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Seven Faculty Projects for Community Impact on Racial and Social Equity Issues

Thanks for generous funding from The Duke Endowment, the Office of the Provost has selected seven research proposals that engage with “Racial and Social Equity in Local Context.” These projects will be led by Duke faculty members beginning as early as July 1 and ending by June 30, 2025.

This funding opportunity builds on previous cycles focused on “Racial Inequality” (2022) and “Race, Racism and the History of the American South” (2021).

Community-Engaged Research

A cover of a handbook

As part of Duke’s commitment to forge purposeful partnerships, the Office of Durham & Community Affairs worked closely with local community representatives to define priority areas in which to leverage the university’s research strengths and expertise. 

These priorities, laid out in Duke’s Strategic Community Impact Plan, are food security and nutritionhousing affordability and related infrastructureearly childhood and school readinesscollege and career readiness, and nonprofit capacity. All research proposals for “Racial and Social Equity in Local Context” were linked to one or more of these five priority areas. 

Duke’s offices for Faculty Advancement, Durham & Community Affairs and Interdisciplinary Studies tapped the expertise of community representatives to help select the strongest proposals for funding and offer guidance to faculty members. Community reviews provided valuable insights that will help make these projects successful and better aligned with local priorities and expectations.

All grant recipients will participate in a training on ethical and best practices in community-engaged research later this month.

Projects, Lead Faculty and Collaborators

Diversifying the STEM Workforce by Promoting Positive College and Career Outcomes Among Local High School Students From Systematically Excluded Identities

Lead: Meagan Dunphy-Daly, Professor of the Practice, Marine Science & Conservation Division; Associate Dean of Experiential Education and Undergraduate Research

Collaborators: Nicolette Cagle, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Science & Policy, Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion; Jason Somarelli, Assistant Professor in Medicine

Individuals from backgrounds historically excluded from STEM represent less than one in five STEM college graduates. The objective of this project is to evaluate the impact of multiple years of a near-peer mentored, year-long program on 1) promoting positive science identity among Durham Public Schools high school students from historically excluded identities, and 2) increasing college application success for these students by enhancing student readiness for undergraduate STEM majors through experiential education and college application workshops. The ultimate goal is to increase diversity across STEM fields and support future leaders in STEM.

Gesture: A Cultural Intervention for Learning Outcomes

Lead: Sarah Gaither, Associate Professor of Psychology & Neuroscience 

Collaborators: Makeba Wilbourn, Associate Professor of the Practice of Psychology & Neuroscience; Anna Gassman-Pines, Professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy; Leslie Babinski, Associate Research Professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy

One potential cost-effective avenue to improve learning could be using a culturally-based intervention such as gesturing, where teachers regardless of race are encouraged to gesture while instructing. Based on pilot data, teachers using gestures increased memory for new words by 16% across all racial groups. This was measured through children watching a series of videos of “teachers” playing with novel gadgets and teaching “fun facts” about each object. This project will translate this intervention from an online to an in-person platform through community partnerships with Durham and Johnston County schools.

Hello, Ethi{CS}: Codesigning Ethics-Centered Computational Education to Broaden Participation in College and Career Readiness

Lead: Aria Chernik, Associate Professor of the Practice in the Social Science Research Institute

Collaborators: Jan Riggsbee, Professor of the Practice of Education; Kevin Hoch, Director of Educational Programs at Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship

Open design is an equity-centered innovation methodology. This community-engaged research project seeks to understand how the implementation of an open design innovation framework impacts attitudinal shifts among educators toward creating equitable educational change and toward teaching ethics-centered computing. In addition, the project will explore how using an ethics-centered, project-based approach to computing education impacts attitudinal shifts among Black, female-identifying and lower-income students toward the social justice implications of technology and toward computing education and careers.

Inspiring the Next Generation of STEM Learners

Lead: Shaundra Daily, Professor of the Practice in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering

Collaborators: Alia Carter, Research Scientist; Sandra Roach, Associate in Research

This project aims to enhance the college and career readiness of middle and high school students, promote persistence in STEM majors for undergraduate students and examine the effectiveness of this approach in retaining women and minoritized students in STEM fields. Collaborating with Inspiring Minds, a nonprofit organization in Durham, researchers will implement and evaluate an intervention using quantitative and qualitative measures. The findings from this research will offer valuable insights for policymakers and practitioners to design effective strategies that promote diversity, equity and inclusion in STEM education and career paths.

Racial Inequity in Early Grade School Suspensions: Building Community Partnership and Evidence to Bridge Advocacy, Law and Policy

Lead: Sarah Komisarow, Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Economics 

Collaborator: Peggy Nicholson, Clinical Professor of Law (Teaching)

This project will pursue several objectives related to rates of school suspension as well as racial gaps in suspensions among students enrolled in kindergarten through second grades. The children, parents and communities most impacted by early grade suspensions are often left out of the conversation. Building on existing community partnerships with local education justice advocates will ensure equitable, substantive collaboration with community partners throughout every phase of the research process.

Teaching for Hope During Climate Uncertainty: Working With Teachers to Coproduce Climate Resilience Curriculum for Middle Schoolers and Their Communities

Collaborators: Lisa Campbell, Rachel Carson Distinguished Professor of Marine Affairs & Policy; Elizabeth DeMattia, Research Scientist; Leslie Babinski, Associate Research Professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy

Researchers at Duke and NC State are supporting Carteret County teachers to create and implement a locally relevant resiliency curriculum that blends personal, ecological and social resilience through classroom and community-based activities. Preliminary results from an assessment are encouraging among teachers, students, and community members. This project will expand the research into Durham to explore if and how the process of curriculum cocreation and the topic of resilience are applicable in both rural and urban systems, and if they can be scaled throughout North Carolina and beyond.

University-Assisted Community Schools: Cultivating Educator Voice and Agency for Equity

Lead: Kristen Stephens, Associate Professor of the Practice in the Program in Education 

Collaborators: Jan Riggsbee, Professor of the Practice of Education; Alec Greenwald, Associate Director Strategic and Special Initiatives to the Dean of Academic Affairs; Amy Anderson, Assistant Professor of the Practice of Education; Erica Phillips, Educational Equity and Policy Specialist at the Samuel DuBois Cook Center on Social Equity

Community schools are comprehensive neighborhood centers that educate, engage and serve all members of the community through democratic participation, community-driven problem-solving and reciprocal partnership. This project will pilot a University-Assisted Community Schools model with Durham Public Schools, focusing on empowering educators to provide equitable educational experiences for children and youth. Another targeted outcome is the creation of a community school coordinator workforce pipeline that will further ensure Durham Public Schools is equipped with the human capital necessary to sustain and grow the model.