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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Research projects show future of Wisconsin Idea

Some research projects rely on community input to inform research and apply recommended solutions. As they study the effectiveness of an emergency shelter policy for domestic abuse survivors, Kate Walsh, associate professor for the Department of Psychology and Gender and Women’s Studies, and Mariel Barnes, assistant professor for the La Follette School of Public Affairs, are leveraging the Division of Extension’s links to community coalitions and those affected by housing laws.

These researchers received funding through a new grant series from Extension and the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education. Their work will “leverage local community networks, particularly connections to fair housing coalitions, to expand the participant sample and include crucial – yet difficult to access – stakeholders such as landlords,” as they wrote in their grant application. Their research project is among 11 new initiatives that illustrate how the Wisconsin Idea has evolved.

The premise of the Wisconsin Idea, extending university knowledge to all corners of the state, is traditionally described as starting on campus and traveling to other parts of Wisconsin. A new series of grant-funded projects recognizes the value of knowledge transfer in reverse: utilizing Extension’s local networks to bring community perspectives and knowledge into research studies conducted on campus.

Research informed by community input utilizes the lived experiences and first-hand knowledge of issues faced by families, communities, and groups across Wisconsin. When it comes to finding the right people and groups to inform a research project, researchers based in multiple schools, colleges, and units at UW–Madison are taking advantage of Extension relationships and connections to tailor evaluation and relevant recommendations.

Extension’s networks were cited as key assets in grant proposals looking to capture community input and relay guidance back to those who can benefit from it most. Through locally based faculty, specialists, and staff, Extension has the scientific foundation to create solutions that can benefit the businesses, family connections, health, and leadership of Wisconsinites.

Furthering the Wisconsin Idea

The Wisconsin Idea is almost 120 years old, and in that time it has evolved to include the wide range of topics currently being studied by faculty and specialists at UW–Madison. Extension’s locally based educators deliver evidence-based programming for farmers and 4-H youth and also help address specific issues in local communities by sharing expertise on natural resources, family, financial, economic development, and health/well-being topics.

The heart of the Wisconsin Idea – creating vital links between UW–Madison and communities across the state to inform community programming and improve lives – is embodied as the core mission of Extension. The new grant series will showcase how communities can both inform and benefit from university research. This work follows the longstanding tradition of Extension’s role to advance the Wisconsin Idea, while the research methods used to develop knowledge continue to evolve.

Extension collaborated with the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education to create the Wisconsin Idea Collaboration Grant project series. The competitive grants will kickstart applied research and development of innovative educational programming or community engagement to address community needs and priorities.

“It’s Extension’s mission to make the Wisconsin Idea relevant and accessible to the Wisconsin we live in today. We can reach every family, truly every family, so that everyone can benefit from our knowledge, our expertise, and our guidance. This grant project series strengthens the connection between Extension and campus researchers and, just as important, it extends that connection to the communities, organizations, and families we work with every day,” said Karl Martin, dean and director of UW–Madison Extension.

The Wisconsin Idea Collaboration Grant series has funded 11 projects that will utilize Extension networks in new research. These 11 projects will strengthen and expand the links between Extension and UW–Madison schools and colleges.

“We’re excited to provide an avenue that enables researchers to use Extension’s vast networks to further their projects and make an impact across the state. The projects supported with these grants show the benefits of community partnership in our research. The reciprocal relationships developed with these studies will make the research stronger and boost the application of solutions as well,” said Steve Ackerman, vice chancellor for research and graduate education.

Wisconsin Idea Collaboration Grants: the 11 projects funded in 2022 include:

Evaluating Housing First Programs for Domestic Violence Survivors

Access to safe and affordable housing continues to be a major impediment for families attempting to leave situations of domestic violence and abuse. While emergency shelters can provide temporary assistance, requests for help vastly outstrip available beds and resources, and they do not provide a long-term solution. Emergency shelters throughout the state are often at capacity and spaces are extremely limited.

To address this problem, this research study will evaluate the Domestic Violence Housing First Pilot Program introduced by the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families. This program is centered on adequately housing survivors so that other problems and issues become easier to manage. Given the significant interaction between housing and domestic violence, an understanding of which policy solutions have the potential to mitigate these negative outcomes is critical. Extension’s statewide network will be tapped to inform this research and disseminate findings to community partners.

Co-Principal Investigators Kate Walsh, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology and Gender and Women’s Studies

Mariel Barnes, Assistant Professor, La Follette School of Public Affairs

Farmland Preservation Policies and Farmland Access in Wisconsin

Lack of access to farmland is an ongoing challenge for many beginning farmers and farmers of color in Wisconsin. One factor contributing to this challenge is the steady loss of productive farmland to other uses; 11 million acres of US farmland and ranchland were converted to urban or residential land use between 2001-2016. Policies to mitigate this include significant public investment in farmland preservation policies, yet it is unclear whether they are effective at improving farmland access for farmers.

This research project will evaluate producers’ knowledge of and suggestions for farmland preservation policies. It will also inform Extension materials to better connect Wisconsin producers with resources about farmland preservation resources.

Principal Investigator Andrew W. Stevens, Assistant Professor of Agricultural and Applied Economics

Co-Principal Investigators

Trisha Wagner, Extension Farm Management Program Manager

Sarah Johnston, Assistant Professor of Agricultural and Applied Economics

Promoting Mental Health in Rural Youth

In Wisconsin, one in five youth have a diagnosable mental health disorder. Youth in rural communities experience higher rates of depression and suicide relative to their peers in urban areas. There is often a lack of prevention and health promotion efforts in rural communities as well as problems with access to mental and behavioral health care.

This research project will engage caregivers, youth, Extension educators, school personnel, and community mental health professionals across six rural counties to identify needs and priorities for a framework of supporting positive youth mental health.

Principal Investigator Andy Garbacz, Associate Professor, School Psychology Program, Department of Educational Psychology, School of Education; Co-Director, Rural Education Research and Implementation Center, Wisconsin Center for Education Research

Co-Principal Investigator

Jen Park-Mroch, Extension Health and Well-Being State Specialist

Building Reading and Relationships with Justice-Involved Families

Extension’s Making Reading Memories is a core strategy of Extension’s Literacy Link program and is aimed at supporting incarcerated parents to become actively engaged with their children. The program elevates learning and practicing skills that promote literacy and emotional bonding. As part of the program, incarcerated parents are video recorded reading one or more books for their children. The recordings and books are sent to caregivers at home who in turn support their children in viewing the videos and reading along with them. The goal is to increase literacy opportunities for children and maintain parent-child relationships during incarceration.

Incarceration disproportionately affects low-income communities of color and is harmful to both children and parents. It interrupts and obstructs parenting, making it difficult to maintain parent-child relationships and limiting the possibilities for interaction with children.

This research project will investigate and build additional research needed to learn from justice-involved families about their experience with Making Reading Memories, its effect on children’s coping skills and attachment, and how program improvements can be made to bolster outcomes.

Principal Investigator Pajarita Charles, Assistant Professor and Director, Lab for Family Wellbeing & Justice, Sandra Rosenbaum School of Social Work

Co-Principal Investigator

Elizabeth Lexau, Interim Justice-Involved Families Specialist Literacy Link Coordinator

Co-Principal Investigator Julie Poehlmann-Tynan, Dorothy A. O’Brien Professor of Human Ecology Professor, Human Development & Family Studies

How Microbes and Microplastics Play Off Each Other in Lake Superior

Microplastic contamination and harmful microbes are increasing problems in Lake Superior. Microplastics are prevalent in almost all ecosystems and could be exacerbating harmful algae blooms by allowing cyanobacteria or other microbial pathogens to “hitch a ride” on plastic surfaces.

This project will investigate the interdependency between microplastic movement and microbial colonization in the Lake Superior nearshore environment. Work will include sampling via the Lake Superior Collaborative’s Nearshore Monitoring Workgroup as well as community education via Extension networks.

Principal Investigator Erica Majumder, Assistant Professor, Bacteriology

Co-Principal Investigators Nimish Pujara, Assistant Professor, Civil & Environmental Engineering

Erin Burkett, Extension Lake Superior Outreach Specialist

Entrepreneurs in Training and Understanding Incarceration Reentry

Recidivism numbers are almost exclusively the main metric used to demonstrate a degree of success after incarceration. However, recidivism alone is a poor metric for gauging the success of either criminal justice programs or of those who participate in them, as recidivism doesn’t reflect the nature of behavioral change.

This project investigates the methods and models to promote restorative justice. This will include the role of empathy in changing barriers for formerly incarcerated individuals at reentry and what alternative measures can more effectively describe the positive change individuals make in their own self-image and life narrative. Participants in Extension’s Entrepreneurs in Training program – offered to those formerly incarcerated who learn business development skills – will inform this study.

Principal Investigator Cecelia Klingele, Associate Professor, University of Wisconsin Law School

Co-Principal Investigator

Angie Allen, outgoing EIT Partnership Co-Director

Diana Hammer, Associate Professor, UW-Madison Extension

The Physics of Climate Change

The scientific principles explaining and predicting the effects of climate change are being lost in the noise of rampant misinformation. Understanding of climate change varies across age groups and location, and many K-12 teachers are left without the support needed to incorporate climate change concepts in their curricula.

To mitigate misinformation, this project will create hands-on activities to understand the impacts of climate change and empower teachers to accurately share content with their students. Specific efforts will include a museum exhibit at the Ingersoll Physics Museum, outreach demonstration for the Wonders of Physics traveling show, and an activity kit designed to empower middle and high school students, teachers, and general audiences to identify accurate information about climate change.

Principal Investigator Mallory Conlon, Quantum Science Outreach Program Coordinator, Department of Physics

Co-Principal Investigators

Cierra Atkinson, Wonders of Physics Outreach Specialist, Department of Physics

Haddie McLean, Wonders of Physics Outreach Specialist, Department of Physics

Joanna Skluzacek, Professor and STEM Specialist, Division of Extension

Juntos Wisconsin and Supporting Latinx Educational Success

Historically, Wisconsin outranks other states in the achievement of its white students while ranking in the bottom third of states for Latinx students. During the 2014-15 school year, 78% of Latinx students in Wisconsin graduated on time, compared to 93% of white students. In the same year, only 19 percent of Latinx fourth graders were proficient in reading, compared to 44 percent of white fourth graders.

In response, Extension’s Juntos (“together” in Spanish) program engages Latinx youth and families in planning for academic success and post-secondary options. The success of students in pursuing higher education depends on engaging the entire family on academic success of children. The Juntos Family Workshop Series empowers each family member to communicate more effectively about their children’s academics. This project will create Latinx 4-H clubs, lead family educational workshops, and bring students to the UW–Madison campus to support student academic success and to make higher education a family goal.

Principal Investigator Joselyn Diaz-Valdes, Fastrack and Banner Manager, Office of Student Financial Aid

Co-Principal Investigator

Adam Trunzo, Extension Outreach Specialist

Maximizing the Value of School Nutrition and Supporting BIPOC Growers, Producers, and Workers

Farm-to-school procurement is the most common strategy that school districts use for “good food “in school meals; however relatively few Black, Indigenous, and People of Color growers and producers have access to farm-to-school contracts. In Wisconsin, 75% of school food authorities reported serving local food in the 2018-2019 school year. Tight budgets, federal procurement rules, market dynamics, and long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic make it challenging for schools to fully engage in farm-to-school.

This research project will generate an understanding of the current landscape for participation in Wisconsin farm-to-school programs, including information on the number of BIPOC growers and producers, their operations, and their partnerships with school districts. The project will identify opportunities and needs of BIPOC growers and producers to participate in farm-to-school, analyze the labor conditions of foodservice staff, identify strategies for fair and equitable employment in school foodservice, and prepare a set of actionable recommendations for advancing equity in Wisconsin farm-to-school programs and school nutrition staffing.

Principal Investigator Jennifer Gaddis, Associate Professor, Civil Society and Community Studies

Co-Principal Investigators

Jess Guffey Calkins, Extension Dane County Community Food Systems Educator

Lindsey Day Farnsworth, Extension Community Food Systems Program Manager

Amy Washbush Hilgendorf, Associate Director, Center for Community and Nonprofit Studies

Vanessa Herald, Farm to Institution Outreach Program Manager, Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems

Targeting Online Health Misinformation for Rural Wisconsinites

Health misinformation has a demonstrable impact on health decisions and outcomes. In Wisconsin, one county can have a COVID-19 vaccination rate of nearly 76% while another can be at 32%. This affects productivity, schooling, family life, and other community concerns. This research project looks at the information disparity in rural Wisconsin with an eye toward strategies and resources to help community leaders effectively address misinformation problems.

Principal Investigator Malia Jones, Scientist, Applied Population Laboratory

Co-Principal Investigators Sijia Yang, Assistant Professor, School of Journalism and Mass Communication

Susan Passmore, Scientist, Institute for Clinical and Translational Research

Additional Personnel

Emily Latham, Extension Health Communications Outreach Specialist

Collaborating with the Hmong Community on End-of-Life Planning

Creating culturally responsive programming is a priority for Extension and the communities across Wisconsin that benefit from Extension’s service. This project engages Hmong families in adapting Extension’s Planning AHEAD curriculum. The program (which stands for Advance directives, Handling financial changes, Estate planning, and Arriving at Decisions for the end of this life) helps people make end-of-life financial and health care decisions to ease the transition for loved ones and to make their wishes known. The Hmong population is the largest Asian group in Wisconsin, and with feedback from Hmong families the curriculum will include culturally relevant and sensitive strategies to the end-of-life beliefs of the Hmong community.

Principal Investigator Maichou Lor, Assistant Professor, School of Nursing

Co-Principal Investigator

Sara Richie, Extension Life Span Outreach Program Manager

Additional Personnel

Jenny Abel, Extension Financial Capability Outreach Program Manager

Kristin Litzelman, Extension Human Development and Relationships Specialist and Associate Professor, School of Human Ecology

Jenna Klink, Evaluation Specialist

Kat Phelps, Research Equity and Engagement Consultant, Wisconsin Network for Research Support