Abstract: Community Engaged Scholarship during a Pandemic: Moving Beyond "Helping" to Public Problem Solving (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

All in-person and virtual presentations are in Mountain Standard Time Zone (MST).

SSWR 2023 Poster Gallery: as a registered in-person and virtual attendee, you have access to the virtual Poster Gallery which includes only the posters that elected to present virtually. The rest of the posters are presented in-person in the Poster/Exhibit Hall located in Phoenix A/B, 3rd floor. The access to the Poster Gallery will be available via the virtual conference platform the week of January 9. You will receive an email with instructions how to access the virtual conference platform.

Community Engaged Scholarship during a Pandemic: Moving Beyond "Helping" to Public Problem Solving

Sunday, January 15, 2023
Encanto A, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Mary Ohmer, PhD, MSW, MPIA, Associate Professor, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Aliya Durham, PhD, MSW, MPIA, Assistant Professor, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Alicia Melnick, MSW, Field Education Coordinator, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Carrie Finkelstein, MSW, Manager of Strategic Partnerships, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Background/Purpose: The COVID-19 pandemic challenged universities and schools of social work in unprecedented ways. Among them was an accelerated challenge to the ways many universities have come to be involved in their surrounding communities and the resulting importance this holds for social change. This paper describes one university and school of social work’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic that prioritized public-problem solving and deeply sustained, ways of collaborating with longstanding community partners.

Saltmarsh and Hartley (2011) distinguish formalized avenues of community engagement in higher education that focus on “help” developed and delivered to communities by university administrators, faculty, students, and staff vs. a form of engagement that prioritizes co-constructed knowledge generation and political action as a means for community change (what they call “democratic civic engagement”). This paper will discuss and illustrate best practices and principles for democratic forms of university-community engagement that align with macro social work education competencies. We will present a case study on our pandemic response to support community partners, particularly through pivoting student field placements and collaboratively working to address the pandemic’s impact on people’s basic needs.

Methods: Data gathered by the university’s office of community and governmental relations will be presented that illustrates the quantitative and qualitative impact on community partners, including the forms of collaboration between the university and the community (e.g., food drives, educational and technology access, housing assistance, etc.). The school of social work took the lead role on a program called the Care and Connection Callers (CCC), which established an ongoing partnership between faculty, students, and volunteers to assist community organizations in reaching out to people who were isolated during the pandemic and assess their mental health, food, housing, and other needs, and provide up to date information on COVID19. Data will be presented on the impact of this partnership, including findings from a survey of the CCC volunteers and ways in which the collaboration evolved to assist communities with ongoing needs as the pandemic persisted.

Results: The university formed an interdisciplinary COVID19 Community Response Task Force to work in collaboration with community partners through the university’s Pandemic Service Initiative. The chancellor allowed employees to donate up to 8 work hours a week to volunteer, and between March 2020 and March 2021, more than 470 employees recorded 2,957 volunteer hours. The CCC has trained over 100 volunteers who made over 1,000 calls for seven community partners during the height of the pandemic. Qualitative and quantitative data will be shared from a follow up survey of these volunteers, as well as results from the pivoting of social work field placements to support community partners, including the development of an advocacy agenda centered the pressing issues raised by community partners: housing, food, and education/digital access. We will also discuss lessons learned and how the overall pandemic service initiative shifted to assisting community partners to implement vaccine clinics in underserved communities of color. For example, more than 200 university volunteers assisted a coalition-led effort to vaccinate 2,000 older adults in two underserved neighborhoods.