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Excellence in public engagement recognized with awards

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Photo by
L. Brian Stauffer

Team awrd
Julia Bello-Bravo (left), the assistant director of Illinois Strategic International Partnerships, and entomology professor Barry Pittendrigh (right) co-founded Scientific Animations Without Borders. Francisco Seufferheld, a visiting program coordinator in the department of entomology, is the project manager.

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INSIDE ILLINOIS, April 4, 2013 | Mike Helenthal, News Editor | 217-333-5491;

Outstanding individual and group outreach efforts will be recognized April 30 with the 2013 Campus Awards for Excellence in Public Engagement.

The awards recognize faculty members, academic professionals and students who have consistently applied their knowledge and expertise to issues of societal importance for the public good.

Each faculty member and academic professional receives $1,500 and a permanent $1,500 salary increase. The team award includes $5,000 to the sponsoring unit to support or enhance the project honored. Students receive $1,500 to be used for professional development or other educational activities.

Brant Houston
Brant Houston
| Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

Brant Houston, a professor of journalism in the College of Media who holds the Knight Chair in Investigative and Enterprise Reporting, is the director of the CU-CitizenAccess project, an online news and information service devoted to investigative and enterprise coverage of social, justice and economic issues in East Central Illinois. From its inception, the project has been dedicated to increasing the community engagement of the university through its website and social networks. The project has pursued the idea of giving voice to the voiceless in Champaign-Urbana and continues to produce good journalism on a regular basis. During the past two years, the project has worked with Illinois Public Media on dozens of news radio features, online content or cross-platform projects. Houston also holds a visiting faculty appointment in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science and has forged alliances with other news organizations and community groups.

Madhu Viswanathan
Madhu Viswanathan
| Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

Madhu Viswanathan, the Diane and Steven N. Miller Professor in the department of business administration, also holds appointments in the Coordinated Science Laboratory, the College of Engineering and the Institute for Genomic Biology. His ability to leverage his basic research to address a diverse set of applied questions that have societal value led him to establish the Marketplace Literacy Project, a nonprofit organization with a mission of enabling marketplace literacy among low-literate, low-income people. Through various programs initiated by this organization, he has used this research to improve people’s lives. In India, he developed a socially embedded form of marketplace literacy with educational programs to improve consumer literacy among low-literate, low-income buyers and sellers. He has also worked with the U. of I. Extension program and developed educational materials for the Food and Nutrition Program, currently used by the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program in the state of Illinois.

Martin Wolske
Martin Wolske
| Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

Martin Wolske, a senior research scientist with the Center for Digital Inclusion in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, has demonstrated a deep commitment to people in the communities in which he works. The center’s goal is to foster inclusive and sustainable societies through research, teaching and public engagement using information and communication technologies. Wolske is a faculty mentor for Action Research Illinois (formerly the East St. Louis Action Research Project) and also is an instructor of an Introduction to Network Systems class in East St. Louis. His most recent work with the Urbana Free Library – redesigning its computer lab, then building the custom furniture for it – is an important focus of his teaching and research. He also incorporates service learning and community engagement in two of his courses, in which students engage in projects that can have a significant impact on a community. While technology is a focus for the projects in his classes, it is technology embedded in a public space, designed to help members of a community accomplish their goals.

Deirdre Lanesskog, a doctoral student in the School of Social Work, focuses her work on immigrant advocacy in the local community. She has conducted studies on a public health agency’s efforts to provide immigrant friendly services in maternal and child health, as well as studies of local government’s responses to substandard housing among migrant workers. She received a Graduate College Focal Point grant to support community engagement activities to address the needs of new immigrants and their service providers. The project culminated in a national conference, and the success prompted the Graduate College to request a second proposal for the next academic year. She has inspired her peers and community leaders to see themselves as a part of a broader community with a common mission to alleviate problems that affect vulnerable populations.

The Team Award will be presented to  the creators of the Scientific Animations Without Borders initiative.

Many who live in developing countries now have cellphones that allow unprecedented access to a world of information. A team of U. of I. educators is using an innovative approach to reach a much broader audience than traditional developmental aid approaches have been able to reach and for a fraction of the cost.

The SAWBO initiative has so far produced educational materials on more than a dozen topics related to health, agriculture, sustainability and entrepreneurship. SAWBO reaches a global audience with animated characters of universal appeal and voice-over narrations that can be recorded in any language. The narrated animations are cheaper to deploy and are accessible to people who can’t read or write. The use of animated characters also overcomes many cultural barriers by presenting archetypal characters that appeal to a wide audience.

The team (photo above): co-founders entomology professor Barry Pittendrigh and Julia Bello-Bravo, who also is assistant director of Illinois Strategic International Partnerships, and project manager Francisco Seufferheld, a visiting program coordinator in the department of entomology.

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