Several UConn faculty, staff, and students are being honored for their work benefitting citizens and communities as recipients of the annual Provost’s Awards for Excellence in Community Engaged Scholarship.
The awards recognize scholarly activities led by members of the UConn community that are in collaboration with local, regional/state, national, or global communities to create conditions for the public good, culminating in sustainable change and dissemination of these activities. These activities integrate community service with research, creative work, and teaching.
The awardees for 2022 are as follows:
Graduate Award: Anna Marie LaChance
Anna Marie LaChance was a doctoral student in chemical engineering in the School of Engineering. LaChance was nominated for her efforts to improve the lives of women, students from under-represented racial/ethnic groups, and LGBTQ+ students in STEM disciplines. While excelling in her field of research, she took on a strong mentorship role, was a force for change in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and broader School of Engineering community, participated in anti-racist organizing, and introduced novel, community-driven teaching practices in her classrooms. She served as a role model to LGBTQ+ students, held several leadership positions, organized social and professional events for students, and partnered in developing the School of Engineering’s new Inclusive Excellence for Justice, Equity and Transformation (JET) Program for faculty and staff. Having finished her Ph.D. in May 2022, she will begin this fall as a lecturer for the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she will continue innovating in the field of community-engaged scholarship.
Staff, Emerging: Marina Creed
Marina A. Creed is a Family Nurse Practitioner at the Multiple Sclerosis Center within the Department of Neurology at UConn Health. Creed was nominated for her cross-campus UConn Indoor Air Quality Initiative efforts to protect her patients and surrounding communities during the COVID-19 pandemic, including spearheading an interventional public health initiative spanning UConn Health and UConn’s Schools of Medicine, Nursing, and Engineering. The initiative’s goal is to improve indoor air quality in the community and reduce the transmission of COVID-19. Creed became the integral force behind getting 400 “Corsi-Rosenthal Boxes” into public school districts and vulnerable community locations. These low-cost, do-it-yourself air purifiers have been used in other places around the country but are just emerging to reduce indoor air contaminants, including SARS-CoV-2 viral particles, in situations in which more expensive changes to ventilation are either impossible or will take years to implement. Hundreds of these air purifiers have also been built and donated to Coventry, Hartford, and West Hartford Public Schools, as well as to local homeless shelters, medical clinics, and public libraries. Her efforts have helped many schools become safer and she is working with team behind the initiative to quantify the intervention’s impact on air quality in the pilot school districts, and build a public-facing website to teach communities how to build the unit through a STEM lesson plan for K-12 schools.
Staff, Distinguished: Kylene Perras
Kylene Perras is the Assistant Dean for Administrative Operations and Strategic Initiatives for the School of Engineering. Perras was nominated for her diverse responsibilities that strengthen the School of Engineering’s partnerships across the state and nation, as well as internationally. Her role encompasses a number of responsibilities for the school, which include oversight of all the professional education programs, public relations and communications, government and community relations, and engineering technical services. Since taking over the professional education programs, she has stewarded countless new partnerships and programs that are filling gaps in the state’s workforce. Her work in helping to launch the pro-bono Connecticut Brownfields Initiative, which is now a regional EPA TAB provider, has linked scores of municipalities with UConn students and faculty to win over $1 million in remediation grants and provide a crucial experiential learning opportunity for our students. Additionally, Perras has worked with other institutions to launch and grow the National Institute of Undersea Vehicle Technology, an interdisciplinary center that has secured nearly $40 million in funding, and is currently engaged with 61 applied research projects, technology transfer, and training of the next generation of undersea engineers. In addition, she is actively working to secure an outside investment of $15 million to build a state-of-the-art connected autonomous vehicle smart city on the UConn Depot Campus. Finally, Perras is a strategic leader and PI for the EDA FY 2021 American Rescue Plan Act Build Back Better Regional Challenge, UConn Blue Tech Research and Development Center, which will provide the university the opportunity for awarding during Fall of 2022 up to $26 million in funding over five years.
Faculty Teaching, Emerging: Valeria Gomez
Valeria Gomez is a visiting assistant clinical professor of law and the William R. Davis Clinical Teaching Fellow in the School of Law’s Asylum and Human Rights Clinic, where law students represent refugees who have fled persecution and are seeking protection in the United States. At the Asylum and Human Rights Clinic, she has been an inspirational teacher and innovator in service learning. Law students in the clinic exercise primary responsibility for handling every aspect of high-stakes cases for clients who have fled persecution and face deportation. The casework and supervision are integrated with a classroom curriculum that intensively grounds students in domestic and international refugee law and essential practice skills, including oral and written advocacy, interviewing and counseling, cross-cultural communication, and trauma-informed practice. Gomez’s extensive outreach includes working with the Latinx Law Students Association on community “know your rights” programs for Hartford-area immigrants; an outreach program at an Islamic community center in New Britain; multiple appearances on radio and podcasts; and continuing legal education presentations with the American Immigration Lawyers Association and Connecticut Bar Association.
Faculty Teaching, Distinguished: Stacey Brown
Stacey Brown is an associate professor of Public Health Sciences at UConn Health, the director of Applied Practice Experience, and associate program director of UConn Health’s Master’s in Public Health degree. Her nomination emphasized her role in improving the well-being of Connecticut residents through innovative and expansive educational efforts at the School of Medicine. Much of her work has focused on efforts to reduce or eliminate health disparities utilizing different approaches including medical and public health students who are trained in culturally competent approaches and utilizing community-based participatory research initiatives. As just one of many examples, Brown developed and implemented curriculum that involves sensitivity and increased awareness, knowledge acquisition, and skill building for students underrepresented in the health professions. She has also helped to diversify community and patient instructors, to ensure that students in the former Principles of Clinical Medicine and current Delivery of Clinical Care courses gain experience working with patients who are ethnically, racially, age diverse, and represent LGBTQ+ and differently-abled communities. Additionally, she has developed numerous partnerships with community organizations to involve School of Medicine students in service work throughout the state.
Faculty Research, Emerging: Kristen Cooksey Stowers
Kristen Cooksey Stowers is an assistant professor in the Department of Allied Health Sciences and is a member of the UConn Rudd Center for Food Policy and Health team. Cooksey Stowers has helped create more equitable food systems in Hartford and beyond, through community-based participatory research in the North Harford Promise Zone and the communication of her findings to both scientific and lay audiences. She uses innovative, interdisciplinary approaches to improve the macro-and micro-level food environments. Her ultimate goal is to dismantle structural racism in the food system and prevent disproportionate health risks among historically marginalized populations. She conducts community-engaged and mixed methods research to examine the impact of food swamp environments on racial, geographic and socioeconomic disparities in diet-related health outcomes; the potential of inclusive public policy processes (e.g., zoning) to prevent disparities in diet-related health status regardless of racial/ethnic minority and citizenship status; and the influence of micro-level food environments on health risks in food-insecure populations, communities of color, and other historically marginalized groups.
Faculty Research, Distinguished: Mary Bernstein
Mary Bernstein is a professor of sociology and co-director of the Gun Violence Prevention Research Interest Group within InCHIP at UConn. Bernstein has shown a commitment to engaged scholarship through her intersectional research on sexual orientation, gender, and race, her teaching, and her service to the UConn community, and, most importantly, through her current work aimed at developing evidence-based solutions to gun violence. Her research focuses on the disproportionately higher rates of gun violence in Black and Brown communities, positing that racial justice cannot be achieved until the high rates of gun violence are reduced, especially in urban areas. She has partnered with organizations and communities in Connecticut to help evaluate and develop gun violence prevention and reduction measures, including working on a blueprint for a new Office of Gun Violence Prevention in New Haven and evaluating a statewide gun buyback effort. She also frequently includes students in her work, with many of them going on to become research partners and later to secure academic positions or careers in social justice fields. Her work and mentorship have radiated outward, affecting communities locally and more broadly through her efforts, as well as through the development of students as researchers and practitioners.
Faculty Research, Distinguished (2021*): Emmanouil Anagnostou
Emmanouil Anagnostou is a professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Eversource Energy Endowed Chair in Environmental Engineering. He is also the director of the Eversource Energy Center and one of the Applied Research Directors of the Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation. He was nominated for his research-informed community engagement that is helping Connecticut and other regions and countries be more resilient in the face of increased storm activity and rising sea levels caused by warming oceans. His research efforts focus on remote sensing of water cycle and integrating earth observations with models for improving water cycle predictability at global scale. He is exploring severe weather events and leveraging advanced technologies to predict the impact on communities and the natural and built environment (roadways, buildings, power grids and water infrastructure). Anagnostou’s leadership of the UConn energy resilience initiative, starting in 2011, led to the creation of the Eversource Energy Center (EEC) at UConn. One notable outcome is the notification and preparation in Connecticut when major storms are advancing—utilities inform regulators of the scope of potential outages prior to a storm, call in distant crews in advance, and position crews strategically to keep outages short. So valuable is this prediction tool that now five utilities across New England use it, covering millions of residents, with ongoing expansion to New York and the mid-Atlantic.
*The 2021 award in this category was delayed due to administrative error.
Faculty Team: INCLUDE
Launched in the Fall of 2020, INCLUDE has worked with many partners across the UConn campus to create an ecosystem that supports diverse learning styles and cultivates the potential of neurodivergent students to contribute to innovations in engineering. The INCLUDE team is made up of several faculty, staff, and students across UConn; current membership can be viewed here: https://neurodiversity.engr.uconn.edu/leadership/. The INCLUDE project has been able to connect with students, faculty, and staff from a wide range of offices and majors, significantly broadening the impact of their efforts. They have also put considerable effort into developing and sharing online resources, videos, and messaging aimed at empowering neurodiverse students, including the launch of their website. INCLUDE aims to make systemic changes that range across the entire span of a student’s undergraduate experience. INCLUDE was founded thanks to a $2 million NSF grant focused on transforming instruction to maximize student success. They have since launched the I-Course Pilot Program and FYE 1810 (Neurodiversity in Engineering).
Student Team: COVID Mapping
The COVID-19 Dashboard and Mapping project was created by geography Ph.D students Adam Gallaher, Ashley Benitez, and Aaron Adams, who were committed to a desire to serve the residents of Connecticut and help policymakers as they made decisions on the health and safety of Connecticut residents. With the support of the Department of Geography and supervision of Debarchana Ghosh, associate professor of Geography, they created a COVID-19 dashboard specific to Connecticut. This was needed to account for the spatial details specific to a smaller state like Connecticut; popular dashboards like Johns Hopkins University’s were valuable for global and national trends, but the focus on county level in Connecticut lacked the specificity of town-by-town tracking. The group was able to capture the state of the pandemic for researchers, residents, and elected officials, making Connecticut a safer and more informed place. The dashboard was used on many towns’ websites as a place for people to get up-to-date information on the pandemic during a time when there was little concrete information publicly available. Their work has benefitted communities across Connecticut during an exceptionally challenging time in our nation’s recent history.