UF/IFAS project named a finalist in national community-engagement awards competition

The University of Florida-based project Healthy Gulf, Healthy Communities helped coastal residents recover from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill and prepare for future disasters.

The project has now garnered attention far beyond the fishing villages and seaside tourist destinations that it served.

Last week, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities announced that Healthy Gulf, Healthy Communities had been selected as one of four regional winners in the annual W.K. Kellogg Foundation Community Engagement Scholarship Awards program, which recognizes impactful partnerships between communities and institutions of higher learning.

Informally known as HGHC, the project was active 2010-2017 and was funded by a $6.5 million federal grant. It sought to address residents’ frustration and uncertainty as the oil spill reduced the summer tourist trade and demand for locally harvested seafood, said Dr. J. Glenn Morris, HGHC principal investigator and director of the UF Emerging Pathogens Institute.

HGHC involved both research and UF/IFAS Extension efforts, guided by extensive community input, Morris said. Researchers gauged the oil spill’s psychological effects on residents, investigated factors that determine how easily individuals overcome hardship, and analyzed local seafood for possible oil or dispersant contamination, which was not detected.

To maximize HGHC’s usefulness to partner communities, the project included a robust outreach and dissemination initiative that communicated research results to residents quickly, and connect them to needed services, he said. Participation by UF/IFAS Extension personnel helped ensure that project team members quickly engaged residents and earned their trust.

“This reflects the strong ability of a land-grant university to work with communities in response to disasters,” said Morris, also a professor of medicine with the UF College of Medicine.

Other HGHC project team members represented UF and the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Arizona and University of Maryland. Study sites were established in six coastal communities reaching from Mobile Bay in Alabama to Cedar Key in Levy County, Florida; the project’s community advisers included almost 40 local organizations and numerous individuals.

Now, members of the HGHC project team are preparing for the program’s second and final round of competition, which takes place Oct. 3 at the annual meeting of the Engagement Scholarship Consortium in Minneapolis, Minn. At this event, each of the four projects selected as regional winners will be showcased for a panel of judges via short documentary videos and live discussions with project team members.

The judges will then select one project to receive the 2018 C. Peter Magrath Community Engagement Scholarship Award, and their decision will be announced at the annual meeting of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities in November, in New Orleans. The Magrath award comes with a $20,000 cash award and the three runner-up projects will each receive $5,000 awards; all funds are intended to support ongoing or future community-engagement efforts.

This year’s three other regional winners were projects based at Ball State University, Texas Tech University and Virginia Tech University.

Launched in 2007, the two-stage Kellogg/Magrath awards program is a collaborative effort between the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and the Engagement Scholarship Consortium, with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

Written by: Tom Nordlie