Engaged Scholarship Showcase Highlights Community Engagement Projects

by Sophia Xiong
CCBP Graduate Assistant

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Students and faculty got together for the Engaged Scholarship Showcase at the Student Center Ballroom on April 20. A complement to the 2023 Annual Excellence in Community Engagement Awards Luncheon, the showcase shares community-engaged work and inspires others to develop as engaged scholars.

In welcoming attendees, Dr. Drew Pearl, director of Community Engagement Research and Publications at the Center for Community-Based Partnerships, said, “Everything we do in the Division of Community Affairs is grounded in The 4 Rs: Relevance, Reciprocity, Research and Resilience. We want the research not only to contribute to scholarship, but also build sustainable and resilient partnerships with communities. I describe my work as helping to provide space and opportunity for others to do work of the imagination. We have ten teams this morning to share their imagination of possibilities and how they turn those possibilities into practice.”

Dr. Courtney Helfrecht, assistant professor of anthropology, and Dr. Jessica Wallace, assistant professor of health science and a core faculty member in the Athletic Training Program (College of Human Environmental Sciences), introduced Brain Day at UA, a program promoting brain health, which encompasses sleep, nutrition, mental health and preventing concussions. Participants included high school athletes from Dallas, Hale, Greene, Tuscaloosa, Pickens and Jefferson counties.

Helfrecht took part in the 2021–2022 Community-Engaged Learning Fellows Program. “Dr. Wallace and I began to collaborate about a year ago,” she said. Before that, she had worked with high schools and on children’s healthy development in the Department of Anthropology. These out-of-school activities and sports are demonstrably beneficial to student athletes’ well-being,” she said. “Now we’ve also got a lot of qualitative and quantitative work with an interdisciplinary team from the Department of Anthropology, the Department of Public Health, and the Department of Psychology. And our goal is to keep these student-athletes healthy and safe on the field.”

Jessica Nunes, a doctoral student in aerospace engineering and mechanics and president and founder of the Graduate Society of Women Engineers, introduced her project. “We have organized a lot of events and projects to increase women in STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] fields,” she said, adding that as part of the Public Engagement Learning Community she received a great deal of opportunities to talk with specialists in public engagement. “Also, through workshops and lessons, we saw different needs from the communities,” she said. “I also got to connect with people from different departments.”

Aswanth Sampathkumar, a doctoral student studying electrical and computer engineering, shared his thoughts on the showcase: “When we talk about science or STEM, the first thing people usually think of is a bunch of jargon, and that scares people away. But when we show them how fun it can be, they really get excited.”

Sampathkumar studies under Dr. Aijun Song, assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and recipient of a 2022–2023 graduate fellowship from UA’s Council on Community-Based Partnerships. Sampathkumar has been volunteering with MATHCOUNTS-Tuscaloosa since 2021. MATHCOUNTS is a nationwide middle school mathematics competition that promotes math education. “In addition to hosting the math competition, our goal is to reach out to middle school students who don’t have access to good math training. We also host a STEM demo event, where we present robots and electric cars to students and hope to motivate them to study STEM,” said Sampathkumar.