Grant Awards for Projects: Making a Difference in Diverse Communities

Penn Arts and Sciences has announced the 2018 funded projects for the “Making a Difference in Diverse Communities” initiative, which encourages faculty to explore innovative ways of applying their expertise. Through a combination of coursework, research and service, the projects address issues of diversity and inequality at the local, national and international level.

The researchers belong to fields as wide-ranging as public health and policy, community education, environmental studies, and film and media studies. The projects cover the entire spectrum of humanities, social science and natural science and include collaborators from other Penn schools.

In announcing the grant awards, Steven J. Fluharty, dean of Penn Arts and Sciences, said that these projects “combine the type of innovation and excellence that forms the intellectual core of Penn Arts and Sciences.” He added that he was “especially inspired by how the projects involve students in research and outreach efforts. The combination of students and faculty, working together in the classroom and in communities, can have powerful results.”

The grant recipients are:

Penn-in-Havana: Visual Culture and Public Art in Cuba: This project, led by Gwendolyn DuBois Shaw, associate professor and undergraduate chair in the history of art department, introduced Penn students to the vibrant NGO community arts scene of contemporary Cuba through support of and participation in the activities of the Cayo Hueso art collective in Havana. On the trip, Dr. Shaw was assisted by the U.S. representative for the Callejón de Hamel collective and professor of Latin American studies at Norfolk State University Geoffroy de Laforcade, who provided background lectures and on-location guidance. Students also worked directly with artist Salvador González Escalona, who first began to alter the urban landscape in Central Havana through public art, performance and cultural exchange opportunities in the 1980s. Co-faculty project director includes William Schmenner, lecturer in cinema studies.

Increasing Turnout in Off-Cycle Elections in the City of Philadelphia: This project, helmed by Daniel J. Hopkins, associate professor of political science, looks to increase voter turnout in non-presidential elections in Philadelphia. The team will generate and test novel direct-mail communications designed to heighten voter turnout in off-cycle elections by making social norms related to voting more salient. In doing so, the project will draw upon and contribute to a growing research literature on voter mobilization. The project also seeks to bolster the study of official, government-sponsored efforts to increase voter turnout, as well as close well-known gaps in political participation along racial, economic and income lines.

Philosophy for the Young: This project, led by Karen Detlefsen, professor of philosophy and education, will build on existing partnerships with Philadelphia Futures, Benjamin B. Comegys School and Penn Alexander School, and will cultivate new partnerships with schools across Philadelphia to bring philosophy to students in kindergarten through 12th grade. This initiative will take two forms: classes and clubs where philosophy is taught as a self-standing subject, as well as the integration of philosophy into existing curricula and lessons as teachers see fit. The project will include Penn undergraduates from ABCS courses, as well Penn graduate students who are already teaching philosophy to middle and high school students. Co-faculty project directors include Eli Lesser, executive director of educational innovation in the School of Social Policy and Practice, and Janine Remillard, associate professor in the teaching, learning and leadership division in the Graduate School of Education. The project is in collaboration with the Netter Center for Community Partnerships.

LAVA: Laboratorio para apreciar la vida y el ambiente (continuation of “Community Ecology in the Galapagos Archipelago”): This effort, helmed by Michael Weisberg, professor and chair of philosophy, will build upon previous project, “Community-Based Ecology in the Galapagos Archipelago,” by growing community science initiatives, such as the flagship observational study of sea lions, to include additional high school students and put more emphasis on helping them to understand the data they are collecting. In addition, the project will pilot a second community science initiative with local women, which will involve teaching them to monitor the marine reserve. The team will also move to the production phase on their Galapaguefio documentary projects. Co-faculty project directors include Susan Lindee, Janice and Julian Bers Professor of the History and Sociology of Science; Erol Akçay, assistant professor of biology; Tim Linksvayer, associate professor of biology; Deena Skolnick Weisberg, a senior fellow in the psychology department; Howard Neukrug, professor of practice; and Karen M’Closkey, associate professor of landscape architecture in the School of Design.

Using Virtual Reality and Digital Video to Document the Post-Hurricane Maria Recovery Efforts in Puerto Rico: This project, led by Peter Decherney, professor of English and cinema studies, will visit Puerto Rico nine months after hurricane Maria hit in order to re-create the experience of individuals who have worked in different circumstances to rebuild their environments and lives after the hurricane. The team will use virtual reality and video to capture these narratives. This will continue work Dr. Decherney and his students completed in Kenya, where they used similar techniques to document the refugee experience. Dr. Decherney hopes the project will also communicate the situation on the ground and the need for increased aid to policymakers, non-governmental organization leaders, and anyone who can’t travel to the island.

The “Making a Difference in Diverse Communities” initiative is a key component of the School’s commitment to advance research and teaching around issues of diversity, inequality and human well-being.