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Rural Georgia program drives community-engaged research

Faculty members participate in the 2023 Rural Engagement Workshop. (Photo by Shannah Montgomery)

The University of Georgia Rural Engagement Workshop for Academic Faculty enters its third year with 12 faculty members working in partnership with units of UGA Public Service and Outreach and Extension for grants to help solve rural challenges.

The Rural Engagement Workshop was launched by Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Jack Hu and Vice President for Public Service and Outreach Jennifer Frum. It is designed to help drive community-engaged research in rural Georgia communities.

Cognitive Aging Research and Education (CARE) Center co-directors Lisa Renzi-Hammond and Jenay Beer, both professors at the Institute of Gerontology, used the inaugural Rural Engagement Workshop for Academic Faculty as a springboard for taking the CARE initiative statewide. The CARE Center is a clinical, research and outreach hub that delivers education on dementia risk reduction, conducts cutting-edge research, improves access to dementia diagnosis, and provides planning and support for people with dementia and their care partners.

The 2023 Rural Engagement Workshop participants. (Photo by Shannah Montgomery)

“The workshop helped us understand what the UGA Archway Partnership was doing, and how to become involved in rural outreach work,” said Renzi-Hammond. “When academic faculty, Public Service and Outreach and Extension are combined, the real magic of community work can happen at a scale that is unparalleled. What UGA has helped us pull off through this workshop—and where other organizations have been less successful—is navigation. We learned how to navigate the needs of rural Georgians, and how to earn and keep trust through our collaborations with Archway and Extension, and that trust has allowed us to hit the ground running and enact change.”

To further their projects, workshop participants will tap into the UGA Public Service and Outreach and Extension networks of faculty and staff who work throughout the state to connect Georgians to the vast resources that UGA has to offer.

“We are excited to see this important program growing,” said Hu. “UGA’s commitment to the state of Georgia is very strong. The Rural Engagement Workshop for Academic Faculty helps cultivate the relationship we have with Georgia and broaden the statewide impact that UGA delivers through Public Service and Outreach and Extension.”

Workshop participants will gain a greater understanding of Georgia’s rural demographics and trends, obtain key information on developing sustained relationships with communities, and enhance their ability to engage in rural research in the state.

Participants will complete six sessions and finish the workshop in late April with their completed proposals. The Office of the Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost will provide up to $70,000 in seed grants to fund a maximum of 10 proposals, ranging from $5,000 to $10,000.

The program is coordinated by the Office of the Vice President for Public Service and Outreach, along with the College of Public Health, School of Social Work and UGA Cooperative Extension in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

“To carry out our mission as the state’s land- and sea-grant institution, UGA works to extend our knowledge and expertise to help Georgia communities thrive. I am excited to see how these faculty members partner with Public Service and Outreach units to further that mission,” said Frum.

The workshop also can help faculty carve out their research focus. Devin Lavender, an assistant professor at the College of Pharmacy, also was a member of the inaugural cohort. In addition to joining the CARE Center team, Lavender used his own seed grant money to conduct health needs surveys in the Archway Partnership communities of Hart, McDuffie and Washington counties.

“Before the Rural Engagement Workshop, if you had asked me if rural health would ever be a niche of mine, I would have said no,” said Lavender, a native of Macon and a UGA alumnus. “But because of the workshop, and the seed grant money that came out of that, and the relationships that I built with the faculty who participated, rural health is now my niche.”

The 2023 workshop participants are:

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