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Knowledge is power, right? Well, what if that path to understanding is strewn with jargon – scientific and legal terms – that keeps people from gaining the knowledge they need to make informed decisions?
UofL student-led teams are endeavoring to help some Louisville neighborhoods access understandable, useful information that might affect their health, specifically as it relates to air quality.
The project is one for the Public Health Literacy Group, a coalition of academic scholars, community leaders and activists focused on making the science of public health more accessible. The work recently got a $250,000 boost from the Humana Foundation as part of its ongoing Community Partners Program.
The team includes three UofL scholars – Megan Poole from English, Shavonnie Carthens from law and Abigail Koenig from business – who, with their students, have banded with District 3 Metro Councilwoman Keisha Dorsey, grassroots organization Rubbertown Emergency Action (REACT) and the nonprofit Kristy Love Foundation.
Dorsey’s western Louisville district includes several neighborhoods involved in environmental justice efforts related to air conditions stemming from large chemical plants and other industries in an area locally referred to as Rubbertown, named after tire and synthetic rubber plants built there during World War II.
The project began when Poole was invited to a western Louisville organization’s board meeting to explain how she has her students work with nonprofits and community groups on their writing projects to gain useful experience.
“I believe you learn best by doing, so I try to give them real-world assignments and real-world prompts,” Poole said. “And that’s also how you kind of learn the messiness of business.”
In the audience was Dorsey, who approached her afterward seeking help to translate information that comes out about air pollution into something that her constituents can potentially care about and understand.
Poole, still in her first year at UofL, turned the issue over to her “Writing for Social Change” class last spring. Her students decided there needed to be a website where this material could be housed, and they created infographics to make information more comprehensible.
“They discovered there was no central hub to talk about the science of air pollution or file complaints or ask questions,” she said.
So now student workers under the direction of Koenig in the College of Business will be working on a website, testing with the community and handling the data analytics, trying to see how people engage with the material and how to increase their engagement.
Through Carthens, a legal writing intern from the Brandeis School of Law is helping work on the language of announcements and information in hopes of making legal notices more easily comprehendible as public health notices.
The Kristy Love Foundation, a survivor-led organization that helps women suffering from traumas including human trafficking and abuse, will help with community focus groups. Women there will be hired to help the team choose locations for the group meetings and to spread the word through canvassing the affected neighborhoods.
The team will rely on neighborhood involvement and serious listening to direct the way citizens want to receive their information, whether it be digitally, on paper or via other ways.
“It really is a community project. What do you know about air pollution? What do you want to know? How do you currently receive this information, if at all,” Poole said. “We feel like before you create information for a specific audience, you have to find out how they want the information.”
The team also will be relying on the longtime, justice advocacy work and knowledge of the REACT group.
At UofL Poole and the other faculty members involved let the students try new things and see what works best to meet community needs.
“They are using the skills they learn to really make a difference now, as opposed to hypothetically one day,” Poole said. “It helps them grapple with what work looks like in the real world. I’m excited about it.”
In 2019, the private Gheens Foundation contributed $2 million to support the University of Louisville and, particularly, the strategic plan announced by former President Neeli Bendapudi. UofL has invested more than $530,000 of the Gheens funding to support seven projects in the university’s strategic plan. This is the final story in a series describing those projects.
The University of Louisville plans to introduce a dynamic new tool designed to improve students’ educational experience and give them a leg up on the competition when entering the workforce and help prepare them to further their education in graduate or professional school.
The Center for Engaged Learning (CEL) will be a resource for students, faculty and the community to help them find and create opportunities that complement the classroom experience, enabling students to apply their knowledge toward real-world projects and issues. These opportunities include research projects, internships, apprenticeships, community service and more.
The CEL will partner with many offices, including undergraduate research and creative activities, study abroad, community engagement, student teaching, Army and Air Force ROTC, competition teams, student government and UofL’s Center for Digital Transformation, established last year.
The CEL will also administer a co-curricular transcript that will be supplied to students in addition to their traditional transcripts.
“This is an exciting opportunity that will greatly benefit our students and is specifically mentioned in our 2020-2022 strategic plan,” said Interim President Lori Gonzalez. “Students who have had engaged or experiential learning opportunities ask richer questions in class and are prepared after graduation to tackle complex problems in any workplace setting.”
The center will be headed by Gail DePuy, interim vice provost for engaged learning, along with Paul DeMarco, interim director of undergraduate research and creative activity, and a soon-to-be-named director of experiential learning.
UofL already incorporates dozens of experiential learning opportunities in its programs. For example, students in the J.B. Speed School of Engineering are required to work at three paid cooperative education jobs in addition to classroom instruction. Study abroad programs, community service and undergraduate research are also commonly included in the student experience at UofL.
“The Center for Engaged Learning will expand these types of opportunities so that all students can apply their knowledge to concrete experiences, including those whose majors may not have a direct career path,” DePuy said.
Experiential learning also helps students increase involvement on campus and develop a sense of belonging.
For local employers, partnering with the CEL can provide early access to UofL students for possible future job opportunities. Faculty members at UofL who do not already incorporate experiential learning in their classes are encouraged to work with trainers in the Delphi Center for Teaching & Learning to find the best approach for their students.
Funded primarily through a grant from the Gheens Foundation, the new center will have offices in the dormitory called Belknap Residence Hall 2022 currently under construction. That facility is expected to open in Fall 2022.