Two MSU Social Science students win university-wide Community Engagement Scholarships

December 9, 2021 - Liz Schondelmayer

Two students within the MSU College of Social Science have been recognized by the Michigan State University Office of University Outreach and Engagement for fostering outstanding community engagement within their research. 

Sociology graduate student Kayleigh Ward has won the 2022 Graduate Student Award for Community Engagement; and Debra Miller, a doctoral student in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies, has received a Commendation for Exceptional Effort in Community Engagement Scholarship. 

Kayleigh Ward

 Ward (pictured left) was recognized for her research project entitled "Reviving community: rebuilding social recovery in rural post-disaster Japan," which explores the social and economic impacts on how the city of Minamisanriku, Japan was rebuilt after the tragic 2011 tsunami which killed over 1,000 people. Ward lived and worked in Japan on a Fulbright scholarship during the 2019-2020 school year.

"After volunteering with organizations in Minamisanriku, I think our relationship and interests naturally began to develop around shared goals to support the well-being of residents however we could. Our past projects and our new community programs are meaningful to us because they help residents connect with each other and access resources, and help us identify other problems in the community that we can work together towards resolving," explained Ward. 

"The programs are a small step, but they really represent the resiliency and drive of residents to help the community recover from the disaster. Especially since these projects are centered on assisting with social recovery, seeing residents gain new skills and apply them has been a great outcome."

Noted Aaron McCright, the chairperson of the MSU Department of Sociology: “Ms. Ward has achieved substantial positive impact in her engaged scholarship primarily because she has done the hard work over a long time to embed herself in affected communities, organically gain the trust of community members, and diligently and rigorously gather and analyze her data."

"She was able to perform at least part of this during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic—which interrupted the second half of her Fulbright year in Japan.”

Debra Miller

Miller (pictured left) received special commendation for her research, "Core Therapist Skills and Training Methods Supporting the Implementation of Evidence-Based Practices with Severe Emotionally Disturbed Children in Community Mental Health Settings: A Mixed Method Delphi Study.” This research will help mental health professionals provide the best care to young people in their communities. 

"I was inspired to conduct community-engaged research for two primary reasons. First, I knew working with a community partner would assure diversity of perspective in all phases of my research," explained Miller. "Having my partner’s voice in this process was grounding and kept the focus of our study practical and accessible to clinical practice - that was a significant goal for both of us."

"Second, I have been on both sides of the academic-community partnership. When I was in community practice, I longed for the ability to work with a research partner to help study all the work we were doing. As I gained skill in research, it was meaningful to me to have my community partner alongside in the process."

"This award is very well deserved. Prior to her graduate studies, Deb worked in Community Mental Health for 15 years making large contributions to families in the Midland area of the state," said Adrian Blow, the chairperson of the MSU Department of Human DEvelopment and Family Studies. "She brought her extensive training in clinical work and connection to the community to her research."

Both winners will be recognized at a closed ceremony on Thursday, February 24, 2022 at the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center.