Category: Student Community Engagement Center

Georgia State Scholar Presents Research on Access to Healthy Food

By Ashley Cunigan CCBP Student Program Assistant

University of Alabama students, faculty, staff and community partners attended a morning networking session and an afternoon workshop about working with vulnerable communities on Friday, Oct. 18, presented by Dr. Kellie Mayfield, assistant professor in nutrition at Georgia State University. The sessions were sponsored by the student organization SCOPE (Scholars for Community Outreach Partnership and Engagement), a program within the Center for Community-Based Partnerships.

Mayfield specializes in community-based mixed methods research, focusing on availability of healthy foods. Mayfield, whose Ph.D. is from Michigan State University, collected data on the differences in food availability and its effects on consumers. She partnered with a Flint, Mich. nonprofit that supports residents in growing and accessing healthy food.

Mayfield worked directly with a community group that addresses problems in the Flint food system by increasing information about consumption of healthy food. Her research examined quality and price of available items in local grocery stores.

Of 288 stores in Flint that sell food, 273 were included in Mayfield’s analysis of food access and control in smaller and larger stores. Areas within a three-mile radius were analyzed to present information on how many grocery stores were located in areas without public transportation.

In addition to scarce food resources, Flint residents also struggled with finding clean water. The Flint water crisis of 2014 caused Michigan to declare a state of emergency. Lead and other dangerous metals contaminated the water supply, and tap water in many homes was toxic.

In her study, Mayfield found that residents had little access to healthy food or clean water, leading her to propose a change framework based on women as nutritional gatekeepers in the food environment.

Mayfield’s experience working with African-American communities led to her investigations of “womanism” — as opposed to “feminism,” a term that suggests “white” women. In researching custodial African-American grandmothers, Mayfield found that women play an important role in providing for their families. As custodial grandparents increase and access to healthy food declines, she said, there is much less to share.

Audience members were given time to network with peers to discuss insights into Mayfield’s findings. Students thought of different ways they could apply her strategies to their own research. Mayfield reiterated the importance of critical thinking and reflection, especially when working with vulnerable communities.

One of the faculty members who felt especially motivated by the Mayfield presentation was Dr. Chapman Greer, who teaches business communications in the Culverhouse College of Commerce. “Dr. Mayfield’s presentation was very informative,” she said. “I learned a lot about how we can apply mixed methods to our research.” Greer and her students are researching the possibility of establishing a community hospital in Marion, Ala.

 

Division of Community Affairs Launches New Student Community Engagement Center

 
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Community and university engagement at The University of Alabama received a boost today with the unveiling of the UA Student Community Engagement Center.

The SCEC is a 4,000 square-foot hub in Capital Hall that will house 14 anchor student organizations from six UA colleges and schools. It is open to all students and groups with an interest in connecting their efforts to engagement work in the community, said Carol Agomo, director of community and administrative affairs at UA.

The SCEC includes individual offices for student organizations, an open area for collaboration and a conference room. The space will also serve as a meeting area for community partners that work with UA student groups. The SCEC will also support community engagement work of faculty and staff and connect them with student groups that have similar missions. The UA student chapter of the Public Relations Council of Alabama has already begun using the space for work meetings. PRCA has launched community partnerships with Catholic Social Services, Good Samaritan Clinic, SD Allen Ministry and Five Horizons to tackle a variety of community issues, such as hunger, poverty and HIV outreach, by providing communications infrastructure and strategies and multimedia tools for each agency. “PRCA’s mission is to provide real-world experiences for all of our members through active engagement,” said Anna McAbee, a junior public relations major. “So, when we heard about this space, the main selling point was that students would be able to do real-world work.” Dr. Andrew Pearl, director of community engagement research and publications in UA’s Center for Community-Based Partnerships, said the center was designed to not only provide students a designated meeting space, but to encourage synergy and transdisciplinary work among all student groups. The “cross-talk” has already begun, as PRCA members have met with student groups from UA’s School of Social Work and College of Engineering. Pearl said the center is the first of its type in the realm of higher education and community engagement. He is keen for the center to be a catalyst for student groups to move “beyond reciprocity and into co-creation,” and to form more authentic partnerships.

“We want our students to understand the mission of each partner, but we want to develop goals in concert with one another,” Pearl said. “Building these relationships in this manner will help get to the root causes of problems.”

A key element in growing the center is developing strong relationships and trust from community partners, and to reach that goal, the center must be a collaborative space “meant for everyone,” Pearl said. The center’s policies reflect that aspect, as community partners can hold their own meetings at the center. Additionally, the center is conveniently located at UA’s Peter Bryce campus, making it easy for community partners to access and find parking.