ATLANTA — Georgia State University researchers and their collaborators have received nearly $7.2 million in grant funding to develop a model for community-based work in geosciences with a focus on social justice.
The five-year grant is funded by the National Science Foundation’s Cultural Transformation in the Geoscience Community program. The award will allow researchers to address the ways in which geoscientists and community members can collaborate to identify and solve local environmental issues, including lead contamination, radon exposure, air pollution, extreme heat, water pollution and urban flooding.
Their initiative — Community, Soil, Air, Water (CSAW) — connects researchers from Georgia State, Spelman College, the University of Georgia and Emory University with community partners to address residents’ environmental challenges and stressors.
“The initiative was created to try to bring together questions and concerns from our community partners with the kind of skills, talents and resources of students and faculty in the department,” said Professor Katherine Hankins, chair of the Department of Geosciences and principal investigator of the grant.
With this new funding, the CSAW research team will expand and deepen its collaborations with local environmental organizations. One such partnership involves the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance (WAWA), a nonprofit organization that protects and restores the West Atlanta Watershed.
As part of a previous grant project, CSAW worked with WAWA to create an assessment of environmental stressors and mitigation efforts in the watershed. Other CSAW initiatives have involved mapping local parks, documenting water and soil contamination and, with ECOAction, another community partner, mapping the locations of 2,000 discarded tires so they could be collected for proper disposal.
“The projects come from the community,” said Darryl Haddock, director of environmental education at WAWA. “It’s an equitable approach.”
In each of these collaborations, social justice is at the heart of their work. While the CSAW research team benefits from increased access to conduct scientific research, its main goal is to work with communities directly to address environmental concerns, Hankins said.
The team does this, in part, by training students. CSAW provides Georgia State undergraduate and graduate students with real-world opportunities to conduct research, preparing them to become stewards in their communities.
“We’ve had students come from some of our partner organizations to then get a degree in our department, and then go back to work in those organizations,” said Hankins.
The project will continue this work by funding the recruitment of a diverse cohort of post-bachelor’s degree and master’s students beginning in 2023. It will also provide professional development training, community programming and mentorship opportunities centered in principles of justice, equity and inclusion.
“We’re working to recruit people who may not see themselves as environmental scientists to help them see themselves as environmental scientists,” said Hankins.
Other project leaders include Georgia State geosciences faculty members Sarah H. Ledford, Richard Milligan, Daniel Gebregiorgis, Paulo Hidalgo and Nadine Kabengi.
For more information about the project, go to https://geosciences.gsu.edu/csaw/.
— Story by Stella Mayerhoff