Bettering Communities One Initiative at a Time

Grants for innovative community projects demonstrate Kent State’s community values and culture in action
Latino man smiling with a black polo and sunglasses
Francisco L. Torres
Woman smiling at camera in black and grey shirt
Astrid N. Sambolin Morales
Kristen Mimms Scvanicky photo
Kristen Mimms Scavnicky
Tina Patel’s profile pic
Tina Patel

The University Research Council recently selected winners of the Bettering Communities Pilot Grants, a prestigious award aimed at fostering initiatives that advance research while benefiting local communities.  

This year, two projects were chosen. The recipients are teams of researchers from Kent State University determined to make significant contributions to their communities.

One of the winning projects, "Democratizing Design: Creating a Third Place With/For North Hill’s Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Community," is led by a team of Kent State researchers: Francisco L. Torres, Ph.D., assistant professor in Teaching, Learning and Curriculum Studies; Astrid N. Sambolin Morales, Ph.D., assistant professor of cultural foundations of education in the School of Foundations, Leadership and Administration; Kristen Mimms Scavnicky, assistant professor of architecture; and Tina Patel, assistant professor of interior design.

The team also works with other partners/researchers such as Reverend Joy E. Fenton-Jones, co-director of First Serve Service Day led by the First Congregational Church of Hudson; Justin Chenault, director of North Hill Community Development Corporation and Sue Wimer, director of First Serve.  

“This represents an opportunity for an intersection of the faith community working in a healthy way with academics. We can be a partner and be challenged to think differently and do things differently in the community,” Fenton-Jones said.  

This team seeks to co-create and study the impact of a “third place,” a communal space fostering individual and diverse discourses and practices in the North Hill community.  

“This project is focused on designing a space for the community with the community. My hope is that the design makes it possible that even if Kent State researchers aren't there, it'll be a vibrant space for those who live and work within that community,” Torres said.

By engaging local community members, the project aims to establish a multicultural hub to promote joy, diversity and community engagement.

“I think that's really what brings me here. It’s this idea that it's not just academia or the ‘ivory tower’ doing this work. We are leaving something behind that's meaningful for a community that needs it,” Torres said.  

Torres’s reference to the ivory tower expresses the importance of being aware and taking tangible action to support issues that ordinary people are facing every day.  

“Creating a space where people can build relationships, expand those networks and do things that feel joyful and meaningful to them is so important,” Sambolin Morales said. “I hope that's another impact from this project.”

Image of Deric Kenne
Deric Kenne
Robert Clements
Robert Clements
Enrico Gandolfi
Enrico Gandolfi
Photo of Janet Reed
Janet Reed

The other winning project, "Creating an Augmented Reality Digital Health Hub to Improve HIV/AIDS Resource Support for LGBTQ+ Individuals Within and Around Akron, Ohio," is equally innovative.

This initiative aims to develop and assess the effectiveness of a Health Hub using augmented reality technology.

The team is led by Deric Kenne, Ph.D., professor of health policy and management; Robert Clements, associate professor of biological sciences; Enrico Gandolfi, associate professor in teaching, learning and curriculum studies; and Janet Reed, Ph.D., assistant professor of nursing.

“I have been working with and learning from Rob and Janet for years,” Gandolfi said. “Recently I had the opportunity to be introduced to Kenne and Kim, who do amazing work. This is such a great interdisciplinary team.”

The project will enhance awareness and utilization of community resources among individuals at risk or diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, with a focus on LGBTQ+ individuals.

Kenne said there often are underutilized resources in communities or absent resources. With this project, the team can increase awareness of existing resources and identify resources that are needed.

“Due to the stigma among those with HIV/AIDS, and lack of access/awareness of community resources, we wanted to harness the technology developed by Enrico and Rob to improve the health of this at-risk population by providing them with an interesting, engaging way to be more aware of the community resources available for them,” Reed said.

Both projects address pressing issues with innovative approaches, these initiatives promise to make meaningful and lasting impacts on their communities.

Learn more about the University Research Council.

Banner Photo: Akron AIDS Collaborative (partner of "Creating an Augmented Reality Digital Health Hub to Improve HIV/AIDS Resource Support for LGBTQ+ Individuals Within and Around Akron, Ohio.") 

POSTED: Tuesday, April 16, 2024 12:15 PM
Updated: Tuesday, April 16, 2024 03:51 PM
Macy Rosen, Flash Communications
Akron AIDS Collaborative