Home » NKU grants enable community-based research by university faculty, students

NKU grants enable community-based research by university faculty, students

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. (June 7, 2012) — Three grants totaling $57,500 have been awarded by Northern Kentucky University to faculty members conducting community programming and research. The funding will enable an innovative evaluation of barriers to high school graduation, the expansion of an Ohio River field study program for students in grades 4-12 and a closer look at human trafficking in our region.

The awards represent the 2012 University-Community Partnership Grants, which are offered each year as part of NKU’s continuing commitment to public engagement. The grants are awarded to full-time faculty who establish partnerships with local government agencies or nonprofits to address Northern Kentucky’s educational, health, social or civic needs.

While the grants are made to faculty members, each project also must include NKU students in the work, often as co-researchers. The idea is to mentor students in research skills while also providing direct community benefits.

Dr. Jan Hillard, who is NKU associate provost for research, graduate studies and regional stewardship, coordinates the program, which since 2002 has directed approximately $1 million to community research and programming ranging from support for a regional conference for gifted to children to a look at social diversity in our region. “This program illustrates the ideal of being a bridge builder between the university and the community,” he said.

Successful applicants had to demonstrate a connection to the goals of Vision 2015, the nonprofit collaborative based in Covington that oversees the implementation of a plan to improve Northern Kentucky’s economy, education, health, governance, community stewardship and quality of life.

This year’s recipients

Dr. Dana Harley, a social work professor, is receiving $25,000 to fund a project aimed at dropout prevention in the Kenton County School District. NKU graduate students will mentor high school students who have been identified as dropout risks. The project will use Photovoice, a technique that incorporates photography and storytelling to gather information that can be used to guide public policy. Participants will be given cameras and asked to record images of their world. The NKU students then will analyze the images and information collected to identify obstacles that prevent graduation. The NKU students will craft policy recommendations to school district administrators. This program was piloted in 2011 with 15 mentorships. The Partnership Grant will expand it to 100 mentorships over the next two years.

Dr. Miriam Steinitz-Kannan, a professor of biological sciences, is receiving $25,000 to expand the Ohio River STEM Institute, an NKU collaboration with the Foundation for Ohio River Education. The expansion will focus on reaching minority students. The institute uses the Ohio River as a field classroom to teach biology and chemistry. About 20 NKU students will take a class to prepare them to lead the instruction of at least 200 students, primarily from area junior high and high schools. The grant also will fund the expansion of River on the Web, an website with water quality information and teacher resources. A smart phone application will give students in the field a way to feed data to the site, where it can be used to develop classroom lessons.

Dr. Greg Hatchett, a counseling professor, is receiving $7,500 to survey the extent of human trafficking in our region. He’ll work with the NKU Honors Program to gather information to guide area agencies in improving services in this critical arena. Students will survey health clinics, police and other agencies as part of an effort to document the extent of human trafficking here. Our region’s combination of transportation (e.g. interstates, airport), exploitive businesses (strip clubs, prostitution, drug trade) and at-risk populations (low-income families, single mothers, substance abusers) make it an ideal magnet for human trafficking. Though the problem has made headlines, its real extent and nature are not yet well-documented in Northern Kentucky. The Women’s Crisis Center in Covington will be the project’s community partner.

“The University Community Partnership Grants have created a legacy of educating and transforming students and faculty researchers into engaged community members,” Vision 2015 Vice President Kara Williams said. “Without these funds, many nonprofits and community partners, like Vision 2015 and our 18 public school systems, would not have the relevant, accurate, reliable, valid and current information needed to drive decision making on programs, services and policy.”