Public Engagement Project uses UMass research to promote social change

By Cecilia Prado

(Food for Thought Books/Flickr)
(Food for Thought Books/Flickr)

The University of Massachusetts will be launching the Public Engagement Project, a new fellowship program intended to provide faculty members with resources to use their research to create social change.

Amy Schalet, a sociology professor at the University and an award-winning author specializing in adolescent sexuality and culture, is the director of the program.
Schalet described the pilot project as a possibility for faculty to see the research they have been working on for years, providing them with the tools they need to expand their audience.

According to Schalet, the program was mainly funded by the dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and by the dean of the College of Natural Sciences. Other contributions include the UMass Institute for Social Science Research (ISSR), the UMass Center for Research on Families (CRF) and University Relations.

The program is currently receiving applications, inviting all faculty members interested in using their research to promote social change, inform public policy and enhance public debate.

“We are not primarily looking for a specific type of research, but potential for public impact,” Schalet said.

According to the official press release, the faculty members selected for the Public Engagement Project will have the opportunity to develop a personalized plan, depending on their vision and the way they want to approach the public, along with a $2,000 stipend.

Each fellow will receive training involving public outreach, such as media relations, and writing for non-academic audiences. During the meeting, they can receive feedback by experts and other faculty members with the hope to develop a strong faculty network.

The program is planned to conclude with a visit to Beacon Hill, in order for UMass researches to present their work and explain its relevance to state policy makers.

As stated by its website, the Public Engagement Project has as a mission to catalyze a new wave of public intellectuals, improving the quality of research and its impact on society.

Schalet believes the most valuable component of this initiative is the possibility for researchers to establish collaborations with other faculty members from a large variety of fields.

Through this experience, Schalet hopes the fellows will be able to communicate amongst themselves to create social impact, become informed about the most recent developments in their field, hear different perspectives within their area of research and learn from peers specializing in subjects completely outside of their area of expertise.

“Networking facilitates public outreach by allowing scholars to get in contact with other experts and journalists, while becoming better teachers and researchers in the process,” Schalet said.

Although a student public engagement internship is not available, Schalet mentioned that it is within the range of possibilities. However, the program offers a variety of seminars on science journalism and other subjects that are available to the public.

For the moment, the fellowship program only has plans to work with local and state lawmakers. In the long term, the director expects to expand the project to the national level depending on its success and availability of funding.

According to the press release, applications to the Public Engagement Program must to be submitted by Dec. 12 via email to Schalet.

Cecilia Prado can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @thececiliaprado.