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Community-based Research Faculty Fellowships

​​University-community research partnerships elevate issues of power intrinsic to the academy.  Researchers must respect community voice in the representation of data, data ownership, confidentiality--how community knowledge is collected, documented,  analyzed, archived and shared.  Community-based research (CbR) emerged in recent decades as an academic practice that seeks to challenge the historically extractive nature of university research within and about communities. 

At DePaul, the Community-based Research Faculty Fellowship has incentivized faculty and their students to engage in CbR with Chicago communities for the past thirteen years. The Fellowship provides resources for faculty and community partners to collaborate and to work with students in courses to engage in research as a form of service learning. Faculty Fellows receive a stipend over two years, a funded research assistant for three consecutive academic quarters, and support to present research at an academic conference and community partners receive a stipend for their contributions. Perhaps one of the most distinguishing elements of the fellowship is that fellows are required to integrate CbR projects with DePaul courses.​

In the last year, for example, community-based organizations in Chicago’s Chinatown community wanted to learn about the impact the COVID-19 pandemic and specifically what residents had to say. Dr. Anne Saw, Associate Professor​ of community-clinical psychology worked with a well-established coalition of community organizations in Chinatown to seek  ​answers. This project is one of many CbR Faculty Fellowships over the years that exemplify how DePaul faculty integrate the Vincentian mission with all three elements of being a DePaul professor: teaching, research and service.  

Joanne Buscemi, Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychology at DePaul, focused on health issues faced by patients with COVID-19 in Chicago’s underserved neighborhoods in her research fellow project. Her project partnered with Brothers Health Collective, a community-based organization in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood that serves as a contact tracing site for its community.

Buscemi says there is a big difference between doing the kind of community-based research that defined this project and traditional academic research. “Typically, researchers will often recruit who they want to recruit for projects,” she says. “In terms of impact, doing community-based research stands out because community partners are engaged in the process.”

Buscemi says that the project helped her understand that while many think people in underserved communities have avoided getting vaccines because of mistrust of the health care system, other issues are also critical and sometimes more prominent – like lack of access to vaccines and concerns about missing work and not getting paid.

Meanwhile, Daniel Schober, Assistant Professor of Public Health at DePaul, focused on community health worker intervention in a low-income Chicago community in his fellows project.

“One of the biggest challenges we face in public health is the ability to form partnerships with community partners,” he says. “It’s very relationship-based.” Through the project, he partnered with Elizabeth Lynch, an Associate Professor at Rush University in Chicago, and West Side Alive, a partnership of seven churches in the Austin community on Chicago’s west side.

Research conducted for the project revealed that many interviewed shared information about their positive relationships with doctors and pharmacists in the community. “We talked to older adults, and while we thought they might have had negative experiences, it turns out that many really lean on the health care system to promote medication adherence,” says Schober. “So much of promoting health in community settings is about building trust.”

For DePaul students he worked with, Schober said the project created an opportunity to learn how to design and evaluate health programs using qualitative as well as quantitative methods.

Molly Brown, Assistant Professor of Clinical-Community Psychology at DePaul, focused on qualitative research and interviews of tenants to gain a better understanding of the experiences and housing options among individuals who are impacted by SRO closures. She worked closely in collaboration with ONE Northside, a longtime mixed-income, multi-ethnic community organization. Through the project, Brown and her team conducted about 25 long-form qualitative interviews with people who had been displaced from their homes. Brown says that she hopes stories based on these interviews can be presented to the city this fall.

Brown emphasizes the importance of working closely with people who are directly affected by this issue. “We were sitting side-by-side with someone who has lived in an SRO,” she says. “When you are doing research with people who are from marginalized backgrounds and have been harmed by systems, long-form research is also much more empowering because they can tell their story.”

DePaul faculty members Sheena Erete and Anne Saw have both been research fellows twice.

Erete is an assistant professor in the College of Computing and Digital Media at DePaul as well as co-director of the Technology for Social Good Research and Design Lab. She cites the work of John McKnight and Jody Kretzmann, co-founders of the ABCD Institute and the impact of asset-based community development on her work. In 2014, her research fellowship partnered with Woodlawn Children’s Promise Community and focused on assets of the community-based organization and residents it serves.

Her current research fellowship project also emphasizes an asset-based approach to community development. The project’s goal is the understand the local infrastructures of various Chicago neighborhoods “and to examine the needs of local non-profits to inform the design of digital tools that can help visualize the local assets of their communities.” The project partnered with the Goldin Institute, which works with grassroots leaders to build on their strengths.

Erete says that the project was not initially about creating a website, but various physical (and, later, digital) tools that can help communities have conversations and think strategically about how to use their assets. “There are tools that allow you to say ‘here is the school, here is the library, and so on,’” she says. “These tools can help communities come to agreement.”

Alejandra Gonzalez, design research assistant on the project, adds that “We never go into a community and say ‘Here are instructions on how to use it.’ It’s up to the community how to use it. The community is truly the expert.”

“We learned,” she adds, that for community partners “their goal was different than ours and Goldin’s. We thought we’d develop a tool to put assets on a map. But that is not what they needed – they needed to facilitate conversations. One activity of the project, she says, gave community partners an opportunity to write their own definition of community wealth and other assets. The project adapted to COVID-19 by engaging with community partners remotely.

This summer, she says, a website will be in the works that captures some of the project’s findings.

For Anne Saw, her first faculty research fellowship centered on a health needs assessment with a newly arrived refugee community from Burma. The project, she says, laid the foundation for participatory research, helping a community partner understand this approach.

In Saw’s current project in Chinatown, she is working with community partners on how they might utilize data about healthcare and social service delivery. Four organizations and about 500 community residents were interviewed for the project, and data may contribute to a larger national study of Asian Americans and Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders that shows the high mental health needs among these groups. Interviews covered a range of key issues, including health services, job placement, and educational support. The project, she says, was also especially timely because of the context surrounding it – including the racism and xenophobia that have affected people and businesses in Chinatown.

Fiona Sun, a second-year PhD student in clinical psychology, served as research assistant on the project. Sun says she learned through this project how “community-based organizations are working outside of their capacity. A lot of these organizations created new programs that didn’t exist before the pandemic. But they felt that they had to create them.”

Community Partners

Karen Chiu, Executive Director of Project Vision, a youth development organization in Chicago, worked with Saw on her most current research project. The group was one of several organizations based in Chinatown that connected with this project through the Coalition for a Better Chinese American Community. She says that one way the project was useful was in helping her organization learn about broader issues that are affecting the whole community. “Our organization is mostly concerned with helping students navigate through school and their peer relationships,” says Chiu, a physician with NorthShore University Health System, who co-founded Project Vision in 2003. “However, their families could be facing food insecurity or housing issues, or have elderly grandparents living with them. The survey revealed that broader context.”

For Sheena Erete’s most current project, work was presented to a few community organizations during the evaluation stage, including Chinese Mutual Aid Association and the Bronzeville Abundance Campaign, which was co-founded by nonprofit executive and child development expert Sokoni Karanja, who founded the Centers for New Horizons on the city’s South Side.


Meanwhile, two students shared their experience working with Erete on the project.

“This project was eye-opening for me,” says Jesse Stillwagon, who graduated from DePaul with a degree in human computer interaction design in March of 2020. “You sometimes hear about negative attributes when people talk about certain communities. I learned that you can show that there are resources that can be used to highlight positive attributes.” For example, he says, he learned through the project how highlighting various spaces in Chicago’s Washington Park community – including gardens – can help share a different narrative. Stillwagon was part of a team that worked on asset-mapping for this project. However, he adds, “It’s about more than just mapping the assets – it’s about having the conversation before mapping the assets. We were able to do that.”

Aakriti Chugh, who graduated with a master’s in human computer interaction, called working with community members “a great experience.” Chugh created a portfolio based on her experience that shares an overview about communities as well as research and analysis. “We learned from this project that taking the time to have conversations with community members really makes a difference,” she says. “People develop a shared language through which they express their goals, hopes and their community’s assets.”​​