Faculty members engage in community research projects
“We relied a lot on each other,” said Roddy, University of Michigan-Dearborn assistant professor of public policy. “We didn’t wander very much.”
Through research, Roddy discovered many similarities between reservations and Detroit neighborhoods. She studied how Motor City residents retained and utilized their resources, like money, time, food and shelter.
Roddy now can expand upon that research with financial assistance from the Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute (GESI).
Roddy and Paul Draus, UM-Dearborn director of public administration and public policy, will use about $30,000 to jumpstart the project, titled “Building a Healthy Community in Detroit: Tracking the Impact of the Hope Village Initiative.”
Roddy and Draus plan to interview Detroit residents about how various social and economic issues affect their everyday lives.
“I think interventions like Focus: HOPE can change the whole character of a neighborhood,” Roddy said.
Roddy will focus on economic issues, while Draus plans to examine social factors. Through interviews, focus groups and photography, Draus hopes to learn how city residents interact in their environment, as well as how their neighborhoods have changed over time.
“We’re looking at how people are impacted by their environment,” Draus said. “It’s exciting for us in that its multilayered, collaborative work that has potential to benefit a specific community in Detroit.”
They soon plan to present their research ideas to residents of HOPE Village, a 100-block area surrounding the facilities of Focus: HOPE. Focus: HOPE is a Detroit-based organization dedicated to intelligent and practical solutions to the problems of hunger, economic disparity, inadequate education and racial divisiveness.
Roddy and Draus, however, aren’t the only UM-Dearborn faculty to benefit from GESI funding. Bruce Pietrykowski, professor of economics, plans to use about $30,000 to organize the “Mapping Community Economies and Building Capabilities in HOPE Village” project.
Like Roddy and Draus, Pietrykowski plans to interview HOPE Village residents. But his goal is to identify neighborhood activities that aren’t often tied to economic growth.
Those activities could include residents performing childcare and eldercare, participating in do-it-yourself home repair, volunteering to help neighbors and working in church and civic organizations. By identifying those activities, Pietrykowski can help local residents and community organizations identify the capabilities and talent woven into neighborhood life.
“What are the undervalued skills that these residents have?” he said. “It helps people rethink what they can contribute to their community.”
The project is expected to engage community members in a conversation, through which the local economy is mapped in a broad and inclusive way. Pietrykowski and Roland Zullo, research scientist at UM-Ann Arbor’s Institute for Labor, Employment and the Economy, hope the initiative will reframe residents’ understanding of their relationship to the economy.
It also should enable the development of community-owned and managed economic ventures by neighborhood residents.
“You need that sort of grassroots ownership of neighborhood assets in communities that have long been neglected by the traditional economy,” Pietrykowski said.
Tracy Hall helps connect UM-Dearborn faculty with various community engagement resources, including research funding opportunities. Hall said she is excited about these particular grants because they impact faculty, local communities and students.
“It’s a win-win-win for everybody,” said Hall, UM-Dearborn’s director of community engagement. “It’s all about being part of positive social change.”