UT has been recognized nationally for a project designed to improve the wellness and disaster readiness of an Appalachian community in Clay County, Kentucky.
UT was one of only five schools to receive the C. Peter Magrath/W. K. Kellogg Exemplary Program designation this year. Sponsored by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation and presented jointly by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and the Engagement Scholarship Association, the exemplary designation recognizes universities’ extraordinary community outreach initiatives. The award region includes universities in the United States, Mexico, US territories, and several countries in Africa.
UT’s three-year project helped bring clean drinking water, home safety and sanitation, and emergency preparedness to Clay County, Kentucky. The county ranks near the bottom for the state’s major health indicators, including obesity, infant mortality, and disability. In rural areas, clean water is hard to come by, flooding is common, and mold is ubiquitous.
Provost Susan Martin said it is an honor for UT to be recognized for efforts to become even more engaged with its communities.
“We have worked diligently to foster collaboration among our academic departments to provide students with opportunities to learn through service and gain hands-on real-world experience,” she said. “I congratulate the faculty and students involved in this project for the difference they have helped make in so many people’s lives.”
In 2013, UT won a three-year $1.5 million grant from the US Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration to fund the initiative. The Appalachia Community Health and Disaster Readiness Project involved faculty and students from the College of Nursing, the College of Architecture and Design, the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and the Law Enforcement Innovation Center. UT partnered with Clay County’s Red Bird Mission, Clay County Emergency Management Services, local clergy, elected officials, teachers, and law enforcement personnel.
Project outcomes include the construction of a replicable water kiosk to provide clean drinking water to thousands of families. Community-based emergency management personnel and local residents also have completed multiple disaster life support courses. The UT team identified home safety and health hazards and have begun to help the community address them through replicable low-cost solutions for repairs, replacement, and mold remediation.
“This project exemplifies how nurses can partner with diverse professions and the community to promote health and wellness,” said Victoria Niederhauser, dean of the College of Nursing. “We are very proud of the work of everyone involved—the 150 students, the faculty, the community partners, and other professionals.”
John Schwartz, associate professor of civil engineering and a project leader, noted that the exemplary designation illustrates how faculty and student engagement can be accomplished among academic disciplines that traditionally have not collaborated to any great extent.
“Over a three-year period, civil engineering seniors and students from the other disciplines completed capstone design projects, including a design of a large dam and reservoir, the water kiosk, and a sanitary sewer and treatment system for Clay County,” he said. “The projects provided a great opportunity for students to work with other university students on challenging real-world problems in our country.”
John McRae, a professor of architecture and a project leader, said that when UT architecture students began designing the water kiosk, they knew this was something important and life-changing for the families in Clay County.
“Then when they put hammer to nail, they saw that their work was transforming not just the community in Kentucky but also the community of collaborators at UT,” he said.
Along with UT, four other institutions received the exemplary designation: Cornell University, University of Missouri Extension, New Mexico State University, and the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
The UT Appalachia Project team includes Lisa Davenport and Meghan Hayes from the College of Nursing; John McRae, Michelle Mokry, and David Matthews from the College of Architecture and Design; John Schwartz and Jenny Retherford from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering; and Don Green and Emily Miller from the Law Enforcement Innovation Center. Gary Skolits and Stephanie Robinson from the College of Education, Health, and Human Sciences conducted project evaluations.
Community partners are Tracy Nolan of Red Bird Mission and David Watson, Clay County emergency management director.