Council Hosts Twelfth Annual Excellence in Community Engagement Awards

By Kirsten J. Barnes
CCBP Graduate Assistant

The Council on Community-Based Partnerships hosted its Excellence in Community Engagement Awards on April 18 at the Bryant Conference Center with more than 200 people in attendance to share in the celebration of research and service activities of The University of Alabama and its community partners. It was the 12thannual awards ceremony.

The luncheon is a culmination of the efforts of faculty and students working to fulfill the University’s teaching, research and service mission through partnerships with community groups.

Each year this program recognizes faculty, community partners and students who work to change the lives of others through their engagement research efforts by granting seed funds, graduate fellowships, undergraduate scholarships, travel grants and a variety of other activities.

Not only does this event serve to recognize and encourage social consciousness that manifests itself through active problem-solving, this year’s event recognized a person who has been an integral part of CCBP since its inception. CCBP Director of Communication and Research Dr. Edward Mullins was this year’s recipient of the Outstanding Special Achievement in Community Engagement Award.

“Every year with this program I’ve had the opportunity to present the very first award. It’s the highest award that we give and it’s to someone who has made a significant impact on the landscape of community-engaged scholarship and through their work and through their lives have made a tremendous difference in the quality of lives for others,” said Vice President of Community Affairs Dr. Samory T. Pruitt, recalling such past recipients of the award as UA Chancellor Dr. Mack Portera, former UA President Dr. Judy Bonner, and current president of Morgan State University Dr. David Wilson,. “These are all giants and the person who will receive this award today is also a giant.”

Mullins, a retired dean of UA’s College of Communication and Information Sciences, according to Pruitt, has dedicated his entire life to helping others achieve their educational potential.

“Years ago,” Pruitt recalled, “when we had this hair-brained idea of trying to do this kind of work on our campus, Ed was retiring from the College of Communication, and he said to me, ‘I’ve got a sense that I know what you’re trying to do, and if you’ll find a corner somewhere in an office with a computer I’ll help you.’ And help me he has. From our research journal to our inclusion in ESC (Engagement Scholarship Consortium), to our Carnegie Classification and countless conversations about strategy and staffing, he’s always been there.”

Pruitt gave special credit to Mullins for his role, along with that of founding editor Dr. Cassandra Simon, in the development of the Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship (JCES), now in its second decade of publication. It is published at the University and today is considered the leading journal in engaged scholarship.

Mullins came up with the original design and format for the publication and with the editorial philosophy that writing for the journal would place a priority on a style of writing that would be accessible to non-academics. As Simon put it in her original column about the journal, “We want JCES to look different, to be different, and to make a difference.” Apart from JCES publisher Pruitt, Mullins is the only member of the original staff still working for the journal.

Three awards were made in the faculty, staff and community partner Distinguished Community-Engaged Scholars category. They were Laurie Bonnici, associate professor, School of Library and Information Studies; Justin Washington, graduate student in the Culverhouse College of Business; and Jim Page, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama.

A veteran community-engaged scholar, during the past year Bonnici was a visiting scholar at the Social Media Lab at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada. Washington used his UA-acquired entrepreneurial skills to assist with funding to start programs and to help existing programs such as the Tuscaloosa Boys and Girls Club.” Under Page, the chamber was cited for its work with supporting youth, former inmates and nonprofits.

Five people received the Excellence Award for Outstanding Engagement Effort. They were: Amanda Lightsey of Tuscaloosa’s One Place; Lauren Martin, an undergraduate student in Honors College; Melanie Acosta, assistant professor of curriculum and instruction; Darrin J. Griffin, assistant professor of communication studies; and Yuehan Lu, associate professor of geological sciences.

These awards come with a $2,000 stipend to help the scholars continue their work. For example, Griffin said the funds would enable his team to produce weather workshops for the deaf community preliminary to seeking larger grants in the future.

The Council awarded two seed grants. One went to Dr. Abbey Gregg, assistant professor in the Department of Community Medicine and Population Health and the Institute for Rural Health Research in the College of Community Health Sciences (CCHS), and Dr. Elwin Crawford in the state Department of Public Health’s Office of Emergency Medical Services. They received $3,520 to assess community needs related to mobile integrated healthcare intervention. The second was to Dr. Robin A. McWilliam, professor of special education and multiple abilities to support his work with Alabama’s Early Intervention System, Community Service Program of West Alabama. McWilliam was awarded $4,902 for telehealth research for families with infants and toddlers.

Graduate fellowships were awarded to Temilade Ayo Aladeokin and Kim Wang, doctoral students in social work, and for a student to be named later to work with Dr. Yuehan Lu, assistant professor in geological sciences.

The council also assists students and faculty with travel to present their research at scholarly conferences around the world. This year’s $1,000 travel grant recipients were Emily Brown, master’s student in biological sciences; Dr. Abbey Gregg, CCHS; Dr. Mary Kelley, assistant professor with the Capstone College of Nursing; Ashley Stewart, anthropology doctoral student; and Calia A. Torres, psychology doctoral student.

“I went to Tucson, Arizona to attend the American Ornithological Society annual meeting. It’s a nationwide conference on bird research,” said Brown. “I got to speak to someone who has been working with red-cockaded woodpeckers for 30 years and learning from what he’s learned from his research really helped me to frame my papers and research that I am working on.”

Another highlight of the luncheon was the presentation of the Zachary David Dodson Memorial Endowed Scholarship, named for a CCBP work-study student who died the night before he was to graduate magna cum laude with a degree in economics. This year’s recipient was Kathryn Taylor, a sophomore in communication studies who came to CCBP and immediately involved herself in its mission.

“It is the best department on campus,” said Taylor, who followed her older sister to UA from Connecticut. “I work alongside so many professional people and it’s been such a great opportunity for me to grow professionally. Working with them sets you up for a passionate future doing what you love.”

Dr Peter Hlebowitsh, dean of the College of Education and chair of the executive committee Council, brought welcome to the audience and gave a brief report on the achievements of the past year. He praised the award recipients and their partners for their “remarkable individual efforts” and “life-reaching work.”