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Academic, outreach faculty team up on rural issues

Kelly Simmons

July 8, 2021

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Eight individual or teams of University of Georgia academic faculty members were awarded seed grants to conduct research in rural communities alongside faculty from Public Service and Outreach and Cooperative Extension.

The faculty members were among 20 that attended the inaugural Rural Engagement Faculty Workshop, which kicked off its first of four sessions in January.

The goal of the workshop was to encourage academic faculty to identify a challenging issue in rural Georgia and find UGA outreach faculty members to partner with on solutions to that challenge. Through a competitive process, participants were eligible to apply for $5,000 seed grants funded by the Provost’s Office to support initial research that can be used to apply for external funding.

“I’m pleased to see a good mix of academic expertise addressing diverse issues in Georgia’s rural communities,” said Jennifer Frum, vice president for public service and outreach. “Health care, an aging population, infrastructure and education are critical issues throughout the state and by pairing our academic experts with outreach faculty already working in these communities, we’re ahead of the game.”

The initial seed grant recipients include:

  • Lisa Renzi-Hammond, an associate professor at the College of Public Health, who will explore Serving Aging Georgians through Education (SAGE) with faculty from the Hart County Archway Partnership and UGA Extension.
  • Devin Lavendar and Ewan Cobran, both clinical assistant professors in the College of Pharmacy; TJ Kopcha, an associate professor in the Mary Frances Early College of Education; Christina Proctor, a clinical assistant professor in the College of Public Health; and Renzi-Hammond; who will study Creating the Healthiest Georgia with faculty from the Archway Partnership.
  • Stephan Durham, a professor in the College of Engineering, whose research project is Envisioning Peer-to-Peer Technology to Support Rural Infrastructure Management, in collaboration with faculty from the Carl Vinson Institute of Government and the Archway Partnership.
  • Binu Velayudhan, department chair of the Athens Veterinary Diagnostic Lab in the College of Veterinary Medicine, and Hemant Naikare, an associate professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine, who will look at Empowering Rural Animal Agriculture through On-Site Disease Diagnostics and Education with faculty members from UGA Extension.
  • Ke Li, an associate professor in the College of Engineering, who will research a Community-based Strategy to Manage PFAS Contamination for Public Health/Safe Food with faculty in the Hart County Archway Partnership.
  • Sina Gallo, associate professor in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, and Janani Rajbhandari-Thapa, associate professor in the College of Public Health, who will research leveraging university-community networks to improve maternal and infant health, with faculty in the Archway Partnership.
  • Jamon Flowers, a clinical assistant professor in the College of Education, and Georgia Hodges, an associate research professor in the College of Education, who will study Rural Communities and Schools Collaboration on STEM, with faculty from the Archway Partnership.
  • Christina Proctor, with an individual seed grant to study Finding Appropriate Measures for Rural Mental Health and Substance Use among farmers, with the Archway Partnership, UGA Extension, and the School of Social Work.

Twenty academic faculty members, representing 12 of UGA’s 18 schools and colleges, were participants in the inaugural Rural Engagement Workshop, which included an in-depth examination of rural Georgia’s demographics and trends; an overview of current UGA Public Service and Outreach and Extension initiatives benefiting rural Georgia communities, small businesses, farmers, governments and nonprofits; and a review of high-impact community engagement practices for rural Georgia. The College of Public Health and the School of Social Work partnered with Public Service and Outreach to deliver the program.

“These projects reflect the University of Georgia’s commitment to strengthening partnerships with communities throughout Georgia,” said S. Jack Hu, the university’s senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. “They also lay the foundation for grants from federal agencies, foundations and other external funders to further advance research, scholarship and service.”