Dr. Jennifer Carrera Receives the Inaugural Faculty Outreach and Engagement Award

May 3, 2021 - Karessa Weir

Jennifer Carrera

MSU Sociology Assistant Professor Dr. Jennifer Carrera may be the recipient of the first College of Social Science Faculty Outreach and Engagement Award but the honor was earned by the entire Flint-based research team, she said.

“I am a guest in Flint. I have been invited to work on issues that are important to community members. This is a win for all of us. It is a recognition of the team, the partnerships and the work of the community itself,” Dr. Carrera said.

Dr. Carrera was selected to receive this award because she demonstrated a significant positive impact with her work on the larger community through innovation and creativity.

Dr. Carrera came to Michigan intending to work on water access issues in Detroit but early in 2015, she began getting requests to weigh in on the Flint water situation. But she didn’t feel like she knew enough about residents’ experiences to speak from a position of detached expertise.

“I wanted to go slowly and make myself available as needed. I was not going to impose on the community,” she remembered. “In order to understand the full picture, I knew I had to talk to the residents.”

She worked with community members and other invited academics to attempt to shift the focus of the story that was getting international coverage to emphasize the residents’ narrative. The group wanted to be able to share a common, community-based vision. In 2019, Dr. Carrera was the lead author on a community science paper entitled “Community Science as a Pathway for Resilience in Response to a Public Health Crisis in Flint, Michigan” that sets a frame for community-driven research. It was important to the team to center research around communities rather than academics.

The Flint-led research team organized focus groups of young people, African Americans, seniors, and Hispanic Flint residents. 

“Dr. Carrera’s project empowers Flint residents first by validating their experiential knowledge and second by providing them opportunities to co-create knowledge about the very toxins and contaminants that may be affecting their life chances.” said MSU Sociology Chair Aaron McCright. “Dr. Jennifer Carrera is exceedingly worthy to receive this award because of the quality of her community-engaged research project in Flint, which is having transformative impacts in this community.”

Dr. Carrera joined MSU Sociology in 2014 after receiving her PhD in Sociology and an MS in Environmental Engineering at the University of Illinois-Urbana. She is jointly appointed with Sociology and the Environmental Science and Policy Program, and is affiliated with the Center for Gender in Global Context and Gender, Justice, and Environmental Change.