AMHERST, Mass. – Four projects proposed by University of Massachusetts Amherst faculty have received Public Service Endowment Grants (PSEG) from a special campus fund designed to boost outreach, extend the campus resources into the surrounding community and enhance the public service mission of the university.
PSEG grants support collaborations between community partners and university scholars to address complex public issues through community-informed projects. Its vision statement calls for the program to emphasize “converting knowledge into readily usable forms for immediate applications.” It is administered by the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Engagement.
Social psychologist Nilanjana Dasgupta, professor of psychological and brain sciences, will receive $13,353 to work with Girls Inc. of Holyoke on a project to evaluate whether participating in a summer program increases student engagement in science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) and other sciences. Woman and people of color are minorities in STEM education and careers, she explains. While studies have been conducted among college-age women, there has been very little research on whether same-gender peer mentors and other intervention can enhance younger girls’ success. Dasgupta will design a way to evaluate this in the Eureka program, a partnership between UMass Amherst’s College of Natural Sciences and Girls Inc. of Holyoke launched in 2013 to motivate girls to pursue post-secondary education and careers in STEM fields.
Environmental health scientist Krystal Pollitt and Ezra Markowitz, an assistant professor of environmental conservation, will receive $14,850 to work with Partners for a Healthier Community, BayState Medical Center Pulmonary Rehabilitation Department and others on “The Fresh Air Project: Profiling Children’s Environmental Exposures in Springfield.” As they explain, Springfield suffers from high rates of childhood asthma with large ethnic and race disparities. This project seeks to improve disease management in 20 families with home visits to educate children and their families about asthma triggers. They will partner with the Springfield Healthy Homes Asthma Pilot Program to address poor housing conditions related to asthma triggers. As part of this, the researchers will develop interactive learning activities to introduce children at the Springfield Renaissance School to new areas of science that go beyond traditional curriculum to foster appreciation of the importance of disease self-management and future asthma prevention.
Political science associate professor Dean Robinson will receive $10,890 to work with Men of Color Health Awareness (MOCHA) in the Springfield area on a program of curriculum and professional development. Launched in 2010, MOCHA grew out of community meetings called to address health inequalities experienced by black and other men of color in Springfield and across the country. With six MOCHA mentor volunteers, Robinson will hold meetings about the curriculum and specifically about how to expand it relating to three broad themes: health behavior, racism and the social determinants of health. They will collect feedback from participants to evaluate such variables as effectiveness and usefulness.
Nursing associate professor Genevieve Chandler will receive $11,479 for a resilience project among young urban athletes at Springfield Central High School. Her goal is to work with the school to promote well-being among adolescents using the “Changing Minds, Changing Lives” program that has been successful among college-age young people. As Chandler explains, the core of CMCL is a five-week course that builds on student strengths and recognizes what they know through a group writing method that invites students to tell their own stories. She and school officials hope students gain a sense of strength and learned resilience, plus a foundation for healthy, informed decisions about behaviors, community engagement and future educational opportunities.