Jenny Jay, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, was one of six professors to receive the Chancellor’s Award for community-engaged research. The inaugural Chancellor’s Award for Community-Engaged Research, which is supported by the Chancellor’s office and the UCLA Center for Community Learning, has allocated six $10,000 research grants to develop new undergraduate research courses. In each course, students will carry out research activities in partnership with local community organizations. The course will advance their professor’s research goals and also benefit the communities that the partners serve.
Professor Jay and her students study the prevalence and fate of pollutants in the environment in an effort to minimize their impacts on human health. Over the years they have addressed a wide range of environmental challenges, from microbes in the ocean in southern California, to lead in children’s playground soil, to arsenic contamination in well water at a village in Bangladesh. They define their research agenda based on input from our connections with community groups.
This coming year, Professor Jay will be offering an innovative course entitled, “Community-engaged environmental research: theory and practice.” Topics covered in the lecture portion of the course include: a) case studies in environmental injustice where community-engaged science played a key role in addressing the problem; b) principles and best practices of community-engaged research; c) background science necessary for the practicum part of the course; and d) basics of environmental sampling techniques and sample preservation. In the practicum part of the course, students will be involved in all aspects of a community-engaged research project, including meeting with community groups, collecting samples, preparing and analyzing samples in the laboratory, graphing and interpreting the data, and communicating the results. Recent examples of projects in the Jay laboratory in which undergraduate researchers were heavily involved include analysis of lead levels in soil at public parks in Los Angeles and investigation of the impacts of antibiotic resistant pathogens in ocean water on surfers and swimmers.
The cohort will spend the next academic year developing their courses and will begin offering them to undergraduates in 2020-21 or 2021-22.
“Community-engaged research creates outstanding learning opportunities for undergraduate students, advances the research of our faculty, and benefits our community,” Chancellor Gene Block said. “The Community-Engaged Research Scholars will deepen UCLA’s commitment to public service by creating more opportunities for students and faculty to pursue research that has a positive impact on our world.”