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Check out the latest Letter from Netter newsletter for University-Assisted Community Schools programming and other events.

Penn Graduate Community-Engaged Research Mentorship

This program, adapted from Penn Undergraduate Research Mentorship (PURM), will engage graduate students in community-engaged research with a faculty mentor experienced in Academically Based Community Service (ABCS), participatory action research (PAR), and other forms of community-engaged scholarship.

This 10-week summer program (June 1st - August 6th) offers an opportunity for graduate students interested in community-engaged research -- including those who may not know how to begin -- to work on smaller scale, short-term projects guided by faculty mentors.  Graduate students will also be part of a learning community with faculty and other students interested in and doing this work across different disciplines.  There will be two check-in meetings during the summer for the participating students, their faculty mentors, Provost’s Graduate Academic Engagement Fellows, the Director of the Netter Center, and other Netter Center staff as appropriate.  

Each faculty mentor will select the graduate student who will work on their specified research project. Selected graduate students will receive a stipend of approximately $3,500, with exact amount to be determined by school.


Summer 2021 Projects

Faculty Mentor: Lori Flanagan-Cato
Associate Professor of Psychology
Co-Director of Undergraduate Neuroscience Program
School of Arts & Sciences

Project Title: Community engagement to accelerate high school STEM education in Philadelphia (Professor/Mentor: Lori Flanagan-Cato)

This project centers on an academically based community service course, Everyday Neuroscience.  The course has the twin goals of 1) improving science literacy at Paul Robeson High School, a public school in West Philadelphia, with engaging, hands-on activities, and 2) providing Penn students with experiential learning in science communication outside the academy.  The project is based on a collaboration between the Flanagan-Cato lab and Robeson High School to conduct evidence-based research on the impact of our courses on both Robeson and Penn students.  Specifically, we will investigate: 1) Does the ABCS course provide academic acceleration for all Robeson students, regardless of previous achievement; 2) Does the ABCS course include an optimal combination of basic biology and neuroscience content.  The data analysis will be focused on previous surveys and focus groups with the Robeson students and information about academic performance.  The results of this analysis will be submitted to education journals, as well as formatted to be shared with the Robeson staff.  Work during the summer will be instrumental in developing a sustainable, high quality database to continue longitudinal studies as the ABCS course evolve in future years. 


Faculty Mentor: Mona Merling
Assistant Professor of Mathematics
School of Arts & Sciences

Project Title: Mathematics enrichment and academically based community service (Professor/Mentor Mona Merling)

Math 123 is an academically based community service (ABCS) class which provides Penn students with the opportunity to share their passion for math and enhance their communication skills through designing lessons and teaching at a partner school in West Philadelphia. This class partnered with Robeson High School for the first time in the fall of 2020, and students of Math 123 will continue to work with Robeson students in the coming year. This summer, a graduate student will work on a project which aims to enrich the curriculum for the Math 123 class, as well as develop data analysis tools that will be used to assess the impact of the course on Penn and Robeson students. The curriculum will be designed to prepare the high school students for the state-mandated Keystone exam while still encouraging them to think about mathematics conceptually: investigating, exploring, conjecturing, and problem-solving. We will work with our Robeson partner to organize focus groups with their students, which will (a) help assess the impact of the class on Robeson students’ performance and attitude regarding math and (b) inform the development of the curriculum to best serve the needs of the students and improve their learning experience. We will also work with Dr. Flanagan-Cato and benefit from her expertise with teaching and evaluating a similar, long-standing neuroscience ABCS class. In order to better engage the Robeson students and train the Penn students in effective teaching, we will analyze pedagogical research papers and work to incorporate evidence-based practices of math pedagogy into the ABCS Math 123 class.


Faculty Mentor: John L. Jackson, Jr. 
Walter H. Annenberg Dean of the Annenberg School for Communication
Richard Perry University Professor 

Project Title: Critical Journalism, Social Justice and Community Change (Professor/Mentor John L. Jackson, Jr.)

What does it mean to reimagine journalistic practices in Philadelphia in ways that amplify community voices/needs while also combatting misinformation, battling biases in reporting, and helping to create more equitable outcomes for local residents? How could a more accessible, diverse, and egalitarian approach to journalism create more opportunities for transformational cultural and social change? This summer, we will work with Resolve Philly, a non-profit in Philadelphia organized around reimagining journalism as an important step in the goal of improving people’s everyday lives and life chances. Resolve Philly tackles topics/themes such as poverty, incarceration, structural inequality, gun violence, economic mobility and more. Working in collaboration with Resolve Philly and their neighborhood partners, the goal this summer will be to assist them in engaging Philadelphians as they work to find tangible and measurable solutions to social problems by channeling the affordances of journalism and of new/mass mediation more generally. The grad student will spend this summer getting familiar with Resolve and some of its local partners, and based on the student’s interest, we will identify a subject that will serve as the anchor for their summer experience, which could include a variety of activities such as writing in different genres/formats, conducting ethnographic interviews with key stakeholders of various kinds, and even designing methods for gathering important new data that can help empower people to advocate for the needs of their communities.


Faculty Mentor: Andy Tan
Associate Professor of Communication
Director, Health Communication & Equity Lab
Annenberg School for Communication.

Project Title: Understanding Barriers and Facilitators of Mental Health First Aid Implementation in Philadelphia (Professor/Mentor Andy Tan)

The Health Communication and Equity Lab at the Annenberg School for Communication seeks one graduate research fellow to evaluate Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) implementation in Philadelphia. Between 2012 and 2016, 19,084 Philadelphians received training in MHFA, a skills-based course on how to respond to mental health and substance-use challenges, through Healthy Minds Philly (HMP), a program of the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services (DBHIDS). A 2018 report found that although the numbers of trained individuals increased during this period, behavioral health service utilization, suicide prevention hotline use, and help-seeking among adolescents (trust in adults, sense of belonging, and respected by peers in school) remained unchanged, while drug use and adult mental health challenges increased. MHFA training increases mental health literacy and confidence in intervening in mental health challenges, and is associated with reduced stigma. However, training was not associated with increased treatment seeking in intervention communities, in part due to low rates of using these skills. There is a research gap in understanding reasons for low utilization of MHFA skills following training. We will qualitatively assess MHFA skills implementation, identify barriers and facilitators to use MHFA skills, measure rates of skills renewal, and evaluate MHFA knowledge through focus group discussions among a purposive sample of HMP trainees. We will also conduct key-informant interviews among program stakeholders at DBHIDS and HMP to understand training implementation, current standing, long-term goals, and challenges. Findings from this evaluation will inform future strategies to improve utilization of MHFA.