Community Engagement

Addressing the needs and interests of our diverse communities locally, statewide, nationally and internationally.


UofL researchers, students aim to help neighborhoods attain health literacy

(L to R) Megan Poole, Shavonnie Carthens, Abigail Koenig
(L to R) Megan Poole, Shavonnie Carthens, Abigail Koenig

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.”

UofL students serve the community in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.

UofL graduate student named Special Olympics Kentucky Volunteer of the Year

The UofL Center for Engaged Learning will help further connect the university with the community

UofL student Amber Kleitz at her internship at KFC.
UofL student Amber Kleitz at her internship at KFC. The Center for Engaged Learning was created at UofL to increase these types of experiential learning opportunities for students.

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.

Contact to learn more. More information about UofL’s Strategic Plan projects supported by the Gheens Foundation can be found here and here

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UofL researcher takes on city leadership role to enact solutions surrounding homelessness

UofL education students explore natural playground as a teaching tool

Law profession honors UofL’s Laura Rothstein for her work with Central High School

UofL researcher leads development of pilot project to deflect some 911 calls to a non-police response

The Louisville Metro Department of Corrections is leveraging UofL’s criminal justice research

UofL students collaborate to help local children in need

UofL’s School of Music reopens performances to audiences

Governor Beshear thanks UofL Health workers for their service during the pandemic

UofL Jazz Studies Program continues international collaboration remotely

UofL Health opens Urgent Care Plus facility in west Louisville

UofL Health opened an Urgent Care Plus location in west Louisville’s Parkland neighborhood.

UofL’s LinkedIn Learning partnership boosts professional development opportunities

UofL student research aimed at helping river towns drive tourism, development

UofL nursing student helping to increase healthy food access in Perry County

The Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge. The project is overseen by UofL Professor Frances Hardin-Fanning

Paige Newquist, a UofL School of Nursing graduate student, is on a mission to increase access to healthy foods in Perry County, Kentucky.

Paige Newquist, a UofL School of Nursing graduate student
Paige Newquist, a UofL School of Nursing graduate student, is on a mission to increase access to healthy foods in Perry County, Kentucky.

Newquist and Nikki Enlow, a graphic design student at Hazard Community College, have launched a public health information campaign as part of the Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge. The project is overseen by UofL Professor Frances Hardin-Fanning and is sponsored by Aetna Foundation, the American Public Health Association and the National Association of Counties.

Newquist, a research scholar, also works at UofL Hospital as a physical therapy technician and has been an active member of the UofL COVID vaccination team. She will graduate in May 2022 with plans to work in orthopedic nursing in Louisville. She uses her skills from her undergraduate research courses to review scientific evidence about the health impact of foods, which is guiding her work with the Perry County program.

As part of the educational campaign, Newquist shares spotlight information on different fruits and vegetables each week on the Perry County Facebook page; for example, “Garlic can be made into an extract and it has been effective in lowering blood pressure in people with uncontrolled hypertension … Garlic can help improve our artery’s flexibility, which results in lowered blood pressure, improved heart health, improved aerobic fitness and a decreased risk for cardiovascular disease.”

The Healthiest Cities & Counties Challenge is a grant-funded project aimed at increasing access to foods that support healthy eating patterns. Perry County, located in Eastern Kentucky, has an adult obesity rate of 47% – 12 percentage points higher than the 35% average for Kentucky. Seventy-four percent of adults who live in Perry County are overweight, and just 10% get their recommended fruit and vegetable intake. The Aetna Foundation issued the grant to Perry County in July 2020.

UofL’s School of Nursing also leads the Food & Faith Coalition, a partnership with either other organizations. In addition to increasing access, the coalition aims to increase food security screenings, grow retailers’ donations to nonprofit food programs and improve the interconnected work of 16 county organizations that provide food to community members.

Read more about Newquist’s work with this project on the UofL School of Nursing website here.

UofL to help lead in development of 911 alternative response model for Louisville

Downtown Louisville


During a time when local and national attention is focused on calls for changes in policing, collaborators from the University of Louisville, Spalding UniversitySeven Counties Services and the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services’ Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities, have initiated planning for a community-centered alternative response model for Louisville 911 calls best served by mental health and social services professionals rather than traditional police engagement.



Susan Buchino, assistant professor in the School of Public Health and Information Sciences and assistant director of the Commonwealth Institute of Kentucky
Susan Buchino, assistant professor in the School of Public Health and Information Sciences and assistant director of the Commonwealth Institute of Kentucky



Diversion Options: Voice and Empowerment (DOVE) Delegates is a research and development partnership that will design an alternative response model that meets Louisville’s unique needs, based substantially on input from the city’s residents and those directly impacted.

The need for an alternative response model derives from community concerns about instances in which law enforcement officers engage with individuals experiencing behavioral health crises.

Susan Buchino, an assistant professor in the School of Public Health and Information Sciences (SPHIS) and assistant director of the Commonwealth Institute of Kentucky (CIK), will co-lead UofL’s research effort with Tony Zipple, an executive-in-residence at SPHIS.

“We have the opportunity to create a program that reduces the criminalization of intellectual and behavioral health conditions by using community-care practices and linking people to appropriate health and social services,” Buchino said.

Those involved in the project will assess best practices from other cities, analyze local data and organize community forums. Although similar models have been highlighted nationally, Louisville’s DOVE Delegates planning process is intentional about learning from the work of others while ensuring the model fits the context and climate of Louisville. DOVE Delegates will seek input of invested community members, as well as city leaders, behavioral health and social service providers, and representatives from advocacy organizations.

The Spalding University School of Social Work will concentrate on organizing focus groups of Louisville residents to learn about their experiences and to integrate their input into planning and decision-making. A community survey launched this month with focus groups to be held throughout the city. School of Social Work Chair Shannon Cambron will lead Spalding’s involvement, and Louisville social worker and community organizer Khalilah Collins will serve as a project manager on the forums, which aim to elevate the voices of those whose lives may have been negatively impacted by current systems and practices.

Experts from Seven Counties Services will contribute insight from the perspective of a mental health services provider, focusing on behavioral health crisis response.

The work of UofL, Seven Counties and Spalding will be combined into a progress report that will be presented this summer to Louisville Metro Government, which is providing support to the DOVE Delegates through funds focused on reimagining public safety, including forfeiture monies from the Louisville Metro Police Department.

Recommendations will be made for implementation of a pilot program in the city’s 2022 fiscal year. The goal of implementing such a model is to create a positive health and economic impact on the community.

The Department of Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities is supporting DOVE Delegates through a federal Transformation Transfer Initiative Jail Diversion grant from the National Association of State Mental Health Project Directors.

Key to its community engagement, DOVE Delegates has seated a 20-person accountability/advisory board made up of representatives from around the city and from a range of professional and personal backgrounds. The board was formed to ensure accountability and transparency to the community, and it will provide recommendations and insight into the planning and development process while supporting outreach and engagement efforts of the project.

UofL student-athletes place second in NCAA community service challenge

Community Engagement

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