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ACE allows GSU students to engage with community, explore local issues
GSU ace

COVINGTON, Ga.— Danique Gray didn’t know what to expect when she began research on poverty in Newton County.

A Perimeter College student on Georgia State University’s Newton Campus, Gray was part of a group in professor Jane Hercules’s public speaking class who conducted interviews to dig deeper into county poverty issues. The group talked to employees of the Newton County Department of Family and Children Services and residents of the Covington Housing Authority

The results of their project, “Inability to Move Out of Poverty,” surprised her, Gray said. Using federal census data and county records, along with local interviews, the group found that one in six families in the county were food insecure, and more than 76% of single-parent families in the county lived in poverty.

“I just moved here, and this project opened my eyes not to live in my own bubble,” Gray said.

Her research was part of the Newton Action Research Project, an initiative of the campus-wide Academic Community Engagement program. Started in the summer of 2018, ACE connects Newton Campus classroom academics with community and county partners to help the students understand — and in some cases, address — community issues, such as voter education, literacy, criminal justice and mental health and health disparities.

The campus-based community engagement initiatives connect Perimeter College students with county nonprofits and schools to assist the organizations in meeting their individual goals, while also meeting the students’ coursework requirements. The project is supported through the campus dean’s office, with assistance from the Newton County Community Partnerships/Family Connection.

Dr. Karen Wheel Carter, an associate dean of Georgia State University’s Perimeter College, spearheaded the research initiative, along with Dr. Laurent Ditmann, Newton Campus associate dean. Wheel Carter said she also looked at community attitudes toward the campus and how to strengthen those connections through community engagement.

Hugo Satillo, a student in Hosanna Fletcher’s Introduction to Sociology class, worked with the Covington Housing Authority to tutor and read to children. He presented an infographic of his class experience during the showcase.

“It was fun — I don’t have any siblings of my own, so I enjoyed meeting all the kids,” Satillo said. “But it really opened my eyes to understand the issues they face. Some children we’d see just once — they would get evicted, and we wouldn’t see them again. I wish I could have helped them more.”

Gray, Satillo and other Newton Campus students taking courses in criminal justice, health sciences, political science and communication presented their findings to their respective community partners during the ACE showcase on the Newton Campus in late April.

“I think the projects are awesome, and the depth of research and knowledge the students have of these projects should resonate within the classroom and in the community,”  Alicia Walker, a college and career readiness specialist at Eastside High School said. Walker attended the student showcase.

The ACE community research projects, which will continue in the fall, include:

  • Jane Hercules’s Public Speaking class was divided into five groups, each of which was assigned a different project, including “STDs [sexually transmitted diseases] in Newton County,” “Maintenance of Chronic Health Problems,” “Managing Household Waste,” and the “Challenges of Kinship and Foster Care,” along with Gray’s group, “Inability to Move Out of Poverty.” Community partners included the Gwinnett-Newton-Rockdale Health Department, Piedmont Newton Hospital, Keep Covington-Newton Beautiful and the Rockdale Kinship Care & Kinship Navigator Program.
  • Mary Beth Davison’s Anatomy and Physiology class developed mindfulness/self-care training for Newton County school teachers to prevent burnout. Students worked with Georgia Project Aware and conducted several workshops with teachers over the course of the semester.
  • Tami Wells Thomas’s criminal justice students worked with senior students at the private K-12 school, Peachtree Academy, to gather data regarding women and mass incarceration in Georgia. Thomas’s students and the Peachtree Academy students hosted a panel discussion featuring officials from the Newton County Juvenile Justice Court System. They also co-sponsored the group Reforming Arts, a performance troupe of formerly incarcerated individuals. Students organized a question-and-answer session after both the panel presentation and the Reforming Arts performance.
  • Barbara Robertson’s American Government class provided voter education and arranged voter education drives, working with the Covington YMCA ​and other community and student organizations.
  • Anita Canada’s Media, Culture and Society students revamped the digital and print publicity materials for the Washington Street Community Center and other community organizations.