Friedman and Johnston recognized for engaged scholarship through The Irina Project

UNC School of Media and Journalism faculty members Barbara Friedman and Anne Johnston were recognized by the Carolina Center for Public Service on Wednesday, Aug. 31, as members of the fifth class of Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars.

Friedman, an associate professor in the MJ-school, and Johnston, professor and academic dean of the school, joined five other UNC faculty members being honored for their work on a variety of projects that connect them to the community.

Friedman and Johnston co-direct The Irina Project (TIP) that monitors and studies media representations of sex trafficking and provides resources to news organizations and others for accurate and responsible reporting of the issue. TIP is the only organization to have theoretical and applied research of media coverage of trafficking as its sole focus.

For the Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars program, the two advanced a web-based resource that includes best practices, interactive data on trafficking, and interviews with expert sources including survivors, blog essays, tip sheets, research notes and more. Friedman and Johnston have trained print, broadcast and digital journalists to cover trafficking and continue to field queries from reporters around the world working on this issue. Most recently, they partnered with a group preparing an anti-trafficking campaign for the state of North Carolina.

The Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars program is an initiative of the Carolina Center for Public Service that brings together selected faculty from across campus to engage in a two-year experiential, competency-based curriculum designed to advance their engaged scholarship.

“Our research showed us what the challenges are for reporting news on the complex issue of sex trafficking, but it was our involvement as Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars that showed us how best to support journalists doing that work,” said Friedman. “The program provided the intellectual enrichment, collegiality and financial support critical to moving The Irina Project forward in meaningful ways.”

Scholars participate in sessions in community settings to learn from Carolina faculty and their community partners. While developing individual projects, each class of scholars forms a learning community along with the faculty and community course directors to support one another’s projects and community partners. The growing network of Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars reports outcomes including new interdisciplinary collaborations, successful grant applications and both traditional and innovative products of their scholarship.

“The Faculty Engaged Scholars program transformed the way we thought about our communities and their involvement in our research,” said Johnston. “The groups and organizations we visited were so committed to serving and helping their communities and to involving these communities in the development and implementation of their research and programs,” said Johnston. “This model of interacting with communities really expanded our view of who our communities are and how we should be engaged with all of them.”

The other members of the fifth class of Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholars include UNC faculty members Maureen Berner, Cheryl Giscombe, Adam Jacks, Steve May, Vicki Mercer and Chérie Ndaliko.

Maureen Berner, School of Government

Berner wanted to know more about how communities can successfully address what she calls “wicked problems” – in her case, hunger and food insecurity. Her project focused on how hungry children access, or fail to access, available federally supported summer meal programs. Through in-depth interviews and data from across the state and close interaction with state officials and nonprofit leaders, Berner concluded that the key to feeding hungry children is building local government and nonprofit capacity. She is a founding member of a new consortium of university researchers providing monthly advice on these programs directly to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials and collaborating on new research projects prompted by USDA initiatives.

Cheryl Giscombe, School of Nursing

Giscombe is the LeVine Wellness Distinguished Associate Professor. Her work as a Thorp Faculty Engaged Scholar strengthened her existing partnership with Healing with CAARE — a Durham-based organization provides services to at-risk persons and their families by referring health and social resources. Through the Faculty Engaged Scholars program, Giscombe completed two research studies in collaboration with her community partner; one focused on substance abuse relapse prevention and the other focused on chronic stress and diabetes risk reduction. Giscombe provides training in culturally sensitive, contextually relevant, team-oriented, evidence-based, holistic care including a focus on healthcare systems and policy. This type of learning for healthcare professionals has been found to increase empathy and insight, and to increase acuity of focus on changes needed to positively impact care, access and population health.

Adam Jacks, Department of Allied Health Sciences

Jacks is an associate professor in the Department of Allied Health Sciences – Speech and Hearing Sciences who studies the impact of stroke and other neurological diseases on communication. Much of his current work focuses on identifying predictors of life participation in community-dwelling stroke and brain injury survivors with impaired communication (i.e. aphasia). His Faculty Engaged Scholars project focused on providing language assessments to people with aphasia in the community with no access to treatment, as well as to those who attend communication groups at Triangle Aphasia Project Unlimited, a Cary-based nonprofit organization. Jacks’ project provided opportunities to build relationships with speech-language pathologists in the community, including a clinical research forum with equal contributions by academic researchers and practicing clinicians.

Steve May, Department of Communication

May, associate professor in the Department of Communication, focuses his research on exploring organizational ethics and corporate social responsibility, with an emphasis on studying public-private, cross-sector partnerships that seek to solve a range of community problems. May’s Faculty Engaged Scholars project identified best practices of corporate social responsibility initiatives to understand successful strategies for business-community partnerships that are equitable, collaborative and produce sustainable impact. These best practices include creating a shared vision by focusing on common interests and values; identifying and engaging diverse sets of stakeholders, with mutually reinforcing activities; developing trust by communicating candidly and engaging in continuous learning; creating shared measurements of progress and impact; and providing knowledge and expertise through best practices. Using project findings, May produced a web-based knowledge database that includes scholarly findings, case studies, white papers, a blog and assessment tools used by cross-sector partners.

Vicki Mercer, Department of Allied Health Sciences

Mercer, associate professor in the Department of Allied Health Sciences – Physical Therapy, focuses her research on improving balance and preventing falls in older adults and individuals with neurological disorders. In her Faculty Engaged Scholars project, she expanded her work with the Community Health and Mobility Partnership (CHAMP) program in western North Carolina. CHAMP is a falls prevention program that Mercer developed in 2009 with community partners from senior centers, hospitals, physical therapy clinics and community colleges. Through CHAMP, interdisciplinary teams of health care providers work with older adults at senior centers and other community sites to improve their balance and muscle strength and decrease their risk of falls.

Chérie Ndaliko, Department of Music

Ndaliko, assistant professor in the Department of Music, explored parallels between students in eastern Congo whose lives are inflected by war and violence and students in economically underprivileged communities in North Carolina. Common to both groups of students is limited access to arts education that leaves them with fewer opportunities to develop empowering critical thinking skills. To interrupt this cycle, Ndaliko created an interactive arts curriculum for North Carolina students that uses examples from Africa to foster critical thinking skills and cultivate global perspectives. In partnership with the Global Scholars Academy in Durham, North Carolina, the curriculum allows students to partner on creative projects with their Congolese peers, permitting those without the financial means to travel to have cross-cultural experiences.