IHSI’s Community-Academic Scholars Initiative offers University of Illinois undergraduate students the opportunity to pursue community-based research projects in Urbana-Champaign over the summer. The initiative launched with its first cohort of Scholars for Health Equity in May 2019.


Community-Academic Scholars InitiativeEngaging in community-focused research

Scholars from disciplines across campus work with a faculty mentor and a mentor from a community organization (health agencies, nonprofits, summer programs for children, organizations serving special populations, etc.) within a focused program to address critical issues like health disparities, brain health, and poverty. Each scholar will contribute to a project designed to directly benefit the community members served by the partner organization. This includes research projects, program evaluations, needs assessments, or any other project that interests the organization and a faculty member.

During the 10-week program, students will develop applied research skills for measuring and maximizing impact in their work. Scholars from every program come together each week for a coffee hour and facilitated discussion. Invited speakers provide practical guidance to the group, covering topics such as:

  • Careers in research
  • Conducting research in community settings
  • The value of team-based science
  • Presenting research to different audiences

Selecting a program

Student applicants will indicate their preference for one of the following programs:

Scholars for Health Equity

Program coordinator: Brandi Barnes, IHSI Research Development Manager for Health Equity
Program sponsors: Office of the Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, College of Education, IHSI

Each project in the Scholars for Health Equity program aims to address a health disparity in the community. Health disparities refer to differences in health outcomes that are closely linked with social, economic, or environmental disadvantage, and are considered unnecessary, avoidable, and unjust.

Scholars for Brain Health

Program coordinator: Kelsey Hassevoort, IHSI Research Development Specialist for Brain Health
Program sponsors: Beckman Institute, IHSI

Each project in the Scholars for Brain Health program aims to address in issue in the community related to brain health. For example, projects may focus on topics such as improving the wellbeing of individuals living with brain injury, access to mental health services, promoting healthy lifestyles to improve cognition, or prevention of brain-related diseases and disorders.

Scholars for Solving Poverty

Program coordinator: Pete Ondish, CSBS Postdoctoral Researcher for Solving Poverty
Program sponsors: Center for Social and Behavioral Science (CSBS), IHSI

Each project in the Scholars for Solving Poverty program aims to address issues of poverty or social inequality in the community. For example, projects may focus on improvement and reform related to educational outreach, food insecurity, youth development, criminal justice, labor and employment relations, or housing and homelessness. Learn more.

Application Process

The application period for Summer 2020 scholars programs is now closed. All applications were due on Feb 3, 2020. 

Eligibility and Preference:

  • Applicants must be undergraduate students in good standing at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (graduating seniors are not eligible to apply).
  • Applicants must have a community organization and an Illinois faculty member committed to the summer project. In most cases, applicants will be involved in ongoing research projects or supporting an established collaboration between faculty and community partner.
  • Preference is given to students from racially and/or ethnically diverse backgrounds, and to those whose background reflects the communities their project serves. 

Instructions for submitting your application:

1.  Ask your faculty mentor to complete the Faculty Mentor Support FormYou will need to upload it along with your application, so please ensure they have plenty of time to complete and return the form to you.

2. Ask your community organization mentor to complete the Community Mentor Support FormYou will need to upload it along with your application, so please ensure they have plenty of time to complete and return the form to you.

3. Write a personal statement of interest in the program (limit 1-page, single-spaced, 12-point font). You will need to upload it along with your application. The personal statement should include:

  • Why you want to participate in the scholars program
  • How your personal background has prepared you for this project
  • How your personal background allows you to relate to the population you are serving
  • How the program will benefit your academic or professional future

4. Create or update your curriculum vitae/resume. You will need to upload it along with your application.  

5. Complete the application. In addition to uploading the materials listed above, you will be asked to include:

  • Personal information
  • Contact information for your faculty and community mentors
  • A brief project description (150 words or less) and its alignment with one or more program focus areas

Program requirements:

  • Applicants are expected to be engaged full-time in their project over the summer for 10 weeks.
  • Students must create a communication plan for updating their faculty and community mentors on weekly progress.
  • Students must create and present a poster with their summer work at the final awards ceremony.
  • Students will attend program orientation, welcome event, and weekly coffee hours during the summer. A final awards ceremony will be held at the end of the summer to honor the scholars and their organizations.

Coverage for expenses:

  • A $3,500 disbursement will be made to each successful applicant’s university account at the end of the spring semester.
  • The purpose of the disbursement is to pay for housing and/or other living expenses so that the selected students can remain on campus during the summer to conduct research.

Become a program collaborator  

Contact Emily Stone to discuss participating in future programs, or starting a new scholars program.