Community-Engaged Research Connects Campus and Regional Communities

Community-Engaged Research Connects Campus and Regional Communities

Through Fairfield’s Center for Social Impact, partnerships between the University and the Greater Bridgeport area benefit both communities.

The Community-Engaged Research (CEnR) program at Fairfield features collaborative partnerships between University researchers (faculty, students, and staff) and community partners primarily in the Greater Bridgeport area (nonprofits, organizations, and government agencies).

Firmly grounded in Fairfield’s Jesuit, Catholic mission to direct intellectual resources toward the greater good of the community, and to educate socially and morally responsible students, two recent CEnR projects focused on public health and child advocacy.

Connecticut Public Health Association (CPHA)
An interdisciplinary team of three faculty members (Deborah List, PhD; Mehmet Cansoy, PhD; and Anna-Maria Aksan, PhD), two staff members (Melissa Quan, EdD and Jonathan Delgado, MPA), and two undergraduate students (Michael Caruso '21 and Morgan Dow '21) worked with community partners in Norwalk, Bridgeport, and Stratford, Conn., to examine the holistic needs of food pantries in Connecticut during the Covid-19 pandemic. Their findings were presented this week at the CPHA’s 2021 Virtual Annual Conference.

The team assessed the region’s emergency food response by interviewing 15 food pantry managers. Qualitative data was collected from interviews and analyzed using inductive analysis to identify emergent themes and common experiences.

Findings revealed that emergency food response to the Covid-19 pandemic was marked by the lack of holistic planning, coordination of services, and clear policies. Stop-gap measures created at the beginning of the pandemic to address these problems were not sustainable long-term, which resulted in reduced food quality, especially with regard to protein, dairy, and produce. Changing distribution models also resulted in the loss of patron choice.

But, on a positive note, pantry managers reported that innovation in their institutions led to a successful adaptation to pandemic conditions. Pantries with access to space, refrigeration, and discretionary money proved to be largely resilient. All pantries benefited from community connections and partnerships, enhanced resource mobilization, and better information-sharing among the emergency food response institutions. The next phase of research will include interviews with key policy level stakeholders to assess how to sustain these innovations and successes and plan for the future.

Bridgeport Child Advocacy Coalition (BCAC)
According to Assistant Director for Community-Engaged Research Jonathan Delgado, the Bridgeport Child Advocacy Coalition reached out to Fairfield last spring for assistance with data visualizations for their newly released “State of the Child in Bridgeport 2020 Report.” Delgado and two graduate students in the School of Engineering’s  Data Science program, Reinaldo Gonzalez and Michael Gurge, consulted on the types of visualizations and constructed them for two specific sections of the report.

As part of the Regional Youth Adult Social Action Partnership (RYASAP), the BCAC State of the Child online report shares uplifting findings, stories, and visualized data across several key indicators.

The visualization created for the Civic Engagement section reveals that the 2020 U.S. presidential election drew historic high numbers of absentee ballots, election-day registrations, and voters to the Bridgeport polls. The Education section’s charts and graphs illustrate the social, emotional, mental, physical, and academic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on Bridgeport students, families, and educators.

Associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Scott Lacy, PhD, and Jonathan Delgado lead the CEnR program within the nationally recognized Center for Social Impact, which in 2008 received the distinction of the Carnegie Community Engagement Classification, in recognition of the extent to which community engagement is prioritized and integrated throughout the University. In 2015, Fairfield was among the first universities to be reclassified by Carnegie. 

Of these two CEnR projects, Dr. Melissa Quan, director of the Center for Social Impact, said, “Together, these projects exemplify key objectives and values of CEnR at Fairfield: a) to make data accessible to those actively engaged in social impact work, in order to deepen understanding of community contexts and inform programs and strategies; b) to center community voice in research and engage students, faculty, staff, and community members as co-researchers, as we did in the food pantry research project; and c) to employ approaches that engage different ways of knowing through interdisciplinarity and community engagement.”  

Dr. Quan, who recently completed her doctorate in higher education from the University of Massachusetts, Boston, will be recognized next Monday, Nov. 15, with the Best Dissertation Award from the International Association for Research on Service-Learning and Community Engagement (IARSLCE), the premiere association for those engaged in this discipline.

Her award-winning dissertation, “A Framework for Justice-Centering Relationships in Higher Education Community Engagement,” is described on the IARSLCE website as “a grounded theory study that generates significant new understanding into how stakeholders in campus-community partnerships define the kinds of impact they want to achieve from a partnership.”

Learn More About Fairfield University's Center for Social Impact

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Last modified: 11-12-21 12:03 PM

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