UC Center Funds Collaborative Research on Community Issues

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With California facing an increasingly daunting array of social and economic problems - from high unemployment rates to underfunded public schools - the University of California has turned to collaborative research in search of ways to alleviate the state's woes.

The University of California Center for Collaborative Research for an Equitable California, based at UC Santa Cruz, was opened last summer with the intent to encourage and fund collaborative research - not only among different departments and disciplines, but also with the communities that are most affected by the issues. Its new interactive website was launched Feb. 14.

Currently, six of 10 UC campuses - UC Santa Cruz, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UC Merced, UC Santa Barbara and UCLA - are involved with the center.

"The idea is that researchers are working with communities to do research on problems identified by the community in order to make changes in the community," said Ronald Glass, director of the center and an associate professor of education at UC Santa Cruz. "This kind of research generally at the University of California has not been very prominent and often not highly rewarded."

The university, he added, tends to reward traditional research geared toward scientific journals more than research focusing on concrete problems that affect people every day. Beth Rose Middleton, a member of the center's Governance Council and an assistant professor of Native American studies at UC Davis, said this type of research does not happen enough.

"I like this center because it provides incentives, institutional support and community for people who are doing this type of research in partnership with groups outside of the university," she said.

To this end, Glass worked with interested faculty from other UC campuses to form the center after the UC Office of the President granted them $1.5 million for the center's infrastructure. Glass said he is working to obtain additional funding from other donors to fund the $15,000 planning and development grants that would be given to faculty doing collaborative research.

The request for proposals will be sent to interested faculty this week, allowing the center's first applicants to suggest their research for funding, Glass said. Proposals must address one of the center's main areas of focus - economy, education, employment, environment, health, housing or nutrition - in an interdisciplinary way, as well as have partners in the community, according to the center's website.

"The project is really focused on economy, education, environment, health, and you can't do research in that area within one discipline and have it make sense," said Jason Corburn, an associate professor of city and regional planning at UC Berkeley who is on the center's Governance Council. "In order to understand these particular challenges, you need to understand how to do place-based research, which also demands perspectives and methods from multiple disciplines."

According to Meredith Minkler, a health and social behavior professor at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health, interdisciplinary research has been on the rise, but it is not yet where it needs to be in order to effectively combat problems facing California communities.

"If you think about problems like the obesity epidemic, we talk about it and we work on it, but it's fueled by the food industry," she said. "The education system has to be a key player, the built environment has to change markedly, or we're going to have obesity overtake smoking as the leading contributor of premature death."

Though there are currently six of 10 campuses involved in the center, Glass said he hopes every campus will soon be involved.

"We really need to push our own work to get out of these silos," Glass said. "The way that the university is organized in these different areas is not the way problems really appear in communities because in reality the problems are all interconnected."


Claire Perlman is the lead research and ideas reporter. Contact her at [email protected]

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