The College of Human Ecology, in partnership with Cornell Cooperative Extension-Tompkins County (CCE-Tompkins), has been awarded the William T. Grant Foundation’s first Institutional Challenge Grant to respond to increasing rates of opioid abuse and child maltreatment in low income, rural communities in upstate New York.
The foundation supports research to improve the lives of young people. The award seeks to shift how research institutions value research and to encourage them to build sustained research-practice partnerships with public agencies or nonprofit organizations to reduce inequality in youth outcomes.
“Typically, universities reward faculty members for publishing articles in academic journals,” said Adam Gamoran, foundation president. “This grant challenges universities to reward faculty members whose research is directed to public service. The winning application will support research on one of our most vexing social problems, the opioid crisis, in a partnership that is poised to take action on the basis of the findings.”
The winning team, led by College of Human Ecology researchers Rachel Dunifon and Laura Tach and CCE-Tompkins program coordinator Anna Steinkraus, will attempt to understand the association between opioid use and child maltreatment rates; examine the role of family drug treatment courts in mitigating child maltreatment; and evaluate evidence-based interventions that may reduce the risk of opioid abuse for low-income youth and families. Findings from each study will be used to improve local practices and programs.
“We are honored to have been chosen, as the vision of the grant reflects the mission of our college and the land-grant mission of Cornell University,” Dunifon said. “The College of Human Ecology’s public engagement mission from the start has been about breaking down boundaries between academic research and its application to policy and practice.”
She continued, “This grant supports a true collaborative research-practice partnership that brings together faculty and community educators to address a pressing local issue: the opioid epidemic. We will not only generate cutting-edge research on this important topic, we will also provide faculty and our community partners with the time, funds and skills necessary to engage in this type of research collaboration. By doing this, we will pave the way for future research-practice partnerships to succeed.”
A committee of faculty and CCE-Tompkins staff will select faculty members to serve as fellows and receive mentoring from the partnership leads. Tach, an associate professor of policy analysis and management, is the first faculty fellow selected under the grant, and will bring her expertise in poverty and social policy to the project.
To support this work, housed in the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, Cornell has committed a postdoctoral fellow for the first half of the award, a faculty fellowship, and an undergraduate internship at CCE-Tompkins. The College of Human Ecology will also review current support for research-practice partnerships, initiate conversations about how such work is measured and valued, and build capacity at CCE-Tompkins to facilitate high-quality evaluation work.
“We are excited to partner with the College of Human Ecology on this project, focusing on the opioid epidemic that has affected communities all across New York state and the country,” said Steinkraus, a principal investigator on the grant.
The College of Human Ecology will receive $650,000 over three years, with the opportunity to apply for a two-year continuation grant.
Stephen D’Angelo is assistant director of communication in the College of Human Ecology.