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ֱ Excellence in Community Engagement Awards highlight winning projects

Contact: Michelle Garraway

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Mississippi State is honoring eight outreach projects with the university’s sixth annual Excellence in Community Engagement Awards.

Winners, awarded in four categories for 2023, include community-engaged research, service, and teaching and learning, and scholarship of engagement.

Winning projects receive $3,000, and honorable mention projects receive $750 to further their engagement projects. The recipients were selected by ֱ’s Center for Community-Engaged Learning, Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President, Office of Research and Economic Development and Division of Student Affairs.

Honorees include (by category):

Community-Engaged Research

Around the Big House
Around the Big House: Community-Engaged Archeology to Understand the History of Enslavement created field schools at sites of historical enslavement throughout Mississippi including Prospect Hill, a 19th-century plantation site in Jefferson County (Submitted photo)

Winner—Around the Big House: Community-Engaged Archeology to Understand the History of Enslavement, submitted by Assistant Professor Shawn Lambert, Department of Anthropology and Middle Eastern Cultures. For the past three years, this involved collaboration with descendant communities and local, state and federal agencies to develop archaeological field schools at sites of historical enslavement throughout Mississippi. Included is Prospect Hill, a 19th-century plantation site in Jefferson County. There, collaborators and community partners, including both local descendant communities and West African descendants—with ancestors freed from Prospect Hill to Liberia in the 1850s—strengthened relationships with diverse underrepresented populations. The project shows there is not only local community interest in learning about those enslaved in Mississippi, but also a global connection with descendants in Western Africa who are exploring their Mississippi-to-Africa heritage.

Honorable Mention—3D Weather Project, submitted by Associate Professor Yan Sun, Department of Industrial Technology, Instructional Design and Community College Leadership, and Associate Professor Jean Mohammadi-Aragh, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Funding from the National Science Foundation’s STEM+C program focused the project team on developing, testing and implementing teacher instructional and professional development materials to enhance secondary students’ spatial computational thinking skills through 3D visualization of weather data. The 3D Weather Project offers learning opportunities and leverages the positive link between spatial ability and educational-occupational STEM achievements, creating new career pathways.

Community-Engaged Service

Lending Expert Assistance to Partnership Schools Behavior Program
The Lending Expert Assistance to Partnership Schools Behavior Program provides free behavioral supports for public school students with developmental disabilities engaging in dangerous or disruptive behavior. (Submitted photo)

Winner—Lending Expert Assistance to Partnership Schools Behavior Program, submitted by Assistant Clinical Professor Hailey Spinks, Department of Counseling, Higher Education Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations. The LEAPS program provides free behavioral supports for public school students with developmental disabilities engaging in dangerous or disruptive behavior. Included is teacher training to safely manage challenging behavior, comprehensive behavioral assessments, individualized intervention plans and one-to-one staffing while participant interventions are implemented and evaluated. With more intensive supports, students can remain at their local schools without alternative placement, and teachers can develop tools to better address behavioral concerns. Grant funding is from the Mississippi Council on Developmental Disabilities, and practicum students in ֱ’s Applied Behavior Analysis master’s program receive training. Through affiliation with the Mississippi Institute on Disabilities at ֱ, the project also benefits from the ֱ T. K. Martin Center for behavioral workshops and wraparound therapeutic supports.

Honorable Mention—Mississippi Library Partnership, submitted by Associate Professor of Practice Anita Winger, Mitchell Memorial Library, and ֱ Libraries Associate Dean for Community Relations and Strategic Initiatives Stephen Cunetto. The partnership, established in 1993 with two Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning libraries, fosters book sharing. Growing for 30 years, it now includes three IHL libraries, three community colleges and six public library systems. Materials are shared between the member libraries when patrons place holds or requests on titles that may not be owned by their home library. Sharing books across the state allows academic libraries to gain access to non-research material that may not be purchased due to budget constraints and public libraries to gain access to research texts and other specialized materials impractical to maintain.

Community-Engaged Teaching and Learning

ֱ Math Day at Partnership Middle School
ֱ Math Day at Partnership Middle School brings math concepts to life through lessons centered around fun activities, including calculating batting averages and creating a pizza recipe to feed an entire class. (Submitted photo)

Winner—ֱ Math Day at Partnership Middle School, submitted by Instructor Julie Pitts, Department of Mathematics and Statistics. This event at PMS brings math concepts to life through lessons centered around fun activities. Sixth graders learn statistics in the spring by finding their own batting averages as they try to hit baseballs thrown by university students in Pitts’s Math for Elementary Education courses. The university students help the young learners with their calculations, while ֱ Diamond Girls support the outside activity. In the fall, seventh graders learn geometry through pizza. The students use proportions to convert the measurements in a small recipe into one that will feed the entire class. University students engage to help the young learners with proportions, graphs and price comparisons. All students and teachers are then rewarded with a pizza lunch. PMS teachers and Pitts discuss how the activities help students meet Mississippi’s core standards in a fun manner and reflect on the potential the projects have on future ֱ students.

Honorable Mention—Equine Mental Health, submitted by Associate Professor Molly Nicodemus, Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences. As part of an undergraduate community-engaged learning course, ADS 3233 Equine-Assisted Therapy, students participated in two outreach programs involving mental health services utilizing horses. Seventeen students started their fall semester working as volunteers for the community partner Dogwood Wellness Group and program director Katie Holtcamp. As volunteers, they assisted with daily equine-assisted services sessions offered at the group’s Starkville equine facilities, helping with the handling and care of horses along with preparation of equipment. Students concluded their semester working with the group to organize and coordinate an equine-facilitated wellness event.

Scholarship of Engagement

Remembering Anne and Emmett
Remembering Anne and Emmett brought the play “Anne and Emmett” by Janet Langhart Cohen to Birmingham, Alabama. Sponsored by the city’s Jewish Federation and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, the play explores the cost of racism and genocide through the lives of Frank and Till, and their parents, Otto Frank and Mamie Till. (Submitted photo)

Winner—Remembering Anne and Emmett, submitted by Assistant Professor Tonya Hays, Department of Communication. This project brought the play “Anne and Emmett” by Janet Langhart Cohen to Birmingham, Alabama. Sponsored by the city’s Jewish Federation and the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, the play asked, “What if Anne Frank and Emmett Till met in a place called Memory?” This powerful piece explores the cost of racism and genocide through the lives of Frank and Till, and their parents, Otto Frank and Mamie Till. It was performed for Jewish community members and 10th graders in the city’s public schools. It also was performed at Starkville Community Theatre. A moderated talk followed and included Jewish community members and leaders, as well as Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and Holocaust Education Center members. Preceding performances, there were ֱ class discussions on the rise of antisemitism and the unique relationships and histories of African American and Jewish communities in the U.S. and in Birmingham. This laid the foundation for a future ֱ project to bring Violins of Hope instruments that survived the Holocaust to campus.

Honorable Mention—Mississippi Water Stewards, submitted by Associate Extension Professor Beth Baker, Forest and Wildlife Research Center. MSWS started in 2019 by adapting a proven community-based watershed stewardship outreach and education model from Auburn University’s Alabama Water Watch to protect and restore water resources in Mississippi. A primary community-based partner has been the nonprofit Pearl Riverkeeper. The long-term vision is to have the capacity, in every state watershed and coastal area, for citizens to understand local water issues, respond via monitoring if necessary, and lead local efforts to protect water resources through scientifically sound, actionable solutions. To this end, MSWS has three main functions: educate citizens about local, regional and global water issues; train them to use scientifically valid methods to gather credible water quality information; and build capacity to have a positive community impact by using monitoring information for environmental education, watershed restoration and protection efforts, and involvement in watershed stewardship.

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