Assessment of a Novel Environmental Justice Community-University Partnership

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The proposed research seeks to address critical gaps in the scientific knowledge on the effectiveness of community-university partnerships in empowering vulnerable communities such as environmental justice (EJ) communities to use science to address local public health issues. Unfortunately, there are few examples of federally funded research programs that provide information on research approaches and partnerships appropriate to build trust and confidence of EJ populations in scientific research that effectively addresses their needs. Additionally, few of these programs can act as models to help achieve the long-term objectives of the NIH Public Trust Initiative. We submit that the work of the West End Revitalization Association (WERA) is a good model for the NIH Public Trust Initiative. WERA, a community-based environmental protection organization based in Mebane, North Carolina, founded a community-university partnership to address the lack of basic amenities, environmental injustice, and public health issues in local black communities. WERA developed the community-owned and managed research (COMR) framework as the foundation for its community-university partnership. To assess the value of WERA's community-university partnership in informing and engaging the public, particularly vulnerable EJ populations through scientific research, we will meet the following aims: 1) evaluate the impact of COMR and research and training core of the community-university partnership in improving scientific literacy and community's trust in the research process;2) assess the impact of the career and pipeline development core of the partnership in improving scientific literacy of local youth and students and their interest in public health research;and 3) evaluate the impact of the collaborative problem solving model core of WERA's community-university partnership in helping to increase scientific literacy, communication, collaboration, trust, and equity between WERA and its partners. The proposed study is novel because it is uniquely positioned to explore WERA's community-university partnership because of the long-term relationship between the investigators. The project is also significant because it will document that scientific literacy, confidence in research process, participation in scientific research, and collaboration did increase in local EJ communities due to WERA's community-university partnership and use of the COMR framework. We believe that the evaluation results will make a positive contribution to the efforts of the NIH Public Trust Initiative and other entities interested in alternative approaches and models to engage vulnerable communities in applied health research.

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