Two projects supported by IHSI receive Call to Action funding

8/26/2021 1:30:57 PM

In July, the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion selected the recipients of the university’s 2021 Call to Action to Address Racism & Social Injustice Program. Two projects involving IHSI’s research development staff were awarded Call to Action funding.

The goal of the Call to Action to Address Racism and Social Injustice Research Program is to enhance exceptional cross-disciplinary research strengths and expand collaborations to build cultures of research that address structures of racism and injustice. For the 2021 Call to Action, the request for proposals focused on three critical research areas: systemic racism and social justice, law enforcement and criminal justice reform, and disparities in health and health care.

IHSI’s Research Development core—including Brandi Barnes, Ph.D., Maggie Berg, Ph.D., Kelsey Hassevoort, Ph.D., and Emily Stone, MPH—worked with researchers across campus to submit proposals that focused on disparities in health and health care as well as systemic racism and social justice. Barnes, Hassevoort, and Stone will also play roles in the selected projects.

The first project addresses educational inequities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Psychology professor Eva Pomerantz serves as principle investigator (PI), and The Grainger College of Engineering’s Outreach and Public Engagement Coordinator Lara Hebert, Ph.D., one of the co-PIs, serves as the project coordinator for Partnerships in Equity, Access, and Representation in STEM (PEAR-STEM). PEAR-STEM brings interdisciplinary and cross-organizational expertise together to address inequities in access and opportunity for Black and Latinx K-12 students historically excluded from STEM majors and careers, with efforts to identify how to optimize preparation and systems of support.

Approximately half of K-12 students in Champaign-Urbana are from backgrounds historically marginalized in STEM. Initiatives focused on STEM education for students of color typically operate in isolation from one another and rarely provide content that strategically embeds college readiness in mathematics, offers engagement over extended periods of time, and strategically partners with caregivers at all grade-levels, all of which are key for effective STEM preparation. PEAR-STEM will merge individual strengths of multiple community organization leaders and University faculty and staff into a collective focused on establishing a Saturday STEM education program for CU’s Black and Latinx students that extends over the K-12 years.

PEAR-STEM leverages the expertise of the Chicago Pre-College Science and Engineering Program, University of Illinois psychology, education, and engineering faculty, specialists in public engagement and STEM teaching and learning, and leaders from Driven to Reach Academic Achievement in Males, the Urbana Neighborhood Connections Center, and Cena y Ciencias, who bring experience and expertise in providing culturally relevant and sustaining programming, as well as providing family empowerment and advocacy support.

In addition to providing an accessible and inclusive pathway to STEM with high quality, out-of-school STEM enrichment for K-12 students, this project will inform teacher professional development, provide a rich context for community-based research that will inform pre-college STEM-equity initiatives nationwide, strengthen community-academic partnerships, and contribute empirically to understanding how to bring greater diversity, equity, and inclusion to STEM.

Hebert will partner with Hassevoort and Stone, who co-lead IHSI’s Community-Academic Partnerships (CAP) core, and Barnes, leader of IHSI’s Health Equity core, to advance project objectives and connect undergraduates with community-engaged research and service opportunities.

The second project, led by Andiara Schwingel, a professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health, uses a community-based participatory research approach to establish a coalition of Community Health Workers, Illinois researchers, University of Illinois Extension, and the Illinois Community Health Workers Association (ILCHWA) to develop, evaluate, and disseminate online learning strategies through certificate programs that will train CHWs to address their community health needs.

Community Health Workers (CHWs) have shown to effectively serve as liaisons between health and social services and the community, and assist in outreach, community education, informal counseling, social support and advocacy - despite their limited formal health training. As members of the communities that they serve, CHWs share culture, language and life experiences that enable them to easily access hard-to-reach groups.

Health disparities are evident among communities of color, with African Americans and Hispanics bearing a disproportionate burden of disease, injury, disability, and death. COVID-19 further highlights these disparities; the pandemic has hit communities of color hardest with high positivity and death rates, while also experiencing an underwhelming vaccine rollout. COVID-19, in addition to the many other health issues these communities experience, underscores the importance of culturally and linguistically sensitive approaches to health across the life course. CHWs are well positioned to make a difference in the fight to reduce health disparities, and this project offers an opportunity to better equip them for this critical role.

As a Co-PI on this project, Barnes is involved in reviewing project reports and publications, in the development and evaluation of the certificate programs. She will also work with Hassevoort, Stone, and University of Illinois Extension on public dissemination of the modules.