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University of Alabama’s HomeFirst Program Receives USDA Grant

By Diane Kennedy-Jackson
Publications Coordinator, Division of Community Affairs


Tuscaloosa, Ala. — Nivory Gordon Jr., Alabama State Director for USDA Rural Development, announced today that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will invest $193,394 in grants to assist The University of Alabama (UA) in providing financial wellness training to prospective first-time homebuyers in rural west Alabama through the University’s HomeFirst program.

HomeFirst is a financial wellness initiative that serves low- to moderate-income individuals and families throughout Greene, Hale and Tuscaloosa Counties on their path toward first-time homeownership or foreclosure prevention. The program, which is powered by the UA Division of Community Affairs’ Center for Community-Based Partnerships (CCBP), is offered at no cost to qualifying participants.

The USDA grant, announced at a luncheon in Eutaw, is made through the Rural Community Development Initiative Grant program. This funding will allow HomeFirst the opportunity to expand on its existing work in Greene County through an ongoing partnership with the Housing Authority of Greene County, directed by Anita Lewis.

“I am honored to be here, and I am happy to see all of the stakeholders and partners here in this facility today,” said Gordon, who went on to note the critical role UA students will play in this initiative. “I am excited about you having students from The University of Alabama coming in and working with our community,” he said. “Homeownership in Alabama’s rural communities is crucial to the continued growth and development of rural Alabama,” said Gordon. “Through investments like the one made here today, we can help rural individuals and families purchase a home, maintain a home, and thrive in rural Alabama.”

Since 2019, Dr. Nicole Prewitt, CCBP’s director of Programs and Partnerships for Community Engagement, has directed UA’s HomeFirst program. A key element of the program is that participants receive one-on-one financial coaching from UA students trained to provide assistance in core areas of housing and financial capability, including savings, money management, credit building, debt reduction and homebuyer education. While some participants go on to become homebuyers shortly after completion of the program, others utilize what they have learned to take additional time to plan for that process and still others decide that the responsibilities of homeownership are not for them at this time. Regardless of their respective choices, participants overwhelmingly state improved financial capabilities, which are crucial to long-term stability and expanding the pool of eligible homeowners.

This partnership among the University, its students, the Housing Authority of Greene County and the rural residents of Greene County is representative of the campus/community partnerships common to CCBP. The 9,045 rural residents of Greene County stand to benefit, as do the UA students who participate as financial coaches through this initiative that advances the institutional mission of excellence in teaching, research and service.

About CCBP: CCBP is an initiative of UA’s Division of Community Affairs. Its initiatives support the University’s teaching, research and service mission and it serves as one of the campus’ main engines in the support of the University’s efforts to be an engaged institution. As defined by the Kellogg Commission: An engaged institution is responsive to the needs of today’s students and tomorrow’s. It enriches the student experience by bringing research into the curriculum and offering practical experience in the world they will enter. It forms partnerships of faculty, students and communities to put knowledge and skills to work on today’s most critical problems. — From Returning to Our Roots: The Engaged Institution, Kellogg Commission Report, 1999). Learn more at

About RCDI: The Rural Community Development Initiative Grant program provides funding to help non-profit housing and community development organizations, low-income rural communities and federally recognized tribes support housing, community facilities and community and economic development projects in rural areas. This program serves eligible rural areas with populations of 50,000 or less.

HomeFirst Team to Present at 2021 ITGA Conference

By Diane Kennedy-Jackson
Publications Coordinator, Division of Community Affairs

Tuscaloosa, Ala. — The University of Alabama’s HomeFirst team has been invited to present at the International Town & Gown Association’s (ITGA) 2021 virtual conference, which will be hosted May 24–26 by Marquette University. The three-day conference will consist of 60 sessions on three tracks, which are focused on the theme “Innovating for Tomorrow, Together.”

HomeFirst is a financial wellness initiative that serves Greene, Hale and Tuscaloosa County individuals and families on their path toward first-time homeownership or foreclosure prevention. The initiative is powered by UA’s Center for Community-Based Partnerships (CCBP), whose mission is to connect faculty, staff, students and community partners in research-based projects designed to solve critical problems identified collaboratively by community members and the University.

Presenting will be Dr. Nicole Prewitt, director of Programs and Partnerships for Community Engagement at CCBP and an ITGA Board member; CCBP Program Coordinator Susan Kasteler; Kevin Giff, community development manager for Habitat for Humanity of Orange County, N.C.; and Lydia Stanley, CCBP graduate research assistant.

Their presentation is titled, “Can Service-Learning Programs at Anchor Institutions Contribute to Increasing Homebuyer Readiness through Financial Capability?” The team will introduce conference attendees to the HomeFirst program and the importance of homeownership as the primary wealth-building tool for American families. Additionally, they will discuss the anchor institution concept and the role of higher education as anchor institutions in their communities, program results, learning outcomes, sustainable replication and more. Their presentation is scheduled to begin at noon on Tuesday, May 25.

“In a relatively short time, the HomeFirst initiative has had a tremendous impact on program participants, as well as on the student coaches who work with them,” said Dr. Samory T. Pruitt, vice president for Community Affairs. “This initiative speaks directly to the Division’s values, which include improving the quality of life in communities. HomeFirst is accomplishing this one cohort at a time.”

ITGA members from across the United States, England and Canada will participate in the conference. For a complete listing of sessions, abstracts and speakers, visit

About CCBP: CCBP is an initiative of UA’s Division of Community Affairs. Its initiatives support the University’s teaching, research and service mission and it serves as one of the campus’ main engines in the support of the University’s efforts to be an engaged institution. As defined by the Kellogg Commission: An engaged institution is responsive to the needs of today’s students and tomorrow’s. It enriches the student experience by bringing research into the curriculum and offering practical experience in the world they will enter. It forms partnerships of faculty, students and communities to put knowledge and skills to work on today’s most critical problems. — From Returning to Our Roots: The Engaged Institution, Kellogg Commission Report, 1999). Learn more at

 About ITGA: The International Town & Gown Association (ITGA), based at Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina, is the premier resource for addressing challenges, emerging issues and opportunities between and among institutions of higher education and the communities in which they reside. Founded in 2008, ITGA has a membership that includes colleges and universities, municipalities, businesses and strategic partners. Learn more at

Council Hosts 15th Annual Excellence in Community Engagement Awards

Diane Kennedy-Jackson
Publications Coordinator
Division of Community Affairs

The Council on Community-Based Partnerships hosted its 15th Excellence in Community Engagement Awards April 20–22. These annual awards recognize outstanding engaged scholarship work, which combines the familiar traditions of teaching, research and service in equitable partnerships with communities external to the campus, with the goal of creating sustained, positive change in both the community and the academy.

“The annual awards recognition aims to bring deserved attention to the remarkable individual efforts that embody the endeavors of the Council on Community-Based Partnerships,” said Dr. Peter Hlebowitsh, dean of the College of Education and chair of the executive committee of the Council. “It is simultaneously a celebration and a serious acknowledgment of the innovative and life-reaching work being conducted by and through this body. It is also an opportunity to fête our wonderful partners.”

The first day of this year’s event took place on a virtual platform and featured highlights from the Student Community Engagement Center and recognition of Leadership Academy participants and anchor organizations, as well as poster presentations and the announcement of the 2021 Zachary David Dodson Memorial Endowed Scholarship recipient.

Chris Brewster, a Pinson, Alabama native, received the Dodson Scholarship. A sophomore accounting major, Brewster has worked at the Center for Community-Based Partnerships (CCBP) since his freshman year, helping with both the Global Café initiative and the Center’s Vision Days program.

Research poster presenters and their projects are:

Emefa Butler, founder of Choice, Inc., Two Miles on Twelve,

Baili Gall, doctoral student in the Department of Anthropology, A Community-Engaged Approach to Teaching Nutritional Anthropology: A Collaboration with Schoolyard Roots,

Zev L. Goldberg, undergraduate student in the Department of Health Science, An Anchor Institution’s Asset-Building Approach to Promoting Homeownership,

Lillian Slaughter, undergraduate student in the Department of Biology, Community-Led Maternal and Infant Health Research Needs Assessment,

Kate Taylor, master’s student in the College of Communication and Information Sciences, Vision Days Legacy, Connecting First-Year Undergraduates to the Community, and

Andrea Ziegler, director for community education, CCBP, Community Engagement to Boost Virtual Professional Development in the Parent Teacher Leadership Academy.

The second day of the program, also held virtually, included the announcement of seed fund recipients for 2021, as well as reports from 2020 recipients and travel fund recipients who traveled in 2020 just prior to the pandemic.

Recipients of 2021 seed fund awards are:

Tracey Hodges, assistant professor, elementary education program, for Increasing Teacher Self-Efficacy for Writing Instruction Through a Professional Development Focused on Ani-Racist Writing Instructional Practices, and

Haley Townsend, instructor, Capstone College of Nursing, for Empowering Young Women in Rural Alabama through Menstrual Hygiene Outreach.

Recipients of 2020 seed fund awards shared their work via prerecorded videos and also participated in the Zoom meeting live to answer questions. They are:

While travel funds are not currently being awarded due to travel restrictions as a result of the pandemic, those who joined the second day of the celebration had the opportunity to hear from two UA students, Marvin Adams and Matteo Zengaro, who previously received travel support and traveled pre-pandemic to Elon University for Campus Compact’s Pathways to Achieving Civic Engagement Conference. (Travel funding will resume when travel restrictions are lifted. For more information, visit

The final day of the awards program occurred in a hybrid setting, with award recipients and presenters participating in a socially distanced and masked in-person event in the Bryant Conference Center Rast Room, while others viewed the program via a live Zoom feed.

Dr. Ed Mullins, retired dean of the College of Communication and Information Sciences and director of research and communication at CCBP, welcomed those in attendance. Dr. Stuart R. Bell, UA president, and Dr. James T. Dalton, executive vice president and provost, congratulated award recipients and shared their thoughts on the importance of engaged scholarship.

Dr. George Daniels, associate professor of journalism and creative media and chair of the Excellence in Community Engagement Recognition Committee of the Council, shared a recap of the first two days of the program and then invited Dr. Rebecca Allen, professor and chair of the Department of Psychology and chair of the Council’s Faculty Teaching and Research Support Committee, to announce the recipients of community engagement graduate fellowships for the upcoming academic year.

“The committee had the distinct pleasure of reviewing and selecting these exceptional projects,” said Allen. “We are forever grateful to Dr. Susan Carvalho, associate provost and dean of the Graduate School, for providing the funding to make these graduate fellowships possible and for her continued support of this program. Dr. Carvalho had a prior commitment today. We are grateful that Dr. André Denham, associate dean for graduate academic affairs, is able to join us to congratulate our award recipients.”

Graduate fellowship award recipients for 2021 are:

Heather Gunn, doctoral student Alexandra Fischer, for Sleep of Mothers in Pickens County/Psychosocial and Sleep Health Needs of Mothers of Infants and Young Children of Pickens County,

Joy Douglas, doctoral student Phatt Thaitrong, for Supporting Brain Injury Survivors and their Caregivers: A Community Engagement Project,

Laura Hopson, doctoral student Gloria Abura, for UA-SMART Student Health Partnership to Promote Student Health and Wellbeing through Community-Engaged Intervention and Evaluation, and

Susan White, doctoral student Alexis Brewe, for Community-Based Programming for Transition-Aged Youth with Autism.


Recipients of Excellence Awards for Outstanding Community Partner-Initiated Engagement Effort include:

League of Women Voters of Greater Tuscaloosa, Ms. Carol Pricket, and

STEM Showcase, Dr. Yuping Bao, Karrie Curry and Andrea Ziegler


Recognized for Outstanding Student-Initiated Engagement Effort are:

High School Stem Innovation Course, Gabi Dwyer, Jessi Gentrup, Josh Lambert, Phillip Myers, Payti Harrison and Drew Cheek, and Elizabeth Jernigan, instructor of marketing,

Leave It To Us, Michael Arundel, Lauren Shilling and Abbie Ray, and UA graduate Ibukun Afon, and

Vote Everywhere UA, Samuel Reece


Recipients of Excellence Awards for Outstanding Faculty/Staff-Initiated Engagement Effort include:

Two Miles on Twelve, Dr. Michael Callihan, assistant professor, Capstone College of Nursing,

SLIS Book Bonanza for the Black Belt (and Beyond), Dr. Jamie Campbell Naidoo, Foster-EBSCO Endowed Professor, School of Library and Information Sciences, and

Political Primaries & Caucuses course, Dr. Cynthia Peacock, assistant professor, Department of Communication Studies.

Four individuals received Distinguished Community-Engaged Scholar Awards. These awards are presented to individuals with a record of sustained, distinguished and superb achievement in public service and engagement in community-based partnership efforts that have made outstanding contributions to the quality of life in Alabama. The award recognizes individuals who have gone above and beyond in support of one or more community-based partnership projects or whose work demonstrates superior understanding, appreciation and support of community-based partnership efforts. The award has previously been presented to a community partner, a student, and a faculty or staff member. For the first time, the latter category has been split to include two awards: one for a faculty member and one for a staff member.

The 2021 Distinguished Community-Engaged Scholar award recipients are:

LaKeda Smith, executive director of the Benjamin Barnes YMCA in Tuscaloosa, Community Partner,

Jake Peterson, a first-year doctoral student in the College of Education’s kinesiology department, Student,

Martha Crowther, associate dean for research and health policy in the College of Community Health Sciences, Faculty, and

Pamela Young, director of community engagement and economic development in the College of Arts and Sciences, Staff.

Each year one individual receives the Outstanding Special Achievement in Community Engagement Award. Dr. Peter S. Hlebowitsh is the 2021 recipient, in recognition of his outstanding campus, community, state and national leadership and his support of community-engaged scholarship as dean of the College of Education and chair of the executive committee of the Council on Community-Based Partnerships, and for his tireless passion for improving the quality of life in communities while supporting valuable research and learning opportunities for faculty, students, staff and community partners.

For more information on the 2021 awards, visit


To view each day of the awards program visit:

Day 1:

Day 2:

Day 3:

UA Celebrates National Recognition of Fulbright Award Winners and Semi-Finalists



The University of Alabama (UA) has recently learned the results of the annual student Fulbright competition. Three UA students have received Fulbright Student Research Awards for the 2020–2021 academic year and fourteen have won Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship Awards.

Fulbright is the most prestigious U.S. international exchange program, offering opportunities for students, scholars and professionals. The Fulbright Award of the U.S. Department of State offers one-year grants for independent study and research and for English teaching assistantships overseas. The highly competitive program selects approximately 1,500 award recipients from more than 11,000 applicants each year. The University of Alabama has received national recognition as a Top Producing Institution for Fulbright U.S. Students for four of the last five years. “We applaud every Fulbright 2020–2021 student applicant for their interest in furthering the Fulbright mission of mutual understanding between the people of the U.S. and the people of other countries,” said Dr. Teresa Wise, associate provost of international education and global outreach. “As the world unites in solving the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19, that mission is more important than ever. We congratulate our awardees and know that they will represent UA and the U.S. with distinction in the coming year.”

Fulbright Student Research Award recipients:

Julia Coursey,of Washington, D.C., has received a Fulbright Award to Hungary to conduct research at the University of Debrecen and in Budapest for her novel, The Bathers. She holds the MFA in creative writing from UA and a BA in liberal arts from St. John’s College (Santa Fe).

Joshua Kirks, of Kennesaw, Georgia, received a Fulbright Award to research “Hollow Cathode Development and Testing” at Dresden University of Technology in Germany. He is a UA graduate student in aerospace engineering and mechanics who also holds a BS in aerospace engineering from UA and memberships in Sigma Gamma Tau honor society (aerospace engineering) and Delta Phi Alpha honor society (German).

Ashley Tickle Odebiyi,of Tuscaloosa, has received a Fulbright Award to Italy to research ”Gender, Authority, and Liminal Space: Roman Bizzoche, 1400–1500,” at LUMSA University and Sapienza University in Rome. She is a UA doctoral student in history with language study in Latin and Italian who also holds a BA from James Madison University and an MA in religious studies from the University of Iowa.

Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship Award recipients:  

Christine Jane Allen of Auburn, a leader in Model United Nations, an experienced debate tutor, Chief Justice of the Academic Honor Council and a fellow of the Blackburn Institute, who is a 2019 summa cum laude Honors College graduate in political science and environmental policy with advanced competency in the Spanish language, to teach in Spain.

Austin Blair of Germantown, Tennessee, a Parker Adams Fellow and mentor of freshmen students, a Delta Phi Alpha German Honor Society member with study experience at The University of Mannheim and fluency in German, and a 2020 graduate in German with a minor in interdisciplinary linguistics, was chosen to teach in Germany.

Mason Olivia Blanke of Tuscaloosa, a UA Presidential Scholar and 2020 Honors College graduate in electrical engineering and physics with a certificate in teaching English as a foreign language, to teach in Poland.

Camille Constance Nealey Carr of Wake Forest, North Carolina, a fellow of the Blackburn Institute, a Blount Interdisciplinary Scholar in the liberal arts and 2019 summa cum laude Honors College graduate in Spanish and political science with fluency in the Spanish language, to teach in Colombia.

Caroline Smith Dean of Dothan, a Spanish Outreach mentor for the Tuscaloosa County Schools, an intern for Congresswoman Martha Roby, a fellow of the Blackburn Institute, president of the UA English Majors and Minors Association, executive committee Chair for the SGA Student Judiciary, staff journalist for The Crimson White, and a 2020 summa cum laude Honors College graduate in English and Spanish, with a minor in creative writing, advanced Spanish language ability, and overseas experience in Spain and South Korea, to teach in Spain.

Isabella Rose DeSheplo of Washington, D.C., a fellow of the Blackburn Institute, a member of the Carl A. Elliott Community Service Honor Society and a 2020 UA Honors College graduate with a BA and MA in political science and a minor in public policy studies, to teach in Bulgaria.

Lota Erinne of Peachtree City, Georgia, a poet, winner of the 2019 Greer Marechal Memorial Prize in Fiction, managing editor of The Marr’s Field Journal literary magazine and 2020 Honors College graduate in English and finance with fluency in Spanish, to teach in Spain.

Logan Fenhouse of Lombard, Illinois, a Blount Interdisciplinary Scholar in the liberal arts, former leader of Beyond Bama Alternative Breaks, Spanish interpreter at Maude Whatley Health Center, mentor with extensive experience tutoring all ages, and 2020 summa cum laude Honors College graduate with degrees in Spanish and Interdisciplinary Studies, and fluency in Spanish, to teach in Spain.

Amelia Wyant Gaither of Hickory, North Carolina, writing center tutor, UA English Language Institute instructor, a founder of UA Chinese Conversation Hour and a Global Café ESL conversation partner, with a BA in English from Davidson College and an MA in applied linguistics and TESOL from UA, to teach in Taiwan.

Robert “Chad” Hankins, of Mobile, a Blount Interdisciplinary Scholar in the liberal arts, member of The Mallet Assembly and The White Rose Society, certified teacher of English as a Foreign Language and a 2018 graduate in political science with a minor in German, advanced German language competency, and the Global Studies Certificate, to teach in Germany.

Asia Monet Hayes, of St. Augustine, Florida, a teacher with Breakthrough Collaborative of Central Texas and the Dream Alabama Mentor Program of the UA Honors College, a fellow of the Blackburn Institute, a member of the Carl A. Elliott Community Service Honor Society, recipient of the Harold Bishop Award, and a 2018 UA Honors College graduate in Interdisciplinary Studies, summa cum laude with fluency in Spanish assessed at Superior/Distinguished and experience in Argentina and Cuba, to teach in Spain.

Katherine Lightfoot of Northport, a discussion facilitator with the UA English Language Institute, an active leader in Model United Nations and German Club, a Delta Phi Alpha German Honor Society member and a 2019 Honors College graduate in international studies and foreign languages who is enrolled in graduate studies in German at UA, to teach in Germany.

Rebecca Paholski of Plano, Texas, an experienced teacher, tutor and mentor through Cottondale Elementary (Tuscaloosa, AL), Newman Elementary School (Frisco, TX), Breakthrough Atlanta, Tuscaloosa’s One Place, Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind, READ Alabama, Horseshoe Farms Remote Tutoring Program, and Los Estudiantes de Alabama sin Fronteras, who has an MS in Human Environmental Sciences, a BA in Elementary Education, summa cum laude, and advanced competency in Spanish, to teach in Spain.

Ian Samlowski of Madison, a teaching assistant in the department of Modern Languages and Classics, a translator for the Birmingham Holocaust Education Center and a fluent German speaker, who holds BA and MA degrees in German from UA with membership in Delta Phi Alpha German Honor Society, to teach in Germany.

The University is also pleased to report that 6 students were awarded alternate status in this year’s national Fulbright competition. They will be invited to serve should more openings become available to the national Fulbright Program. They are Emily Adams (Bulgaria), Olivia Brick (Laos), Ekaterina (Katya) Khvatkova (Russia), Meredith Moore (Bulgaria), Austin Olivier (Germany), and Trey Sullivan (Bulgaria).

“Our campus is proud of these 23 exceptional student leaders in international engagement,” said Dr. Beverly Hawk, director of global and community engagement, “and we appreciate the dedicated faculty, staff and administrators who advised our students in application for these awards.”

A team of Fulbright advisors from UA’s Capstone International Center, Modern Languages and Classics Department and the Center for Community-Based Partnerships helps students polish applications for success in the Fulbright competition each year. Students interested in applying for next year’s Fulbright program can learn more at and, or by sending an email to UA’s Fulbright advisers, Megan Wagner, Dr. Matthew Feminella, or Dr. Beverly Hawk

Council Announces 2020 Excellence Awards Recipients

Each spring, the Council on Community-Based Partnerships hosts its Excellence in Community Engagement Awards program to recognize and celebrate outstanding achievements in community-engaged scholarship while also underwriting future support.

The 14th annual awards ceremony, scheduled for April 15, 2020, had to be postponed because of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. However, in the typical can-do spirit of community engagement professionals, the Council moved the awards program online in order to share the great news of the life-changing work taking place in our communities. Later this year when safe to do so, the Council plans to honor award recipients in person. Meantime, we invite you to learn about the people and their projects below and to visit our Council Awards website to learn more about the work of this talented group of students, community partners, faculty and staff.

Engaged scholarship combines the familiar traditions of teaching, research and service in equitable partnerships with communities external to the campus. The projects emphasize practical themes and are conducted in an atmosphere of mutual respect for, and understanding of, partners’ strengths, weaknesses and needs. These partnerships have a goal of creating sustained, positive change in both the community and the academy.

The Distinguished Community-Engaged Scholar Award is presented in three categories — community partner, student, and faculty/staff — and recognizes individuals who have gone above and beyond in support of one or more community-based partnership projects or whose work demonstrates superior understanding, appreciation and support of community-based partnership efforts.

Dr. Michael J. Daria, superintendent of Tuscaloosa City Schools, is this year’s community partner recipient. Known for his children-first philosophy, Daria led the adoption of the Strategic Plan for City Schools, designed to put Tuscaloosa City Schools in the highest ranks by ensuring the success of all students by attracting, retaining and rewarding the best employees, and by providing facilities for an optimal learning environment. Graduate student Xiangyan “Sophia” Xiong is the student recipient. She has served as a journalist in the Center for Community-Based Partnerships (CCBP) for the past three years, much of that time as a volunteer, helping to tell the stories of community engagement work being done through the Center. The faculty/staff award recipient is Dr. Jeff Gray, professor of computer science and a national leader in computer science education. Gray has worked tirelessly to bring computer science education to public schools over the past 20 years, with special attention to bringing these skills to underserved populations. He is a role model for those who wish to have a greater impact on their communities.

Excellence Awards for Outstanding Engagement Effort are also presented in the community partner, student and faculty/staff categories. These awards recognize projects that successfully demonstrate strong synergistic collaboration between the University and community organizations and/or extend the classroom experience.

Receiving the 2020 awards for Outstanding Community Partner-Initiated Engagement Effort are Sowing Seeds of Hope and Fuse Project.

A continuing partnership between Dr. Chapman Greer’s University of Alabama business communications class and Perry County’s Sowing Seeds of Hope, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit under the direction of Frances Ford, has resulted in the completion of a feasibility study for the addition of a critical access hospital in the county, which has been without emergency services for more than two decades. The study was needed to acquire essential funding, request a change in the state’s health plan and obtain a certificate of need. The partnership illustrates the best in community/university cooperation and partnership, giving students the opportunity to take their education to the field to provide a valuable public service.

The 501(c)(3) Fuse Project in Mobile was founded in 2012 to benefit children along Alabama’s Gulf Coast. Its founders believed a small, motivated group could have a big impact through realistic projects. In Mobile, where a child from the richest ZIP code lives 25 years longer than one from the poorest, Fuse Project has raised more than $2 million to support the work of 45 local projects. Its major achievement is the creation of Fuse Factory, which provides individualized office and event space from which organizations can collectively expand their reach and carry out their mission. We recognize four members of the Fuse Project team: Ann-Brooks Morrissette, Freddie Stokes, Grant Zarzour and Matt Zarzour.

Receiving the 2020 awards for Outstanding Student-Initiated Engagement Effort are Hands in Health and UASpace.

Hands in Health, under the leadership of its president Devin O’Neal and the advisement of Dr. Jen Nickelson, is a multidisciplinary student organization housed in the College of Human Environmental Sciences at The University of Alabama. Founded in April 2019, the organization is open to any UA student with an interest in public, community or UA health, regardless of grades or major. Its purpose is to advance the professional competency and dedication of individual members who have an interest in health and wellness, and it provides both undergraduate and graduate students opportunities to gain experience in health-related service, teaching, advocacy and research.

UASpace, a multidisciplinary student organization open not only to science and engineering students but to all students at the University, is pursuing a goal of making The University of Alabama a space-faring university by successfully launching and placing a very small satellite — called a CubeSat — in orbit around the earth. Not only do these students hope to put a satellite into space, they also are sharing their knowledge and passion for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) with students in Alabama’s Black Belt communities in hopes of inspiring the next generation of students to pursue STEM fields.

Receiving the 2020 awards for Outstanding Faculty/Staff-Initiated Engagement Effort are the Biology Outreach Program and SMART™ Clinic.

The goal of the Biology Outreach Program is to raise the awareness of environmental issues such as animal conservation, clean water and food production. This program, under the direction of Christine Jeana Yates, also helps K–12 students learn the science behind nutrition, dental hygiene, and heart, ear and eye health. Studies show that providing young children a strong science foundation results in higher achievement in middle and high school and provides them with more career opportunities in the sciences. Student volunteers play a key role in the program by helping K–12 students increase their science literacy, self-esteem and school attendance. The students also learn what it is like to be a secondary educator in the science areas, where there are chronic shortages. To date, the program has produced five secondary science educators.

SMART™, which stands for School Health Model for Academics Reaching ALL Transforming Lives, is a national whole-child physical, emotional and mental health program focused on the well-being of students in the context of the school community. This award recognizes the implementation of the SMART™ Student Health Clinic in Reform Elementary School in Pickens County, led by Dr. Laura M. Hopson and Dr. Karl Hamner. The program’s purpose — called by many experts as a “revolutionary” educational health plan — is to prevent, screen and manage all health risks in schools, thus reducing barriers to academic success. Just six months after opening the SMART™ center in Pickens County, chronic absenteeism had dropped 55%, attendance increased substantially and standardized test scores were on the rise.

Four seed fund award recipients have been named for 2020. The purpose of seed funding is to provide start-up funding support for community engagement research and scholarship.

Dr. Carol Donovan, professor in UA’s College of Education and director of the Belser-Parton Literacy Center, will receive funding in the amount of $5,000 for the Young Authors Program and Extravaganza for Improved Writing Achievement and Community Engagement. This year-long project is designed to develop a community of writers within two Tuscaloosa elementary schools and across the Tuscaloosa community. Through preservice teacher development, practicing teacher professional development and community engagement, the plan is to build community in schools already in partnership with UA faculty and students. The project will benefit teachers and students throughout the community, as well as UA student participants from the College of Education. Partners include Dr. Tracey Hodges and Dr. Julianne Coleman, curriculum and instruction; Debbie Crawford, Holt Elementary School; and Gladys Wright and Chenalle Taylor, Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School.

Dr. Joy Douglas, assistant professor, department of human nutrition and hospitality management, will receive $2,996.85 for Students Supporting Brain Injury Survivors and their Caregivers: A Community Engagement Project. This collaboration between the Alabama Head Injury Foundation and the University seeks to provide interdisciplinary health and support services to traumatic brain injury survivors and their caregivers in West Alabama, and to make available learning opportunities for students at UA. Partners include Scott Powell of the Alabama Head Injury Foundation, Dr. Rachael Mumbower and Dr. Mercy Mumba, Capstone College of Nursing and Mary Ray-Allen, communicative disorders.

Dr. Holly Horan, assistant professor in the department of anthropology, will receive $2,070 for Measuring the Impact of Community Doula Care in Central Alabama. This project, with partners Dr. Lydia Thurston of Samford University and Dallas Abrams of the non-profit Birthwell Partners Community Doula Project, seeks to co-develop and pilot a prospective data collection tool for doulas affiliated with the Birmingham-based non-profit. Birthwell serves to improve the health of low-resource families and their infants by offering free and reduced-cost childbirth education, breastfeeding assistance and non-medical labor support. A doula is a woman employed to provide guidance and support to a woman during labor.

Dr. Betty Key, assistant professor in the Capstone College of Nursing, will receive $5,000 for Panola Munch and Learn. This partnership with the non-profit Panola Outreach Program will bring healthy food to senior citizens and others and build a sense of community between the town of Panola, in Sumter County, and The University of Alabama as the community gains access to healthy food and information about cardiovascular disease. The community partner for this project is Lovie Parks of the Panola Outreach Program.

Travel Fund Awards provide travel support for the dissemination of community engagement research and scholarship, or for relevant training opportunities. Four individuals will receive awards during this funding cycle.

Dr. Alison Hooper, assistant professor in the department of curriculum and instruction, and Dr. Cheryl Fondren, Success by 6 program director, United Way of West Alabama, will each receive $1,000 to attend the National Research Conference for Early Childhood in Arlington, Virginia, where they will present on Kindergarten Readiness through the JumpStart Summer Program: A Pilot Study.

Dr. Tracey S. Hodges, assistant professor, curriculum and instruction, will be awarded $1,000 to travel to the National Council of Teachers of English in Denver, Colorado, where she will present “Re-Writing Professional Development: Coaching, Facilitating and Co-Creating Writing Competencies through a Researcher-Teacher Partnership Approach.” Her community partner is Hale County Middle School.

Dr. Jen Nickelson, associate professor, department of health science, will receive travel funds in the amount of $906 to attend the Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE) Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. She will present “Diabetes Literacy through Service Learning in Health Education/Promotion.” Community Partners are The Health Lab, including Paul Dickey and Jackie May, Holt in Action; Jackie McPherson, Holten Heights Church of the Nazarene; and Corey Neill, Soma Church.

Each year graduate fellowships are awarded to assist faculty members in new and ongoing research. For the 2020–2021 academic year, four fellowships will be awarded in research areas ranging from rural wastewater and health concerns to community asset mapping for dementia patients and their caregivers.

Dr. Mark Elliott, associate professor, department of civil, construction and environmental engineering, will receive graduate fellowship funding for his project, In Our Backyard: Engaging with Stakeholders to Address Rural Wastewater Management in the Black Belt of Alabama. This fellowship will support graduate student Jillian Maxcy-Brown in her master’s thesis and doctoral studies as she provides leadership, community relations and coordination with communities where wastewater problems exist. Community Partners are Hillary Beard, Congresswoman Terri Sewell’s office; Sherry Bradley, Alabama Department of Public Health; and Ron Ross, Hale Empowerment and Revitalization Organization (HERO).

Dr. Karen Johnson, assistant professor, School of Social Work, will receive graduate fellowship funding for Rural-WORTH: Adapting WORTH, an HIV Evidence-based Intervention, to Address Southern-specific Risk Factors Faced by Black, Substance-using, Court-involved Women in Rural Alabama. Southern black women have higher rates of new infection compared with all U.S. women. This project addresses the need to tailor HIV prevention interventions for Southern black women using the latest in research science and intervention; to identify Southern-specific drivers of HIV and to implement interventions in real-world settings. Johnson will be assisted by doctoral student Kefentse Kubanga. Community partners include Robert E. Armstrong, Dallas County district judge; Miah Jackson Dallas County Court Services executive director; and Mel Prince, Selma AIR executive director.

Dr. Mercedes M. Morales-Aleman, assistant professor, community medicine and population health in the Institute for Rural Health Research, College of Community Health Sciences, will receive graduate fellowship funding for The Virtual Promotoras Program: Development and Feasibility of an mHealth Intervention to Promote Sexual Healthcare Access Among Young Latina Women in the U.S. South. Young Latinas are disproportionately affected by sexual health disparities compared to their non-Hispanic white counterparts. The Virtual Promotoras Program seeks to address the need for accessible, effective and scalable sexual healthcare for young Latinas. This fellowship will support the work of graduate student Jasmine Nguyen. Community partners are Julia Sosa of Whatley Health Services and Judith Zambrano of Somos Tuscaloosa. The technology partner is the UA Center for Advancing Public Safety.

Dr. Nicole Ruggiano, associate professor, School of Social Work, will be awarded graduate fellowship funding for Planning Live, Sustainable Community Asset Mapping for a Dementia e-Friendly Alabama. This project will collect data from four regions in Alabama to develop a community asset mapping technology application that uses volunteered geographic information to link patients and families to needed services and resources. Community partners include Miller Piggot, Alzheimer’s of Central Alabama; Dr. Daniel Potts, Cognitive Dynamics; and Julie McGee, Alabama Association of Area Agencies on Aging. Doctoral student Yan Luo will work with Dr. Ruggiano.

Kaitlyn “Katie” Johnson is the 2020 recipient of the Zachary David Dodson Memorial Endowed Scholarship.

A Rainsville native, she is a junior majoring in anthropology with minors in Latin and Ancient Greek. As part of her duties with the Center for Community-Based Partnerships’ Global Café, Katie serves as a tutor for international scholars, helping them learn conversational English and understand American language and culture.


Dr. Kevin W. Whitaker, executive vice president and provost, has been named the recipient of the Outstanding Special Achievement in Community Engagement Award.

Whitaker, a veteran University of Alabama administrator and faculty member, is being recognized for his superior leadership, exemplary efforts and outstanding vision in fostering and supporting mutually beneficial community-campus partnerships that enhance quality of life for individuals, families and communities, and for encouraging countless others to do the same.

College of Education Dean Peter Hlebowitsh, chair of the executive committee of the Council on Community-Based Partnerships, expressed his thanks to the Graduate School and the Office for Research and Economic Development for their support of the awards program. “Without their interest in and generous financial support of the University’s community engagement efforts, much of the funds for these Council Awards would not exist,” Hlebowitsh said.

Saving Lives Initiative Promotes Health through Tuscaloosa Heart Walk

By Sophia Xiong and Jamesia Stevenson CCBP Graduate Assistants

For the sixth consecutive year, The University of Alabama’s Saving Lives Initiative participated in the American Heart Association’s (AHA) Tuscaloosa Heart Walk at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater. The event was held Saturday, March 7. “This is one of the largest groups that has participated in the last past few years,” said Dr. Nicole Prewitt, director of programs and partnership for Community Engagement at UA’s Center for Community-Based Partnerships.

Saving Lives was one of many organizations present to support AHA by promoting heart disease awareness and stroke awareness. More than 100 members of the Saving Lives network participated in the event and the network donated more than $800 to the American Heart Association through the Tuscaloosa Heart Walk.

“Today, we developed stations that highlight health information and promotion, nutrition, and physical activity. We also engaged the community with UA student organizations providing credible health information and healthy snacks for participants,” said Prewitt.

During the AHA opening ceremony, Prewitt was recognized as the recipient of the 2020 Heart of the Community Award for the Saving Lives program’s impact.

 “I started to participate in Saving Lives six years ago,” said Sheila Lee from Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa. “The program has just been phenomenal because it has made us aware of our bodies and health. In the church, we think about the health of our spiritual lives, but this program made us aware of our physical health too. It doesn’t only provide us with health information, but also makes us think outside the box about how we can get the information to our congregation and how to work together to promote healthier living.”

Annette Harris, a health advocate from Benville Baptist Church in Cottondale, agreed that this program had influenced her church. “I think it makes a great impact in this community as well as churches. I want to encourage more people to get involved with this work through these events.”

This year, three UA student organizations also joined the Tuscaloosa Heart Walk by partnering with Saving Lives: the National Black MBA Association, Hands in Health, and Alpha Epsilon Delta.

Andre Smithson, a second-year MBA student at The University of Alabama, joined the Heart Walk as a representative from the National Black MBA Association. “I’m here as a representative from National Black, supporting the Heart Walk. I’m here to greet people who are coming in and encourage them to keep having a good time, keep on walking, and stay as positive as they can,” Smithson said. The National Black MBA Association is about encouraging African Americans to get their masses into business and get African Americans in executive roles across multiple organizations. “I think the Heart Walk is a really good opportunity to encourage the black community to be more active and help them reduce heart disease.”

“We are here to talk about ‘MyPlate’ and different helpful nutrition facts,” said Morgan Renfroe, a senior student in Public Health at the table of Hands in Health. “We are also here to promote exercising and healthy eating. Our table is about telling people what types of foods and what proportions they should be eating. We have different plates and different serving sizes set up. We would ask people what they think the nutrition proportion for a healthy diet should be, and then tell them the real proportion. Some people actually asked ‘What is this?’ and when they saw how much the actual proportions should really be, they were sometimes shocked. I think this is a really cool way to connect knowledge with demonstrations.”

Leah Thomas, president of Alpha Epsilon Delta, also introduced their table. “At our table, we have some questions about physical activities and are giving people some knowledge about how much exercise they need to get. Then we let them try a few like doing five jumping jacks or holding a squat for five seconds, and they can win a healthy snack.” Alpha Epsilon Delta is a pre-health honor society that has many pre-med students. “We also have a lot of children coming, so we think it is important to make them see that it can be fun to exercise,” Thomas said.

“I’m really surprised with such a huge level of turnout from the community for the Heart Walk,” said Jamesia Stevenson, a second-year MBA student. Stevenson is also a graduate research assistant under Prewitt. “This is my first time being a part of the Heart Walk. I think that it is such an amazing experience to be involved in a local community event like this and to work with everybody here to promote heart health awareness.”

Saving Lives is under the direction of Dr. Nicole Prewitt, director of programs and partnerships for community engagement at UA’s Center for Community-Based Partnerships, which is an initiative of the Division of Community Affairs.

For more information about the program contact Prewitt at or at (205) 348-9819.

Saving Lives is a faith-based wellness program established by The University of Alabama’s Center for Community-Based Partnerships to advocate for healthy families and communities through faith.

Parents and Teachers Present School Project in PTLA’s Sixth Session

By Sophia Xiong
CCBP Graduate Assistant

Parents and teachers presented group projects in the final Parent Teacher Leadership Academy (PTLA) meeting of the academic year at the Bryant Conference Center on March 12.

“I want to thank all of you for making an investment of your time to support your school team. I know what that means to you,” said Andrea Ziegler, director for Community Education, Center for Community-Based Partnerships (CCBP). “Thank you all for the extra effort you made to come to these evening events.”

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the PTLA graduation ceremony has been moved online. The virtual graduation celebration will be on Facebook (UA Parent Teacher Leadership Academy page) Thursday, May 7 at 7 p.m. The celebration will include prizes and PTLA grant winner announcements.

Parents and teachers joined together to present their group school projects. There were two rounds of presentations, giving each school the chance to their projects and explore other teams’ projects.

Tuscaloosa Magnet Schools–Elementary presented their project “Math in Motion,” which is a continuous project from last year. This project helps students learn math in a more practical way. Honors College students were invited to be paired with students from second to fifth grades to help them learn math through different activities. “We tried to get more parents and more UA students involved this year,” said Allyson Pitzel, a fourth grade teacher at TMS-Elementary. “We also added second grade this year.”

Rock Quarry Elementary displayed their project “Building the Future with STEAM.” (STEAM stands for science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics.) This project encourages students to get involved in the different fields of study and for schools to invite specialists from the different STEAM fields to visit so that students can have conservations with them.

Maxwell Elementary School displayed projects from its “Arts Night” program and University Place Elementary from its “Multicultural Party.”

Because these projects require financial support, CCBP Executive Director Dr. Jim McLean presented information on how schools can apply for funding. Following his remarks, teams spent time working on PTLA grant applications.

Vision Days Cohort Returns for the Spring

By Ashley Cunigan
CCBP Student Assistant

Vision Days, a program of the Center for Community-Based Partnerships (CCBP), expects 500 high school students to return to campus Feb. 20, 25 and 27.

Ninth grade students from both rural and urban high schools attended Vision Days in the fall. They not only learned about college majors but also about the requirements for admission and scholarship opportunities at The University of Alabama.

Harley Langford, a student at Berry High School who is interested in nursing, said the college tour was her favorite part of the program. “I liked the operating room and am interested in neurology. I’m a big Alabama fan and can see myself coming to UA.”

In 2019, Vision Days expanded from its inaugural format into a cohort model, providing visiting freshmen the opportunity to attend again during their sophomore, junior and senior years. Each time the high school cohort visits campus, Vision Days will have a different focus. The spring session will be the first Vision Days cohort to return as 10th-grade students.

Tasha Brownlee, lead counselor at George W. Carver High School, brought her students to campus in the fall. “The students thoroughly enjoyed the program. Carver looks forward to this opportunity again next year,” she said.

The focus of Vision Days this spring will be on student life. High school students will have the opportunity to visit residence halls, the Robert E. Witt Student Activity Center and a table fair. In addition, they will hear from a panel of undergraduate students about class schedules, clubs, internships, study abroad and life in Tuscaloosa.

Daniela M. Susnara, CCBP’s program coordinator for community education, says, “We hope to provide high school students from rural and underrepresented communities an eye-opening experience here at Vision Days. We hope they feel welcomed and want to come back.”

This is the third gathering of Vision Days students on campus. Representatives of the New Faculty Community Engagement Tour, sponsored annually by the Division of Community Affairs in partnership with the Office of Academic Affairs, the Graduate School, the Center for Community-Based Partnerships and the Council on Community-Based Partnerships, came up with the idea to reach more in-state students from traditionally underserved areas in 2018. The resulting Vision Days program has expanded to reach 1,000 students since it began.