and resources enabled me to better access diverse stakeholders and places related to port planning for climate change,” said Rachel Willis, a professor in American studies. “It also facilitated me participating in technical summits with governments, observing for-profit enterprises, learning from nonprofit organizations on the environment, listening to global policy practitioners and engaging residents of North Carolina port communities. The result is the development of two new courses and significant progress on a manuscript. I am in debt to the Carolina Center for Public Service and the many Faculty Engaged Scholars who have shared their methodology, field sites and advice so generously.”

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.

Anna Agbe-Davies, an associate professor in anthropology, has always approached her research program as “public archaeology”— engaged scholarship with results that matter for descendant communities, policymakers and the general public. Since 2016, she has conducted archaeological fieldwork at the childhood home of civil rights activist Pauli Murray in Durham, North Carolina where race, gender and civic activism are front and center. Her larger project brings together material and archival evidence to consider the circumstances within which African-American women developed and expressed their demands for a more just society. For Agbe-Davies, archaeology provides an opportunity to consider the actions by which ordinary people, day in and day out, responded to the challenges posed by the patriarchal and racist ideologies of their day. How did black women’s activism shape their communities in the first part of the 20th century? And what life experiences fostered the passion for equality that consumed Pauli Murray? By partnering with activists who see the importance of archaeology in their educational and social justice missions, Agbe-Davies addresses questions like these.

Antoine Bailliard, an assistant professor in Allied Health Sciences, collaborates with Assertive Community Treatment (ACT) teams and their clients. For his project, Bailliard partnered with individuals with mental illness to co-create adaptive strategies that they can integrate into their everyday lives outside of clinical settings. Using photo- and video-elicitation to highlight perspectives on how sensory processing deficits impact real-world participation in meaningful activities for adults with mental illness, the project aimed to use the data collected to co-create sensory modulation strategies that improve participation and quality of life for participants. This work fills research gaps on the impact of trait sensory processing deficits while acknowledging the expertise of adults with mental illness regarding their own lived experience.

Leisha DeHart-Davis, an associate professor, directs the UNC School of Government’s Local Government Workplaces Initiative, which taps an international network of public organizational behavior scholars to conduct research for North Carolina cities and counties. Participating cities and counties receive critical information about employees’ perspectives on a range of workplace issues, while participating academics receive on-the-ground data for pragmatic theory building and testing. Local governments serve as partners in the research, informing the development of survey instruments and interview protocols, providing feedback on study implementation and interpreting research results alongside study investigators. The Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars experience equipped her to build stronger relationships with local government partners and to expand her outreach to practitioners who can benefit from the research. For example, DeHart-Davis commissioned a visual identity for the initiative with input from local government partners that enabled a consistent image in their outreach efforts. Without the resources of the Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars program, she would not have fully understood the importance of developing community partners or communicating with them on a consistent basis.

Kimon Divaris, an associate professor in pediatric dentistry, is also an oral and genetic epidemiologist and board-certified pediatric dentist. His expertise and current research cover a wide range of proximal and distal oral health determinants with the goal of improving young children’s oral health and reducing associated health disparities. His project explored avenues to increase the translation rate of oral health genomics information to the public, particularly to groups that are traditionally under-represented in this type of research. In partnership with parents, health care providers, community health workers and preschool teachers, Divaris conducted qualitative work to better understand the standpoint, readiness, receipt, appreciation and potential use of genomics to bring about meaningful improvements in North Carolina’s children’s oral health.

Julia Haslett, an assistant professor in communication and a documentary filmmaker, creates projects that respond to pressing social issues that impact underserved communities. Her films have explored healthcare inequities in the U.S., cross-cultural medicine, climate change in China, and the French social philosopher and activist Simone Weil. Haslett’s films have screened around the world at film festivals, theaters and universities, on television, online and in numerous community settings. Haslett’s project focused on creating a socially-engaged documentary film exploring family narratives of African-Americans living in North Carolina, specifically those that pertain to the transgenerational transmission of trauma dating back to slavery.

Coretta Jenerette, an associate professor in nursing, is committed to improving the health outcomes of people living with and managing sickle cell disease (SCD), a painful inherited hemoglobin disorder that causes less oxygen to reach vital organs and other parts of the body. Because many individuals in the sickle cell community have difficulty with finding the care they need when they seek pain management services, Jenerette worked with community partners in Durham and Wake counties to develop and test a web-based virtual training tool to help individuals living with SCD better communicate with their healthcare providers. Videos from the website depicting patient-provider scenarios have been shared with the sickle cell community and health care providers with the goal of helping individuals and families living with SCD achieve better healthcare outcomes, including relief from pain and symptoms.

Alexandra Lightfoot, a research assistant professor in public health, uses a community-based participatory research approach to address racial and ethnic health disparities with communities across North Carolina. As a Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholar, she worked on three initiatives. First, she enhanced her engaged teaching, incorporating participatory photography to facilitate explorations of racial identity with her public health students to help them develop an equity lens to bring to their work as practitioners. Second, she expanded her independent research, building a new collaboration with investigators and community partners in Western North Carolina to further adapt an adolescent sexual health intervention for public schools in a new context. Finally, she developed a new global partnership focusing on barriers to girls’ education in rural Nepal. Working with a Nepalese colleague, she is launching a participatory research program to engage rural girls and their families, gain better understanding of the barriers to girls’ education through their eyes, and identify strategies with them to increase school retention.

Enrique W. Neblett Jr., an associate professor in psychology and neuroscience, conducts research that examines the link between racism and health among African-American adolescents and young adults. He is particularly interested in the role of racial identity, racial socialization and Africentric worldview as cultural protective factors that mitigate the impact of racism on mental and physical health. Neblett’s project employed photovoice, group interviews and community engagement sessions to examine issues of racial equity and mental health care disparities for African-American children, youth and families in Raleigh, North Carolina. He aspires to develop interventions and life-based learning for black youth that may assist in negotiating the negative mental and physical health consequences of individual, institutional, cultural and structural racism in the community.

Rachel Willis, a professor of American studies, is a labor economist focused on access to work in the global economy. Her research on global freight transportation planning for climate change in port cities is a result of fellowships at the Institute for Emerging Issues, the Institute for the Arts and Humanities, and the Global Research Institute. Sea-level rise, drought, rising global temperatures and increased storm severity threaten port communities, influence migration, alter global foodsheds and impact future access to work through complex water connections related to infrastructure. The critical need for planning and action to meet the challenges of building resilient communities at local and global levels is central to her Water Over the Bridge project. Willis’ previous engaged scholarship projects on work access with respect to childcare, education, transportation and disability have resulted in long-term university/community collaborations across North Carolina.



Anna Agbe-Davies is preserving African-American women’s history through archaeology – one house at a time

By Becca Kronebusch

For anthropology professor and Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholar Anna Agbe-Davies, archaeology is not digging through dirt searching for bones. Her work at the Pauli Murray House in Durham has her preserving and contextualizing the childhood home of Murray, a lawyer and co-founder of the National Organization for Women and unsung hero of the Civil Rights Movement.

Now a National Historic Landmark, the Pauli Murray House will soon give visitors an opportunity to lean in and explore Murray’s life of civil and women’s rights activism. Agbe-Davies is passionate about this project because her work showcases the contributions of African-American women in America, which she said are historically overlooked and overshadowed.

Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholar Anna Agbie-Davies“What I do is public archaeology,” Agbe-Davies said. “For me, archaeology is a way to understand our humanness. There are interesting archaeological problems everywhere, and I didn’t need to go to a far-off place to find them. It was important to do work that would benefit those around me.”

In addition to the inspiration from the historic women she studies, Agbe-Davies credits the Carolina Center for Public Service’s Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars (FES) program with helping her branch out and interact with scholars in various disciplines. FES 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 to support one another’s projects and community partners.

“The key thing for me about Faculty Engaged Scholars is talking to people in other disciplines about what their engaged scholarship looks like,” Agbe-Davies said. “It has helped me see possibilities I hadn’t envisioned before and made me think more explicitly about what makes archaeology different. Interacting with scholars across disciplines helps me see what makes the work I do unique and how it contributes to the broader conversation to make the world better.”

Before signing onto the Murray project, Agbe-Davies worked in Chicago as an archaeologist for the Phyllis Wheatley Home, which was established in 1896 as a resource for African-American women who were moving from the South to the North. The home provided these women migrants with lodging, educational programs, work assistance and other opportunities. The Chicago home, as well as others across the country, was named for Phillis Wheatley, the first African-American and U.S. slave to publish a book of poetry.

“I’m now working on a project that brings these two sites together and understand more broadly the impact of African-American women in America,” she said. “It came together when I needed it to come together.”

Agbe-Davies said her discipline is increasingly aware of the need to do more work that matters to society at large and not just to archaeologists. Her work with the Murray House is one example of the way that she and other archaeologists can use their passion to preserve pieces of history and give more representation to underrepresented peoples.


Seeking better connection

Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholar Associate Professor Dr. Coretta Jenerette For it to be — and do — any good, the relationship between a health-care provider and a patient must be built on trust. So, when Dr. Coretta Jenerette noticed that patients with Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) — 98 percent of whom are African-American — were being stigmatized as drug-seeking when looking for relief from their chronic pain, she took action.

Through her research and advocacy, she has become a champion for this often overlooked population, combating racial stereotypes in health care and developing practical tools for better communication between SCD sufferers and those who provide them care. Through an innovative iPhone app, Dr. Jenerette is transforming care for individuals and families touched by SCD by empowering them to clearly communicate their needs to health-care providers.

Dr. Jenerette advocates for more SCD experts in North Carolina, and has received multiple honors, awards and grants for her pioneering role in the field. And her research illustrates the importance of diversity in the nursing workforce, as unsatisfactory care all too often stems more from a lack of understanding than a lack of ability. Dr. Jenerette lives out Carolina Nursing’s core belief that every person deserves to feel understood by those caring for them.

Coretta Jenerette is a Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholar whose project focuses on improving the health outcomes of people living with and managing sickle cell disease. As a Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholar, she participates in a two-year experiential, competency-based curriculum designed to advance her engaged scholarship. She also receives a stipend to advance that research.

Carolina Stories

Water Over the Bridge

By Alyssa LaFaro, Endeavors

From the competitive ports of China, to the innovative flood gates of the Netherlands, to the shifting sands of the Outer Banks, the sea creeps farther up the coastline every single day, and the distance between the top of the water and the bottom of bridges decreases — a major issue for port economies. UNC American studies professor Rachel Willis searches for solutions to help these communities cope with the impact of sea-level rise.

Orange traffic cones surround a fluorescent yellow-garbed construction worker on NC-12. He raises his hand perpendicular to the roadway, signaling to slow down with a weathered red stop sign. As cars speed past in the left-hand lane, enormous cranes on ocean barges lift heavy beams onto a bridge being built alongside the existing one.

Hurricane impact sidebarMore than 14,000 vehicles cross the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge every day — a lifeline for the people of Ocracoke and Hatteras islands, connecting them to the Northern Outer Banks. Below the bridge, tides from the Atlantic Ocean push into the widening Oregon Inlet, breaking through to the Pamlico Sound.

The Bonner Bridge Replacement Project began on March 8, 2016. The new structure is designed to withstand 100 years of ocean currents, built with high-durability concrete and reinforced stainless steel. But it comes after years of failed attempts to create a durable bridge and countless arguments over environmental concerns.

Constant beach erosion, severe weather, and high traffic volumes have regularly compromised the state of this roadway since its completion in 1963. In 1990, in the middle of the night, a state trooper watched a dredge collide with the bridge during a brutal nor’easter, causing 400 feet of roadway to collapse into the waves below. For three-and-a-half months, Hatteras Island could only be accessed by boat or plane. In 2013, safety concerns closed the bridge for 12 days when routine sonar scanning showed that substantial sand erosion had compromised the support structure. And in the summer of 2017, construction crews struck major underground electrical cables, knocking out power to Ocracoke and Hatteras islands for weeks.

Since the bridge’s original construction, more than $300 million has been spent to protect and repair it.

Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholar Rachel WillisRachel Willis watches the bridge construction from the water’s edge on Hatteras Island. She sighs.

“The ocean wants to open that inlet,” she says. “But we have put all this development and coastal infrastructure in a fixed place — and nature keeps taking it back. How are we preparing to protect the people in these communities? How can we make them less vulnerable? The answer is not ignoring the signs that nature gives us.”

Willis, a professor of American studies, global studies, economics, and a Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholar, researches the intersection of transportation infrastructure and sea-level rise.

How does a labor economist end up studying climate change? The answer is not one you’d expect: socks.

Knitting global social fabric

In the early 1990s, Willis and students compiled data from every child care center in North Carolina — research that contributed to the development of Smart Start legislation. In 1994, while presenting this research at a conference, she met a sock manufacturer who would eventually introduce her to Dan St. Louis, an industry specialist who created training programs to help factories better communicate with employees and help workers become better contributors.

Over the next 10 years, Willis followed the lifecycle of socks around the world. She traveled to Italy to learn where the machines were manufactured, to China to understand business practices of the United States’ soon-to-be biggest competitor, and to the Czech Republic to see where all the Soviet Union sock-knitting machines were made. In North Carolina, she visited more than 200 sock factories and interviewed thousands of workers, owners, supervisors, and suppliers, among other people in the industry.

But it wasn’t just about socks.

“A sock is circular knitting — what goes around comes around,” she says. “Following these complex knitting patterns around the world showed how everything is connected. The purpose of this research was, really, to find out the future of manufacturing, which was obviously declining in the United States. It quickly became clear that cost-effective land transportation was vital to global competitiveness.”

By land or by sea?

When you drive into Morehead City, you can follow the train tracks all the way to the port thanks to the city’s namesake John Motley Morehead, who, as governor, oversaw their construction in the 19thcentury. Today, boats still arrive at the port and directly load goods onto the trains, which make deliveries to local factories and villages along the corridor.

But this kind of infrastructure is the exception. “We’ve undervalued trains as a transportation method in this country,” Willis says. “It’s all about the interstate system here.”

Here’s why Willis believes the nation must put goods on railcars and then get railcars to ports: It costs about 80 cents per mile to move one metric ton of freight on an airplane. It costs 27 cents to move it by truck. It costs 2 cents by rail. “It costs one penny by water — and also by pipeline,” Willis stresses. These numbers don’t just represent product cost — they are a proxy for the amount of carbon put into the atmosphere to move goods around the planet.

The search for a solution

Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholar Rachel Willis bikingThe Dutch have a famous saying: “God built the world, but the Dutch built Holland.” About one-fifth of the Netherlands lies below sea level and 60 percent is vulnerable to flooding — startling statistics that the Dutch have learned to live with. Unlike most of the world, they have always worked to maintain a symbiotic relationship with the water.

Willis has always been fascinated by Dutch resiliency. And with good reason.

In the 13th century, they were already reclaiming land through the construction of dykes after flooding. Two hundred years later, the invention of the rotating turret windmill not only pumped water out of permanently flooded lands — it provided an energy source. Fast-forward to 1852, when the Dutch government reclaimed the land that is now Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport. They spent the next century taking land back from the sea and, in the 1980s, began the largest land reclamation project and erected the grandest flood barrier that the world has ever seen.

The barrier, called Maeslantkering, is equivalent in size to two Eiffel Towers placed horizontally on the water in the Hook of Holland. In 2015, Willis decided she had to go see it for herself. To get there from Amsterdam, she hopped on a wind-powered train (all Dutch trains are powered by wind) and headed to the Hook of Holland, where she rented a bike to complete the rest of the journey.

“I biked along the road between the shipping canal and the new high-capacity wind turbines that are powering all their trains,” she says. “It was amazing to see how you can take problems like high winds and turn them into solutions.” She also took a tour of the barrier and got to see firsthand the complex interactions of moving freight transportation.

“If you’re looking for an insane field trip, go see where these solutions are in full force,” she advises. Another great example, according to Willis, is the Thames Barrier— which prevents Greater London from high tides and storm surges moving up the North Sea. Stretching 1,700 feet across the Thames, the barrier’s 10 steel gates remain flush with the river floor until a threat of high tide — and then they’re rotated upward, to the height of a five-story building, to block rising waters from entering the city. The whole process takes anywhere from 75 to 90 minutes.

“In 2013 alone, the barrier was used 50 times,” Willis says. Since its completion in 1984, the barrier has raised its gates nearly 180 times.

A wonder of the modern world

Although the Dutch continued to pump water from land in the 20th century, they still encountered problems from flooding. The North Sea Flood of 1953, for example, killed more than 2,000 people and put more than 370,000 acres of land underwater. In response, the government began Delta Works, a series of construction projects involving dams, sluices, locks, dykes, levees, and storm surge barriers to secure and protect the deltas of the southwest Netherlands.

In addition, at Maasvlakte 2, they’ve built ports and shipping facilities on reclaimed land that doesn’t conflict with people living in nearby communities. “The Dutch spend the same percentage of their national income on infrastructure related to water management as the U.S. spends on military,” Willis says. “Because fighting the water is their national defense.”

That’s why Willis headed to the Netherlands again this past summer — to speak with experts in engineering, infrastructure, and regional planning. In recent years, the Dutch have refocused their efforts on engineering with nature to provide coastal protection. In 2011, they used 21 million cubic meters of sand to form a hook-shaped peninsula called the “sand engine,” which enables the forces of the ocean to deposit sand along the North Sea coast.

Willis realizes that these solutions are not financially possible for most of the world’s coastlines including India, Brazil, and even regions of the United States. “The costs are astronomical for all but the wealthiest communities and countries,” she says. “They are simply not in the community’s budget, much less the national or global budget.” The physical resources needed to develop these solutions are also in short global supply, she points out.

Optimism and education

Approximately 50 percent of the world’s population will live within 30 miles of the coast by 2050, according to Willis. What does this mean for neighborhoods, for families that live by the water’s edge? How do we prepare people for threats from more intense storms? Even more importantly, what happens to humans in places that are at-risk now, in places like the Maldives, Vietnam, and the Outer Banks?

“I have great optimism about finding solutions,” Willis says. “Because I’ve seen extraordinary examples of them.” She stresses that working toward solutions involves seeing the whole picture.

“Our goals are not American — our goals are global. That means continuing to travel to see how other countries are adapting to rising sea levels and more frequent flooding. Because the problem is not going away. It’s water over the bridge. These destructive flooding events are going to be more severe and more frequent as time goes on. We have to have a better plan, and our first step is educating people on why we need to move back from the water. We need to look at infrastructure in the short run that is adaptable to these flood waters, but we need to use policy and incentives to stop building at the edge.”

Rachel Willis is a professor of American studies, global studies, and economics within the UNC College of Arts & Sciences. She is a Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholar.

Social justice is Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholar Chérie Rivers Ndaliko’s passion

Chérie Rivers Ndaliko and her husband, Petna Ndaliko KatondoloIn 2010, Chérie Rivers Ndaliko and her husband, internationally acclaimed Congolese filmmaker and activist Petna Ndaliko Katondolo, traveled to 33 colleges and universities around the country to show their film, Jazz Mama, which documents the strength of Congolese women in the face of upheaval and violence. Before showing the film, she asked audience members if they knew anything about the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Few, if any, raised their hands. Ndaliko knew she had more work to do.

In the face of the economic conflict raging in Congo in which American consumers are complicit, “there’s no chance the political situation in the Congo is going to change when Americans have no idea that there’s anything even happening,” she said.

Social justice is Ndaliko’s passion, and she appreciates that she has found a space for it in academia. As a Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholar and an assistant professor of music and interdisciplinary scholar, Ndaliko researches and teaches about the intersection of creativity, conflict and social change in Africa. In addition, she and her husband run Yolé!Africa, an organization he founded that provides youth in eastern Congo the space, skills and alternative education necessary to thrive despite the deadly conflict in the region.

Ndaliko finds that the classroom gives students a safe space to discuss social justice issues. “People who are at a point in their lives where they’re really trying to form their values and figure out how they want to shape their adulthood — having these kinds of conversations is really powerful,” she said.

“As scholars of culture, we have very clear insight and recommendations that need to be considered on par with recommendations from engineers and doctors and economists.”

Such conversations will be part of a conference at UNC-Chapel Hill in Oct. 27-28, “The Art of Emergency: Aesthetics and Aid in African Crises.” Ndaliko is partnering with a fellow at the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University, Samuel M. Anderson, to bring together an interdisciplinary mix of scholars, artists, community organizers and students to examine the relationship between creativity and humanitarian aid in conflict regions.

Her new book, on cultural activism and art in the Congo,Necessary Noise: Music, Film and Charitable Imperialism in the East of Congo, will be published in October.

While some nongovernmental organizations and humanitarian agencies attempt to address problems, few of them engage with the local community enough to guide long-lasting change, she said. What’s often lacking is an emphasis on developing critical thinking skills.

“That’s a prime example of the value of a humanities education,” she said. “As scholars of culture, we have very clear insight and recommendations that need to be considered on par with recommendations from engineers and doctors and economists.”

The conference is designed to be interactive and create discussions around best practices for social justice work.

“That kind of shift in thinking leads directly to structural change,” Ndaliko said. “It empowers people who are on the ground to be owners and agents of that change and to direct it as they see fit.”

By Kristen Chavez ’13 Carolina Arts & Sciences

Photo credit: Steve Exum 

Northside’s future takes shape

Northside community members and volunteers

Maggie West (Carolina alumna and neighborhood resident), Marian Cheek Jackson (lifetime resident and Jackson Center namesake), Willie Mae Patterson (lifetime resident and neighborhood leader) and George Barrett (Carolina alumnus, neighborhood resident and Jackson Center staff member).

For Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholar Della Pollock, preserving people’s life stories is more than a way to chronicle the past. It also creates a path to cultivate future aspirations.

A multi-year project begun in 2007 in collaboration with St. Joseph C.M.E. Church proved that point in ways Pollock, professor of communication at Carolina, didn’t imagine at the time. As part of an APPLES service-learning course, Pollock began involving students in the life of Northside, a historically black neighborhood near downtown Chapel Hill, where they listened to oral histories of longtime residents and community leaders.

What started as an effort to learn the history of Northside and understand the role of the black church in the wake of desegregation eventually became a public history and community development organization, the Marian Cheek Jackson Center for Saving and Making History.

There, with Pollock as the center’s executive director, a community-based staff and more than 250 volunteers work each year alongside residents to honor, renew and build community in Northside. Carolina faculty members and students have always been an integral part of that work. In fact, Hudson Vaughan, co-founder and deputy director of the Jackson Center, is one of Pollock’s former students.


The relationship between the University and Northside was forged long ago.

For the past century, a number of Carolina employees have called the network of neighborhoods that make up Northside home.

“Residents’ ancestors built the stone walls that surround the University and hauled water from the Old Well to student dorms,” Pollock said. “Many current residents worked for the University and UNC Hospitals in the past, and some continue to work there today.”

With more than 200 oral histories catalogued, the Jackson Center has become the linchpin for revitalizing a neighborhood that during the past three decades had seen exponential growth in the number of investor-owned properties and a corresponding decline in its black population. The center, which has always had a strong interest in housing advocacy, has partnered with the University, the Town of Chapel Hill and Self- Help to find ways to make Northside a diverse, family-oriented neighborhood once again.

While previous efforts to stabilize the community never gained traction, this time seems to be different.

For one thing, it is a bottom-up leadership process, Pollock said. The Northside Neighborhood Compass Group, made up of community representatives and partners, has vetted the plans and guided the strategic decision-making on Northside properties, she said.

There also is strong motivation to use the past as a springboard for the future, just as the Jackson Center’s motto says: “Without the past, you have no future.” As residents shared their stories, they felt a renewed determination to build on the strengths of their multi-generational community.

Northside residents express a great love and respect for the past, said Linda Convissor, director of community relations at Carolina, but they also want to shape the future.

“Rather than trying to recreate the past or freeze the present, conversations now are more about preserving the traditional values of the African-American neighborhood as new residents move in,” she said. “People who live in Northside – many of whom have family ties that go back several generations – talk about the supportive, tight-knit community of their childhoods, and that’s what they want to carry into the future.”

In addition, residents have seen a revitalized commitment from the Town of Chapel Hill coupled with strong interest from top University leaders, beginning with former Chancellor Holden Thorp and continuing with the staunch support of Chancellor Carol L. Folt. Last March, the University provided a critical financial boost to the effort with a $3 million, 10-year, no-interest loan to Self-Help to help stabilize Northside.


The University’s loan was a major catalyst for the Northside Neighborhood Initiative, said Gordon Merklein, Carolina’s executive director of real estate development, but it is not a University-run effort.

“The Jackson Center is a gateway to the neighborhood – really the boots on the ground, the people who have the ear and pulse of the neighborhood,” Merklein said. “The town wants to see the area thrive, especially with a new elementary school there. Self-Help knows community development real estate better than anyone, and the University brings the money and a desire to see Northside stabilized. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved.”

Self-Help’s involvement is key, he explained, because the Durham-based institution understands the intricacies of buying, holding and selling properties to benefit the community. Self-Help acts as general contractor and loan manager. It pools the financial resources – the loan from the University plus grants the initiative has received – to acquire, renovate and resell avail- able Northside properties to aspiring homeowners or affordable housing agencies.

The concept is called land banking. As a property becomes available, funds from the land bank are used to purchase it, and the property is held in the land bank until a good match is found.

“Essentially, the land bank allows the home to sit until the right buyer is found, and when the home is sold later, that money recycles back into the land bank,” Merklein explained.

The University’s loan is used solely to buy a property, not to renovate it or buy down the purchase price. Those efforts are funded through grants – to date, $75,000 from the Town of Chapel Hill to launch the Promise of Home program so elderly or disabled residents can make home repairs, and $750,000 from the Oak Foundation to support needed renovations and discount the sale price of land bank properties to keep them affordable.

So far, the University loan has been used to acquire six properties, including vacant lots and vacant houses, for the land bank. One property has been sold to Habitat, which plans to build three new homes there for low-income, first-time homeowners. In fact, for 2016–17, Habitat will focus its construction efforts in Northside, with a goal to build a dozen homes in the neighborhood, said Dan Levine, Self-Help’s director of business development and project management.

In less than a year, Northside has seen tangible change. Elderly residents’ homes are being repaired so the residents can remain there, and properties that otherwise might have been snapped up by investors are being held and repaired for sale to families.

“We’ve seen success even more quickly than we had anticipated,” Merklein said. “The University’s backing gave the initiative the momentum it needed to get off the ground. It also paved the way for other organizations, such as Habitat and the Oak Foundation, to become involved.”

The chancellor was the driving force behind this unique opportunity to enhance the University’s historic relationship with Northside, he said. “Thanks to Chancellor Folt’s resolve to turn the vision and commitment of so many people into reality, the residents in Northside are seeing real evidence that their neighborhood will remain a vital part of our community.”

The neighborhood itself deserves much of the credit, Convissor said: “Northside residents have always been active and engaged. It may seem contradictory, but their deep, abiding commitment to preserving their neighborhood is what motivated the investments that will secure its future.”

By Patty Courtright, Finance and Administration

Published May 23, 2016

UNC-Chapel Hill faculty recognized for engaged scholarship connecting with community

fes-class-viCHAPEL 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.

– Carolina –

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.

Read more: http://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2016/06/scholar-program-adds-new-faculty-members