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 seventh class of Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars (FES). These scholars will develop projects in partnership with community programs like the North Carolina Treatment program and the National Child traumatic Stress Network. These organizations are working to help implement various therapeutic practices and further advance research methodology.

Leaders in their respective fields, these 10 faculty members will participate in the two-year program sponsored by the Carolina Center for Public Service. The 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:

• Cheryl Bolick, associate professor, School of Education
• Jada Brooks, assistant professor, School of Nursing
• Shauna Cooper, associate professor, Department of Psychology and Neuroscience
• Sarah Dempsey, assistant chair and associate professor, Department of Communication
• Amelia Gibson, assistant professor, School of Information and Library Science
• Byron Powell, assistant professor, Department of Health Policy and Management
• Danielle Spurlock, assistant professor, Department of City and Regional Planning
• Jessica Williams, assistant professor, School of Nursing
• Amy Wilson, assistant professor, School of Social Work
• Courtney Woods, assistant professor, Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering

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, 63 faculty members have been selected from 12 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.

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.


2018 Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars call for applications

The Carolina Center for Public Service is accepting applications for Class VII of the Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars program (FES). FES brings together selected Carolina faculty from across campus to engage in a two-year experiential, competency-based curriculum designed to advance their engaged scholarship. Up to 10 faculty members are selected every other year. The program is highly interactive and experiential, involving field visits, exposure to ongoing projects, and discussions with community and faculty partners. Applications for Class VII (2018-2020) are accepted online through the Carolina Center for Public Service Application and Nomination Portal. Application deadline is Monday, March 12, 2018.

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.

Seminar Series on Engaged Scholarship: Disciplinary Perspectives on Engaged Scholarship

The 2009 UNC Task Force on Future Promotion and Tenure Policies and Practices, and the 2016 Provost’s Task Force on Engaged Scholarship in Promotion and Tenure both underscored the importance of exploring engaged scholarship at the disciplinary level and developing standards and examples that can be helpful in the documentation and assessment of engaged scholarship. Using a guide developed by the 2016 Task Force, seminar participants will discuss the similarities and variation of engaged scholarship across disciplines.

The presentation is 9:45 a.m. – 11:30, Friday, Oct. 20 in Dey Hall’s Toy Lounge. Sign in and refreshments begin at 9:30 a.m.

Facilitators are Lynn Blanchard, director of the Carolina Center for Public Service and members of the 2016 Provost’s Task Force on Engaged Scholarship in Promotion and Tenure. Register online at UNC Event Registration.