January 23, 2013
Panel to Highlight UMass Research and Engagement Projects in Springfield
The first Institute for Social Science Research (ISSR) “Research in Process Panel” of the Spring 2013 semester, “Social Science Research in Springfield,” will take place on Thursday, February 7, 11:30 am – 1 pm, in the Amherst Room, UMass Amherst Campus Center. Lunch will be served. The event is free and open to the public, but please RSVP to Karen Mason by February 3.
In 2010 officials from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the City of Springfield formalized a new Greater Springfield-University of Massachusetts Amherst Partnership designed to promote collaborations that will lead to the revitalization of Springfield’s economy. Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy is enthusiastic about the project and is expected to be in attendance at the panel. Also present will be Robert S. Feldman, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at UMass, home to ISSR.
The partnership aims to position the city in the long term as a center for environmentally beneficial green industries, boost the city’s arts and creative economy, and expand relevant university teaching and outreach initiatives. From the creation of a skilled workforce for the knowledge economy to the transfer of innovation and research from the university to real-life settings, UMass Amherst and Springfield are working together in many ways to accomplish these goals.
This panel features three social scientists who are engaged in research and engagement projects in Springfield: Sylvia Brandt, associate professor of Resource Economics and Public Policy; Frank Sleegers, assistant professor of Landscape Architecture; and Fred Rose, a researcher and lecturer in the Center for Public Policy and Administration and co-director of the Wellspring Collaborative in Springfield.
Brandt’s research focuses on pollution-related asthma and health care, and her recent study on childhood asthma has been recognized by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) as one of the top research papers of 2012. While the social costs of asthma are large enough to justify substantial policy interest, asthma is also of great concern because the health effects fall disproportionately on the young and poor in the United States. She looks at forces that may lead to these disparities: exposure to air pollution that exacerbates asthma and creates new asthma cases; and inequities in the delivery of health services. In Springfield, she has worked on asthma intervention programs, evaluated the social costs and policy implications of the rise of asthma there and testified to the city council on the health costs of the proposed biomass power plant.
Frank Sleegers’ award-winning work centers on strategies to rebuild urban environments by exploring four elements: ecology, community, art, and aesthetics. These elements reflect a mutually interweaving comprehensive approach and characterize a philosophy that strives for equilibrium of process, form and function. Sleegers is an initiator and co-director of the UMass Amherst Design Center in Springfield. The Center facilitates community service learning within the setting of urban design studios in Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning. The design studios address critical issues like lack of walkability, accessibility of public open space, or contamination in Springfield’s distressed neighborhoods. Visionary design proposals are developed in collaboration with local residents and stakeholders and brought to the attention of municipal planners and politicians. Sleegers’ research and creative work explores site responsive public art as an experience to make a visible and tangible impact in the City.
The Wellspring Collaborative, codirected by Rose, focuses on economic development that improves the lives of Springfield residents, and grew out of a concern that many neighborhoods lack employment opportunities resulting in many residents not making a living wage. To build demand for new jobs, Wellspring is coordinating with the region’s largest employers to identify key areas where the purchase of goods and services, including food service, dairy processing, laundry, construction and energy efficiency, can be shifted to center-city Springfield neighborhoods. In addition to receiving a $200,000 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Roadmaps to Community Health grant—only one of twelve projects in the country to do so—Wellspring has raised a significant amount of matching dollars from funding partners within the initiative.
Each of these panelists at the February 7 event will address the needs and strengths of Springfield, share advice on connecting with city residents and institutions through research and engagement projects, and share their visions of how the UMass-Springfield partnership might grow in the future.
Researchers with ongoing projects in Springfield, or those who are considering conducting locally-based studies in the future, are especially encouraged to attend for an opportunity to network with like-minded individuals.
For more information about ISSR, please visit the website.