Community-Academic Scholars Initiative celebrates its third summer program

8/18/2021 9:13:31 AM

IHSI’s Community-Academic Scholars Initiative offers University of Illinois undergraduate students the opportunity to pursue community-based research projects in Champaign-Urbana over the summer.  The initiative was launched in 2019 with a cohort of six scholars. This year, 16 scholars were selected from a pool of nearly 100 applicants to address critical issues in health, poverty, and/or social inequality.

During the 10-week program, students developed applied research skills for measuring and maximizing impact in their work. This year’s program included 14 powerful projects addressing the impacts of COVID-19, poverty and social inequality, nutrition, physical activity, social-emotional learning, LGBTQ health, technology and aging, racial disparities, Veterans’ issues, and the role that forest preserves play in community and individual health. Scholars also came together each week for a virtual coffee hour and facilitated discussion, led by the program team and invited research and community leaders.

"We are thrilled to have had an incredible community surrounding our scholars this summer,” said Community-Academic Scholars Initiative Co-Director Kelsey Hassevoort. “This was a cohort of students with big ideas, and it was inspiring to witness the close relationships these scholars built with their faculty and community mentors as they carried out their projects."

Each fall, Illinois faculty are invited to participate in the Community-Academic Scholars program. Project submissions must include an established partnership with a local community organization and address an existing need in the community related to health, poverty, or social inequality. This year, program leaders will be offering a faculty information session on September 28 to help faculty and community partners better understand the program and answer any questions.

Kevin Tan, a professor of social work, has been involved in the Community-Academic Scholars program since it started. “I appreciate the partnerships forged between the community partner and the university with the student at the center of this partnership," said Tan. "This program is about preparing the next generation of individuals who will be leaders in the community with work informed by research.”

Each student receives mentorship from both a faculty and a community collaborator. Students learn the valuable skills needed to not only conduct research, but to understand real, on-the-ground viewpoints and challenges.

“Anytime there is a partnership like this it allows not only the needs of the community to take front stage, but is an efficient way for students and/or faculty to greater utilize their teaching, learned tools to meet those needs,” said Amy Brown, CEO of CRIS Healthy Aging Center. As a community partner already working to serve identified community needs including these tools, keeping things ‘fresh’ allows all those involved to learn and flourish from the partnership, which also benefits the community.”

“Community-Academic Scholars are highly motivated and have a desire to learn, grow, and contribute to a meaningful project,” said Sandraluz Lara-Cinisomo, a professor of kinesiology and community health. “Mentoring is an important aspect of the experience. While a summer project may seem brief, it’s long enough to make a difference in a student’s personal and professional development.”

Student scholars apply for the program in January. Scholars are selected for the program based on their demonstrated skills needed to work on the project, their personal connections to and passion for the issues their projects address, and for the many ways they have already made an impact on campus and in the community. Through the program, students gain valuable experience, opportunities to participate in research projects, and insight into the world of community-based research.

“This project showed me the importance of outreach, especially in more rural areas, and how much community attitudes can vary over such a small space,” said Emily Pasetes, a 2021 Community-Academic Scholar. “It takes a lot of work to reach communities that are often neglected, and this project introduced me to what it looks like to tackle those issues head-on.”

On Wednesday, August 5, the program’s largest and most diverse cohort of Community-Academic Scholars were honored during a recognition ceremony. The 16 scholars in this cohort represent 16 majors in seven colleges, including the initiative’s first students from the College of Media and the Grainger College of Engineering.

During the ceremony, video presentations from each of the scholars highlighted the work they did with their academic and community mentors to make a positive impact in Champaign-Urbana over the summer.

For more information about becoming a Community-Academic Scholar, a faculty mentor, or community mentor, visit