University News

Public Engagement Project Announces 2023 Faculty Fellows

The Public Engagement Project (PEP) has announced the six 2023 Public Engagement Faculty Fellows from across campus who will draw upon their substantial research records to impact policy, the work of practitioners and public debates.

Public Engagement Project at UMass Amherst

The PEP Fellows Program, of which this group constitutes the ninth cohort, facilitates connections between fellows and lawmakers in the U.S. Congress and Massachusetts State House, journalists, practitioners and others to share their research beyond the walls of academia. The faculty fellows will receive a stipend and technical training in communicating with non-academic audiences.

“The expanding network of PEP Faculty Fellows is impacting society,” says Lisa M. Troy, director of the Public Engagement Project and associate professor in the School of Public Health and Health Sciences and the Commonwealth Honors College. “By training UMass faculty to translate their scholarship to an audience beyond academia, UMass faculty are having broader impacts locally, nationally and internationally. PEP Fellows are invited to governor task forces, onto the National Academy of Sciences committees and for congressional testimony, as well as informing the general public through various media outlets. In this way, PEP Fellows are facilitating the mission of UMass Amherst as a land grant university, to advance knowledge and improve the lives of the people of the Commonwealth, the nation and the world.”

The Public Engagement Project is a faculty-driven initiative building on a collaboration of the Institute for Social Science Research (ISSR), the Center for Research on Families (CRF) and the Transportation Center (UMTC). The PEP Faculty Fellowship has been made possible by funding from the College of Education, College of Engineering, College of Humanities and Fine Arts, College of Natural Sciences, College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, School of Public Health and Health Sciences, Office of the Provost and University Relations.

2023 PEP Faculty Fellows


Justin Coles

Coles collects multimodal, art-driven stories from Black urban youth as a method to understand their experiences with antiblackness in the U.S. and how they leverage those experiences to exist beyond the confines of antiblackness. Coles believes youth stories can inform the ways antiracist and equitable schools and classrooms are built to create more equitable educational futures. As a PEP fellow, he will engage in a series of blog posts, social media postings and short videos designed for educators, parents, community activists and policy makers.

Debbie Felton

Felton studies how mythological monsters of the ancient world remain relevant in the modern one. As a PEP Fellow, she will give public talks and develop a blog devoted to demonstrating how monsters from world-wide art and literature of long ago provide useful metaphors for a vast range of current cultural concerns, including anxieties about foreigners, females, colonization and disability.

Stephanie Fetta

Fetta studies how shame is communicated through the body. For example, a furrowed brow shows the shame we feel for another, and a racing heart tells us we are not held as equals. Fetta argues racial shaming is a habit, a socially trained bodily communication that becomes second nature. As a PEP Fellow, Fetta will write op-ed pieces and give interviews on understanding the body’s role in racism, an essential step towards changing the unconscious yet potent way by which racism is perpetuated.

amanda paluch

Paluch studies the health benefits of physical activity. Her research applies and advances technology to monitor and promote active living for disease prevention. As a PEP fellow, she will share her research through media interviews and connect with clinicians and organizations to encourage active lifestyles.

Elsa Petit

Petit studies microorganisms that improve soil health. By examining the number and quality of microorganisms of wild grapes compared to cultivated grapes, she can identify agricultural practices that are better for the environment. With PEP, she will develop material for growers to adopt environmentally-friendly agricultural practices and communicate with legislators to create public policy that support growers.

Lucy Xiaolu Wang

Wang studies how to build better organizations to promote innovation in the pharmaceutical industry, cannabis market (production through consumption) and digital health (e.g., electronic health records), within the U.S. and across the globe. As a PEP fellow, she will write news articles and op-ed pieces to engage public audiences and policymakers, to better understand how to enhance equitable access to drugs and mitigate social equity issues in the legal cannabis business.