Category: News

McLelland: New Job Is Real-World Test of Her Preparation

  • July 29th, 2013
  • in News

By Kirsten J. Barnes
CCBP Graduate Assistant

Lane McLelland, director, Crossroads Community Center

Looking back on her first year in her new job as director of Crossroads Community Center, Lane Busby McLelland, the former assistant director of New College, remains both challenged and excited by her new responsibilities, which she sees as a real-world test of her academic preparation.

That preparation includes a master of arts in ethics and social theory, a master of divinity and a bachelor's in international studies and conflict management.

"I loved what I did in New College, but coming to Crossroads gives me the opportunity to develop my fundamental areas of interest even more," she said.

Crossroads Community Center provides leadership at UA in cultural programming and intercultural education by developing and hosting a variety of cultural events and dialogue programs that build community. Crossroads pursues its mission by coordinating the energies of faculty, staff and students in the creation, implementation and evaluation of cultural programs on campus.

McLelland sees her new job from several points of view. "I love working with people of different perspectives and backgrounds and to see them work together, whether that work is international, cultural or intra-cultural. Because I'm coming from a program (New College) that values interdisciplinary work, I bring varied experience from multiple perspectives. My life has been interdisciplinary."

Before beginning a teaching career at Shelton State Community College in 1999 and taking a position teaching full-time at UA in 2006, McLelland worked in the private sector in religion and ethics. During the mid-1990s she worked in Atlanta for several agencies in which she gained cross-cultural experience, including working with the 1996 Summer Olympics.

All of these experiences prepared her for Crossroads. "My work in Atlanta and with New College has always emphasized embedding students in community based-projects," McLelland said, opportunities for students and community members to talk and work together.

McLelland said she missed teaching during her first semester at Crossroads, but hopes to develop a new course that can be taught in New College that will also be beneficial to Crossroads.

"I hope to offer some special courses that meet the goals of the academic department and the goals of Crossroads: Deliberative decision-making and deliberative-dialogue," McLelland said.

In addition to her academic and service credentials, McLelland is also an ordained minister. She has served as a minister at Chinese Community United Methodist Church in Oakland, Calif., and Trinity United Methodist Church in Tuscaloosa. She taught at Tunghai University in Taiwan and later worked with China-related organizations in Washington, D.C.

In appointing McLelland, Dr. Samory T. Pruitt, vice president for Community Affairs, said, "Crossroads Community Center provides important intercultural leadership and dialogue programs for the campus and communities both near and far. We are most fortunate to have someone of Ms. McLelland's background, credentials and motivation in this position."

McLelland succeeds Dr. Beverly Hawk, who has joined the Center for Community-Based Partnerships as director of program services. McLelland received her bachelor's degree from UA and both graduate degrees from the University of California, Berkeley.

For more information on Crossroads, call McLelland at 205-348-6930 or email her at

Miller: Just Getting the Degree Is Not Enough

  • July 29th, 2013
  • in News

By Kirsten J. Barnes
CCBP Graduate Assistant

Dr. Melanie Miller, director, Office of Student and Community Engagement

In about a year from now, Dr. Melanie Miller will have worked for The University of Alabama for 20 years, but she still maintains a youthful outlook about her work, possibly because so much of that time has been spent working with young people both inside and outside of class. Although she has held several positions "” director of the Women's Resource Center, associate director of the Russell Student Health Center, executive director of Crimson Care, and most recently associate dean of students "” they all have one thing in common: helping students make the most of their UA experience.

"I always tell students that there is a difference in getting a degree and getting an education," said Miller, who earned three degrees from UA "” bachelor of science in social work, master of arts in community counseling, and doctorate in higher education administration. "If students only leave here with a degree, we have failed them."

So it's no surprise that Miller and her position as director of Student and Community Engagement in the Center for Community-Based Partnerships within the Division of Community Affairs are a good fit.

In the new position, Miller works to involve undergraduate and graduate students in community activities and volunteer experiences that will complement their classroom studies and strengthen their knowledge of and experience in research. She believes helping students get involved in the community gives them a better understanding of how their education is directly linked to solving problems within the community.

"I want to help students grow and develop during their time here. The whole campus should be a learning environment for students," said Miller, the mother of two college students. "Education should be about transforming the total student. They need to be able to make meaning of how they can apply whatever information or skills they are getting in the classroom to their daily lives."

The engagement activities Miller facilitates, however, are more than social development. Under Miller students will also learn how to do research that fosters intellectual growth and helps undergraduate and graduate students alike get additional research and analytical skills.

"I think it's important to get students to understand that they can be involved in activities outside of the classroom, especially research," Miller said. "Many are already involved in service-learning activities."

One of Miller's primary responsibilities will be overseeing SCOPE, Scholars for Community, Outreach, Partnership and Engagement, a program begun in 2009. One of her objectives is to increase the number of student members and get more undergraduate students involved.

"There are certainly ways to plug more undergraduate students into projects as research assistants, even if they are not initiating research projects independently," Miller said. "I look forward to collecting more information by collaborating with different departments on campus and finding a way to connect more students to existing research initiatives."

Although she has worked at UA since 1995, she has also served as a field placement supervisor and has taught such courses as Cooperation and Conflict; Leadership Through Social Justice Activism; and Leadership Through Volunteerism. All of these courses had a service-learning component.

This background, along with her work on social justice issues and her many years of experience working in community non-profits, will clearly benefit Miller in her new role.

"One of our goals at CCBP is to collect information on community needs," Miller said. By systematically collecting information and developing sources regarding community needs CCBP and the campus will be able to match up community needs and faculty and student resources to prioritize the areas of greatest need, she says.

The Tuscaloosa native believes her new role allows her to use her expertise to put students on the frontlines of improving the quality of life for citizens living in Tuscaloosa and the surrounding communities, connecting them in ways that will transform their own lives.

Miller said, "It helps students develop skill sets while exposing them to different settings. It helps them become better citizens when they graduate, enhancing their sense of giving back to the community."

About Miller's appointment, Dr. Samory T. Pruitt said, "The addition of Dr. Miller comes at just the right time as more and more students seek to enrich their lives and improve the quality and value of their coursework by becoming engaged with the larger community. We are very fortunate to have a person with her training and interests for this important work."

For more information on SCOPE or any of the other engagement projects Miller is involved in, call her at 205-348-6929 or email her at

Holt Festival

  • April 12th, 2013
  • in News

2013 Community Festival Flyer

By Kirsten J. Barnes
CCBP Graduate Assistant

The Holt Community Festival will be held from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. Saturday, April 13 at the Holt High School football stadium.

"It’s a chance to celebrate with Holt and show the positive side of Holt," said Dr. Karl Hamner, co-chair of the festival and assistant dean of scholarly affairs for nursing and social work at The University of Alabama. "It's a very vibrant place."

Now in its fifth year, the festival is presented by the Holt Community Partnership, collaboration between UA and Holt High School. Additionally, the Partnership includes area citizens and organizations committed to improving and reviving the Holt community by working together to provide education, social and health services.

"It started as a educational partnership between UA and the high school that grew into a partnership of organizations that are invested in Holt," Hamner said.

Hamner said the event also has taken on new meaning since the tornado devastated the area in April of 2011. Holt was one of the hardest hit areas.

"They are our neighbors and the area has been long neglected," Hamner said, explaining that the festival is a way to draw attention to Holt and the needs of the community. "A lot of our students are involved in helping grow the community."

Partners include the Tuscaloosa County Board of Education, Alabama Consortium for Education Renewal, the UA College of Education, the Capstone College of Nursing, the UA School of Social Work, Tuscaloosa's One Place, Nucor Steel, the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff's Department, Holt High School faculty members, and members of the Holt Community.

"It’s going to be fun," Hamner said. "They’ll be music and various activities. Various organizations will have booths and there will be children’s activities."

This year's festival will feature music and entertainment, food, vendors and games. People should just come out to have fun, Hamner said. Admission is free. However, lunch items will be sold for $1 each.

Vendors are welcome, but each must preregister by contacting
For more information, call (205) 799-6808 or (205) 454-9791.

Looking at what churches do, what they don't do and what they could do

By Kirsten J. Barnes, CCBP Graduate Assistant

Dr. Michael Parker is using churches to get the word out about his research related to elder care and social work.

Though the use of churches and faith-based organizations, Parker hopes to expand the reach of his research to communities throughout the state.

"Getting churches recruited "” Protestant, Catholic, black and white is a difficult task," said Parker, who is the co-author with James M. Houston of A Vision for the Aging Church: Renewing Ministry for and by Seniors.  "We spend a lot of our lives publishing information in journals and very few people read them. We operate in tribal gatherings and we rarely have the opportunity to share what we know with the people who need to hear it."

Parker believes that faith-based organizations can and should be doing more to assist in the dissemination of information, particularly where the elderly are concerned.

"We're looking at what churches do, what they don't do and what they could do," said Parker, associate professor in the School of Social Work at The University of Alabama and board member for the Center for Mental Health and Aging at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

In addition to presenting his research as the National Outreach Scholarship Conference at 3:45 p.m., Monday, Mason Room, Bryant Conference Center, Parker organizes training conferences for elders, their adult children and church leaders.

He says most people do not plan for caring for their parents; they react to their parent's needs or a medical emergency.

In addition to teaching adult children about caring for parents, he also works on helping elders retain value in the community.

"This can add life to years and years to life," Parker said. "Most academics want to make a difference, but we must translate this information so that they can act upon it," one the primary goals of engaged scholarship.

Another program Parker is working on with congregations is the Life Review Project, which helps the elderly write their own life stories in a creative way.

"This is a chance to connect with future generations and to put your own life into perspective before it's too late," Parker said.

Additionally, Parker is working with the Veterans Administration and its faith-based information outreach efforts to assist the elderly in determining if they are receiving all the benefits they are entitled to.

As engaged scholars seek out community partners, Parker says that churches and faith-based organizations should not be left out.

"We realized that veterans are a part of congregations," said Parker, who is a retired Army lieutenant colonel.

His presentation will incorporate a neurologist, gerontologist and various social workers as they discuss the various ways in which they have incorporated faith-based organizations into their social work research.

NOSC 2012, September 30 "“ October 3

  • August 6th, 2012
  • in News

Scholars to Present Research about Bamboo Farming and Marketing

By Kirsten J. Barnes, Center for Community-Based Partnerships

[royalslider id=”3″]


Dr. Marcy L. Koontz, associate professor in the College of Human Environmental Sciences, joined by a host of student and community partner assistants, will present “Bamboo as Catalyst for Creative, Educational, and Economic Engagement Opportunities” at NOSC 2012.

Koontz and colleagues Jamie Cicatiello, Hunter Rayfield and Roger Lewis have been at the forefront of bamboo-related research since 2010, using community-engaged scholarship principles.

"I have been involved with the bamboo initiative since it started in Alabama in the spring of 2010," said Koontz, who has worked at UA for 15 years. She believes by using a plant reproductive technique developed by Jackie Heinricher, a professor and researcher at Washington State University, bamboo can become a cash crop in Alabama.

Koontz said she enjoys the community-engaged form of scholarship, because it allows her to introduce her research into her surroundings and to be actively engaged in her community.

"I was seeking in my profession, and in all aspects of my life, a reawakening of that community aspect of my life that I had when I was growing up," said Koontz, adding that she found that familiar sense of community in Northport.

Each year the United States imports millions of dollars worth of bamboo for blinds, flooring and other wood furniture. However, it is not grown locally.

"The unique thing about bamboo is that it only flowers every 60 to 100 years," Koontz said. "It may only flower one time in a person's lifetime." This makes the availability of seeds rare and expensive for the crop to be an option for Alabama farmers.

However, Heinricher has been able to take one plant and produce up to 2,000 tissue cultures, which will develop into their own bamboo plants, making it more economical for the plant to be grown in economically disadvantaged areas like Alabama's Black Belt.

In 2010 Heinricher came to Alabama to talk to farmers about the possibility and to see if they felt it would be a good fit for their farms.

"I came out of that experience with an idea that if Alabama was going to become a leader in bamboo agroforestry, we needed to start with education," Koontz said. Thus she began introducing the concept to farmers, students, academicians and others.

"If they became engaged with bamboo in some way, it could drive this initiative and make it acceptable," she said.

To do this, Koontz came up with an idea to build a learning park made with bamboo. The Friends of Historic Northport had just been given 200 acres within the city limits, said Koontz. She asked the board to set aside five acres for the park, and in November 2010 the award was made. However, the April 27, 2011, tornado delayed the progress.

"We got the land cleared and then the tornado happened," Koontz said. "Our focus shifted to recovery and helping, but after that we regrouped and we are going full speed now. In the next couple of weeks we will be tilling the soil."

In the meantime, Koontz and her colleagues have been going to schools, events and meetings to talk about bamboo and engaging students who are making various things from bamboo, including paper and charcoal.

"One of the good things about working with a project like bamboo is you can be really creative," Koontz said. "We had a bamboo game show at Boys State. We involved them in the learning process."

Once the park is open students will be able to do interactive activities, see how the plant is grown, and use an application that works on cellular phones or tablets that tells visitors about various stations located inside the park as they walk through.

Koontz's NOSC presentation will be in the form of a poster symposium and involve more than a dozen community partners and students. The presentation is entitled "Bamboo as Catalyst for Creative, Educational, and Economic Engagement Opportunities."

IARSLCE Seeks Conference Proceedings Fellows

  • August 1st, 2012
  • in News

By Christi Cowan, CCBP Graduate Assistant

The International Association for Research on Service-Learning and Community Engagement (IARSLCE ) seeks applications for its 2012/2013 Conference Proceedings Editorial Fellows. The fellows produce the new online IARSLCE Annual Conference Proceedings in collaboration with the IARSLCE Publications Committee and the Graduate Student Network.

To apply, submit a letter of interest and CV or resume to Senior Editorial Fellows Barbara Harrison ( and Kathleen Edwards ( by February 14, 2012. Please include a motivation for applying, professional or personal learning goals for the process, scholarly or research interests and relevant experience.

The Proceedings is available before, during, and after the annual conference and includes summaries of the sessions from the conference. It provides a platform for dialogue and enhanced access to scholars and scholarship from around the world.

Editorial Fellows also are exposed to professional development, collaboration and co-construction of scholarly products, and participation in an international learning community. The Fellows are led by two senior editorial fellows and two established practitioner-scholar editors. The team includes incoming Fellows and those who participated the previous year.

The role is a two-year commitment. The Fellows are responsible for editing conference proposals, designing creative expressions of scholarly work, corresponding with session facilitators, reflecting critically on the collaborative process, and promoting and disseminating the Proceedings.

Previous editing experience is desirable but not required. Potential Fellows must be willing to participate in regular Skype calls, actively engage in online communication and decision-making, possess a learning-orientation toward the process, be able to follow through on commitments and meet deadlines. Fellows will be appointed and begin their work in late February 2013. Much of the editorial work will occur May through August.

For more information, visit

Third Annual 100 Lenses Creative/Leadership Camp Begins Sunday, June 10 on UA Campus.

Contact: Dr. Heather Pleasants,, 205-535-8073

Black Belt 100 Lenses Summer Camp Set For June 10"“14

TUSCALOOSA "” The third annual Black Belt 100 Lenses Summer Camp begins Sunday, June 10. The University of Alabama campus will host 50 public and private high school students from the 12 counties of Alabama's Black Belt region.

The campers will develop a greater understanding and appreciation of the history and people of the Black Belt region through photography, writing, performance, discussion, and multiple hands-on activities.

The project is one of the signature programs under the Office of Community Education in the Center for Community-Based Partnerships (CCBP). Community Education Director Dr. Heather Pleasants had this to say as the camp opened:  “The camp’s legacy is the growth in knowledge, creativity and leadership that students experience. We look forward to seeing how these students will go on to create positive change in their communities and how the 100 Lenses experience affects their life's goals."

Key personnel for the camp are graduate students Meredith Randall, Kristin Law and Elliot Knight. Camp facilitators are undergraduate students Betsy Seymour, Greg Houser, Juan Carlos Rayes, Katy Gunn, Katie Berger, Ellie Isenhart and D’Anthony Jackson.

Selected by an advisory committee prior to the camp, participants are chosen based on creative submissions. The students were given cameras and asked to explore and document what was important in their lives and communities. Participants will share those photos with their peers to generate ideas to make their communities better. During camp, students will work together on creative photography activities, hear from community leaders, participate in creative writing workshops, and collaborate with local artists.

Black Belt 100 Lenses Camp will culminate with an exhibition of the students' photography and writing at a reception with their families and community leaders on Thursday, June 14 at The University of Alabama's Ferguson Center Gallery. The exhibit will continue until June 29. Following this initial exhibition, photographs will travel to venues in all 12 counties of the Black Belt region, each event organized with the help of the campers from their home county.

In conjunction with promoting skills in the art of photography and creative writing, the program also includes the goals of strengthening each students leadership skills, knowledge of Black Belt history, civic and community awareness, and critical thinking skills.

Doctoral Student Elliot Knight, the founder of 100 Lenses, is writing his dissertation about the history and impact of 100 Lenses.

Following is a sampling of his presentations and exhibitions based on his research: Fall 2008, Imagining America national conference. Los Angeles; fall 2009, Imagining America national conference, New Orleans; fall 2009, National Association of Graduate and Professional Students, Lincoln, Nebraska; spring 2010: Connecting the Dots: David Matthews Center for Civic Life national conference, Point Clear, Ala.; September 2010: Alabama Rural Health Conference in Tuscaloosa; spring 2011: Citizens Toolbox National Conference, Miami University; January 2012: Alabama Digital Humanities Center Luncheon in Tuscaloosa.

Future presentations: Proposals accepted at Scholarship in Action: Communities, Leaders and Citizens Conference, Auburn University, August 9-11, 2012 and NOSC 2012, September 30"“October 3, The Univesity of Alabama. Other submissions awaiting notification.

Black Belt 100 Lenses is a partnership between the Black Belt Community Foundation, The University of Alabama's Center for Community-Based Partnerships, the Alabama State Council on the Arts and both public and private high schools in Bullock, Choctaw, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Perry, Pickens, Sumter and Wilcox counties.

CCBP Summer Camp Helped Marengo County Student Choose Life's Direction

By Kirsten J. Barnes CCBP Graduate Assistant

What started out as a summer camp experience inspired 19-year-old D'Anthony Jackson to launch his own business, select a major in journalism and compete for a summer internship two years later at the UA Center for Community Based Partnerships (CCBP).

After spending two summers as a participant with the Black Belt 100 Lenses project, a photojournalism camp that prepares high school students in the art of photography by talking photos of people and places throughout Alabama's Black Belt Region, Jackson was hooked on the art form.

"I just loved it. My major is journalism and the program gave me a chance to express my love for journalism and photography," said Jackson, a rising sophomore at the University of West Alabama.

The program not only helped him decide on a career, but it also gave him the foundation to try his hand at professional photography by starting his own photography business.

"I started the business my senior year in high school," said Jackson, a Linden High School graduate and Marengo County native. "I do senior portraits and weddings and other events."

As a student participant in the program, Jackson focused on taking photos of Linden, Ala., in Marengo County.

"I took photos that explained what my community is to me," Jackson said, adding that it was easier to tell his story through photos. "I took pictures of railroads, buildings, people and stores. We had to have 50 black and white photos and 50 color photos. When I tried to explain my community with my mouth, it was different from taking and showing photos. You can see more perspectives about the community using photos."

This year, Jackson will attend the camp, not as a student, but as a facilitator, working as a CCBP intern. The camp is scheduled for Sunday"“Thursday, June 10"“14, 2012.

Dr. Heather Pleasants, CCBP director of Community Education, whose office oversees the program, is thrilled to have Jackson's participation.

"D'Anthony represents the best of what we hope students will be able to accomplish through and beyond their participation in the project," said Pleasants, who has worked with the program since joining CCBP in 2009. The project is a partnership between the Black Belt Community Foundation, CCBP and the Alabama State Council on the Arts.

"The program uses creative activity as a vehicle to help kids explore their potential," Pleasants said. "We use photography and writing to work with the students who come to the camp. It helps them see themselves and the communities around them differently and in a way that they hadn’t previously been able to articulate."

100 Lenses is the brainchild of Elliot Knight, a doctoral student who came up with the concept as a UA undergraduate and launched a similar project with UA students prior to launching the program for high school students. This year's program will involve 60 youth. "My favorite part of the program is the time I get to work with the students," said Knight, who for the past two years has been working more in a support role rather than a lead facilitator because of his dissertation research. He is using the program as a basis for his doctoral research and has interviewed participants extensively.

"A lot of them talk about getting out there and seeing the importance of interacting with people and being proactive," he said. "They see things in their communities differently. They learn to consciously think about what's important to them."

Like Jackson, Knight said students take away something life-changing from the program. Many of them start their own businesses or major in an area related to their interest, but all of them take photos and examine their surroundings more closely.

"The pictures help them to develop pride in where they are from," Knight said, adding that interacting with other students from small towns just like theirs throughout the state also increases their self-esteem and makes the state seem smaller. By interacting with other students with diverse perspectives, he said they come to realize that not having a place where young people can hang out together and share interests is not limited to their community. And they don't just rubber-stamp what they've heard in the past: They become critical examiners of their entire environment, Knight said, which leads them to embrace grassroots change, beginning with themselves.

Jackson is exited to be furthering his skills by working with the 100 Lenses directors and participants in the 2012 summer camp. The program has a mission to give youth a voice and a forum to raise and address issues that affect them and their community through analyzing and depicting the culture of the Black Belt region. Jackson will be helping to establish a network of citizens, who through cultural analysis and both visual and written expression, are committed to improving the quality of life in the Black Belt.

There will be the usual camp activities, but this year "I'll have more of a leadership role," continuing to develop skills he began in high school and is continuing in college. During his first year at UWA, Jackson was named Freshman of the Year after being nominated by Director of Student Support Services Vicki Spruiell.

Jackson was recognized because of his active college life and high grades. He made the Dean's List, is a Student Support Services Orientation Ambassador, Residence Hall Association President, and he is a member of the Scarlet Band from Tiger Land, the UWA choir, Phi Eta Sigma, the Student Government Association and the student newspaper MUSE. In addition, he was cast in a play in cooperation with the university and Pickens County.

"I just like to be involved," said Jackson, adding that was one of the reasons the program was a perfect fit for him. "I don't like to just sit in my room. I like to help people and stay involved. I guess they picked me as Freshman of the Year because while doing all of these things, I was still able to keep my grades up." He reports a GPA of 3.75.

Jackson said he is using skills honed in the 100 Lenses program to make connections and meet important people. Following one of the budding theater actor's performances of "The Face in the Courthouse Window," he got to meet Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and his wife Diane, who were in the audience as guests of UWA President Richard Holland.

Today the 100 Lenses archives has more than 7,000 images depicting the work of more than 200 high school students from 12 Black Belt counties in Alabama: Bullock, Choctaw, Dallas, Greene, Hale, Lowndes, Macon, Marengo, Perry, Pickens, Sumter and Wilcox counties.

"The past couple of camps we’ve had an emphasis on photography and writing, but now we have added performance," Pleasants said. "These creative areas come from the backgrounds of those who are participating in the camp. Videography and spoken word will be incorporated as well."

The Division of Community Affairs promotes engagement and outreach scholarship and major community events such as the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Lecture and Concert. In fall 2012, the division will host the 13th annual National Outreach Scholarship Conference. Community Affairs subdivisions are the Center for Community-Based Partnerships, the Crossroads Community Center, and Equal Opportunity Programs, each with their own mission and objective.

The Center for Community-Based Partnerships (CCBP) provides leadership and operational assistance for hundreds of engaged scholarship projects locally, nationally and internationally, including publishing one of the leading research journals in the field, the Journal of Community Engagement and Scholarship. CCBP's motto is "Engaging Communities and Changing Lives."

Hanninen First Came Up with the Idea for AERN

By Kirsten J. Barnes

After serving as director of The University of Alabama's Small Business Development Center for a number of years (he would never tell me how many) Paavo Hanninen was presented with an opportunity to take the work he was doing in Tuscaloosa at the Culverhouse College of Commerce's Center for Business and Economic Research to would-be entrepreneurs across rural Alabama.

Hanninen, along with Annette Watters, became co-director of the Alabama Entrepreneurial Research Network, starting with four counties and growing that number to 17 more than 11 years ago.

"We were presented with an opportunity and we came up with an idea to take some resources and use them with some initial counties," said Hanninen, who holds a master's of business administration from the University of Mississippi. "People got very interested in it. It's gotten great support from the top down and it's just a pretty good idea that gained traction."

Over the years, the program has expanded into the following 17 counties: Bibb, Butler, Chambers, Choctaw, Dallas, Fayette, Greene, Macon, Marengo, Marion, Monroe, Perry, Pickens, Sumter, Tallapoosa, Washington and Wilcox counties.

The concept was Hanninen's very own, pieced together through his many years of working with small business owners.

"It was based on the idea that we wanted to put the resources at the community level," Hanninen said. "We'd give them resources and tools to be able to help them in their own community rather than waiting for someone like me to come with a briefcase from 50 miles away. The idea is teaching folks to fish and not to just give them fish."

Most of the community agency partners are local Chambers of Commerce or libraries. Each partner agency is provided a toolkit of resources to encourage and assist potential and existing local entrepreneurs. The toolkit includes business reference materials, business planning software and computer technology.

The concept is not only popular across the UA campus; it is popular across rural Alabama.

"I just think that being an AERN partner agency is a plus in our area due to our population," said Sheryl Smedley, the director of the Selma-Dallas County Chamber of Commerce. "Not every small city can have what we have here. We're very fortunate to have the resources provided by AERN."

It seems getting the word out about the program is the biggest challenge, but those who know about it are immediately interested.
"Everybody who comes in says they had no idea that we had anything like this in our community," Smedley said. "They go out and spread the word."

Smedley said not only has AERN helped several individual business owners in the Dallas County area, but that AERN also has helped her Chamber with training and business development programs.

"Paavo was like a support pillar," Smedley said. "If something needed to be done, he would see it through. If my board of directors needed a workshop, I could go to him. He helped me with a customer service workshop. I just told him what I needed and he put it all together."

Hanninen said this is the way the program is supposed to work. Business owners do not have to be members of the Chamber to qualify for the free resources. However, they do have to operate a business in one of the counties with an AERN partner.

"While I had been doing this, the schedule and resources were sporadic," Hanninen said. "I saw this as a way to create a permanent knowledge presence in the community injected at the community level in the chamber and other local entities we could identify."

AERN collects research on the companies it assists and the counties it operates in. Since 2006 it estimates 860 jobs have been saved or created at companies that used AERN resources.

Until a replacement is named AERN Outreach Coordinator Mary Patterson will coordinate the program.

"I have enjoyed working with Paavo and sharing his vision for AERN.  He has helped me to make the connections and learn the needs of entrepreneurs in rural Alabama," Patterson said. "Paavo is a great communicator and always knew the territory and the people of rural Alabama, and they welcomed his expertise and assistance.  He was very good at assessing the needs of the small business owner and getting the resources from the University of Alabama down to the ground level."

Hanninen placed emphasis on developing a network of community partners and said one of the challenges has been finding partners in every community who can take ownership of the project and discovering ways to tweak the concept to fit each and every rural community.

"Finding the correct partner locally is the key," Hanninen said. "It has to be someone who can take it and champion it and nurture it. We've got a lot of success in a lot of communities, but different things happen in different places."

But that's exactly what he likes most about AERN. It reaches people at the community level with the ability to offer immediate assistance.

"Through his vision and passion for AERN, the network has grown, and small business has prospered and added jobs to the local communities," Patterson said. "He has taught me well how to train the partners, and provide the seminars and workshops that are valued in areas where information is not as easily obtained as in a larger city."

Each location is in rural, middle-and-low income communities often left crippled by business closures.

His concept provides people with good information about launching or expanding a business enabling entrepreneurs to make meaningful economic decisions.

"I've always been kind of a guy who likes to get out in the community and meet folks and get to know them at the local level," said Hanninen, adding that AERN allowed him to get out into the community more than his previous position. "You get some satisfaction out of hearing the stories and it's just overall thoroughly interesting work."

Hanninen, who returned to AERN part-time after retiring in December of 2010 and stepped away again in January 2012, said he is not opposed to working with UA again or other agencies contractually as long as he can have the flexibility he needs for his teenage child.

"I have a 13-year-old child. I need flexibility," Hanninen said.

Watters' Vision of AERN Remained a Constant

By Kirsten J. Barnes

Annette Watters came to The University of Alabama as a freshman in the mid-1970s and until May 31, 2012, never left.

"I've been with the university since the late 1970s," said Watters who has earned a bachelor's and two master's degrees from The University.

Although she has worked in several areas of the university, since 1980 she has worked for the Culverhouse College of Commerce. The college runs the Center for Business and Economic Research, which operates the Alabama Entrepreneurial Research Network, where Watters served as director in addition to her duties as director of the Alabama State Data Center, a federal partnership program with the United States Census Bureau.

AERN was started 11 years ago based on an idea by her then co-director Paavo Hanninen, who also worked for the College of Commerce.

"I was just in the right place at the right time to be a mother to this program," Watters said. "I think maybe it had something to do with my personality. I am extraverted enough that I like to meet people and do things outside of the campus and I'm also introverted enough to write the grants and do the paperwork and keep the accounts. It was the perfect mix for me."

The program targets entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs in 17 rural, economically challenged counties throughout Alabama. Until her replacement is named, Outreach Coordinator Mary Patterson will oversee the program.

Patterson said she is glad to have been able to work with Watters.

"It has been a rewarding experience to work with Annette for the past year and five months, and to help her accomplish the goals of AERN," Patterson said. "She is dedicated, detailed and prompt in her responses to the needs of the rural partners and entrepreneurs; and I was always impressed at the many hats she wore within the College of Commerce and Business Administration."

Today the program, which started in four counties, operates partner agencies in the following areas: Bibb, Butler, Chambers, Choctaw, Dallas, Fayette, Greene, Macon, Marengo, Marion, Monroe, Perry, Pickens, Sumter, Tallapoosa, Washington and Wilcox counties.

"My favorite part has been getting to know people in rural Alabama," Watters said. "The interactions I've had with people who are tying real hard to make their communities a better place has been very rewarding."

Recently, Watters gave a presentation at the AERN Annual Meeting where she noted the recent accomplishments of the program. Having a background in collecting data for research, Watters' presentation focused on specialized information afforded those who take advantage of AERN. She cited nearly 900 jobs that had been created or saved using resources provided by AERN and the availability of more than 700 reports on industries, markets, economic trends, and other areas.

"There have been new jobs that have been created and there has been documentation of jobs that have been saved which has a discernible economic impact in the rural areas," Watters said. "There's been a lot of education that has gone into that. I think a good many more people in rural Alabama are now smarter about what it takes to run a successful small business in Alabama because of this program."

Most of the community agency partners are local Chambers of Commerce or libraries. Each partner agency is provided a toolkit of resources to encourage and assist potential and existing local entrepreneurs. The toolkit includes business reference materials, business planning software and computer technology.

Allison Tucker is the director of the Sumter County Alabama Chamber of Commerce, which houses one of the newest partner agencies that Watters assisted in establishing.

"She's been very easy to work with," Tucker said of Watters. "If I had any questions, I would just call Annette and she was really quick to respond. I haven't had any problems."

Sheryl Smedley, director of the Selma-Dallas County Chamber of Commerce, feels the same way about Watters and her efforts to assist the directors in finding resources and providing local business owners with options.

"I can't say enough about Annette," Smedley said. "If I got in a pinch or if somebody called and said they needed something, I could always go to Annette."

It's assisting the chamber directors and the individual business owners that Watters said she would miss the most.

"I will miss the interaction I have with our partner agencies in the different counties," Watters said. "I really like the people I have met in rural Alabama."

Watters can be sure her mark will be felt on the program for years to come.

"Her heart was truly in AERN, and she worked tirelessly to find funding for the program and to assist rural business owners with information and research to help them be successful." Patterson said. "Annette is a great leader and always enjoyed mentoring the success of rural businesses by bringing the University of Alabama's expertise to the community level.  As she retires, we realize the contributions she has made to the University of Alabama and to the quality of life in distressed rural counties."

In fact, before she retired one of her last tasks was securing a grant that will add two new partner agencies.

"We have a grant that will enable Lamar and Hale counties to come in," Watters said. "I'm glad to be leaving, knowing that this has been accomplished."

Although leaving the program, Watters knows she and Hanninen have laid a strong foundation for others to build upon.

"I hope that AERN can expand in a couple of different ways. I hope we can continue to add counties that are interested and that want to belong to this network, but I also hope we can integrate into the engaged scholarship of the University of Alabama in a permanent and deep way," said Watters, referring to a scholarship philosophy, which connects the development of sustainable community programs to research. "I think there are a lot of cross campus partnerships that we can forge if we get the momentum right. I think there are a lot of possibilities."

For now, Watters said she is looking forward to retirement and the chance to catch up on projects long neglected because of a busy work schedule.

"I think I might learn to cook three nutritious meals a day," Watters said. "Whatever I do it will be here in Tuscaloosa. My husband's not retiring."

Watters has been married to John Watters, who also works for UA, for 42 years. The couple has one daughter, Allison Watters, who is a UA graduate and works as a public relations practitioner in New York.