Carolyn Caine
Institute for Policy & Social Research

Two KU programs win University Economic Development Association awards

Thu, 10/20/2022

LAWRENCE — Two University of Kansas programs recently won University Economic Development Association Awards of Excellence at the 2022 UEDA Annual Summit. Haskell Environmental Research Studies Institute was named category leader in Talent, and the Center for Digital Inclusion Evidence-based Technology Education for Women Transitioning from Incarceration was named category leader in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.

HERS – Category Leader in Talent

UDEA awards ceremony.The Awards of Excellence in the Talent category are given in recognition of programs that teach people how to thrive in the 21st century knowledge economy. The HERS program is a collaboration between of KU and Haskell Indian Nations University. The project aims to prepare future Native American STEM professionals to understand the myriad impacts of environmental and climate change. Program participants also learn to develop strategies for sustainable responses that combine Indigenous ecological knowledge with scientific approaches. The eight-week summer internship provides instruction and field research experiences for up to 15 undergraduate interns in research planning and design along with environmental assessment fieldwork.

The HERS program has a unique structure and approach that is designed for Indigenous students, using Indigenous knowledge, and run largely by Indigenous faculty, staff and students.

HERS alumni are provided continuous support after they complete the program and continue to engage with mentors and staff.

“I never felt like I belonged in a college until I went through HERS,” said Kim Pikok, a 2019 graduate of the program.

The HERS program addresses the barriers faced by Native American students in higher education such as lack of educational opportunity, the achievement gap, poverty, historical trauma, technology equity and funding. The HERS program curriculum is dedicated to the promotion of Indigenous research and methodologies. Interns work closely with KU graduate student mentors and choose individual research topics at the intersection of Indigenous and environmental sciences.

The HERS program is grant funded through the Kansas National Science Foundation Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research.

Jay T. Johnson, director of the Center for Indigenous Research, Science & Technology at KU and co-director of HERS, accepted the award on behalf of the program.

“It is wonderful to have the recognition of the University Economic Development Association of the HERS Program and our alumni,” said Johnson, who is also a KU professor of geography & atmospheric science and Indigenous studies. “I believe that the association appreciated the diligent work of our team in aiding Native students in navigating the transition from undergraduate to graduate study in STEM fields, and our engagement with tribal communities in that success.” 

Center for Digital Inclusion Evidence-based Technology Education for Women Transitioning from Incarceration – Category Leader in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

UDEA awards ceremony.Recognizing excellence in fostering diversity, equity and inclusion, this category focuses on projects making communities more equitable by increasing opportunities for historically underserved populations. The KU Center for Digital Inclusion offers digital skills training and information literacy workshops for marginalized populations including women transitioning from incarceration in Kansas and Missouri. Women who are in or leaving incarceration are often low-income and/or from a racial or ethnic minority group. Sixty percent of imprisoned women have at least one child under the age of 18. The skills women gain through this program are important as they look for jobs, access health care and support education of their children.  

Led by Hyunjin Seo, associate dean for research and faculty development, Oscar Stauffer Professor of Journalism and director of the Center for Digital Inclusion at the William Allen White School of Journalism & Mass Communications, this program has served more than 180 women transitioning from incarceration contributing to enhancing participants’ employment opportunities. The project team has developed technology curricula based on their empirical research and aligned with community-based, co-design principles. In 2019, Seo led an interdisciplinary team including faculty, staff and graduate/undergraduate students at KU and University of Missouri-Kansas City that received a $1.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation in support of the program. The Center for Digital Inclusion received a $250,000 Kansas Digital Equity and Inclusion Collaborative grant from the Kansas Health Foundation in 2021.

“We are honored to receive this UEDA award and grateful for all those who have been involved in the program,” Seo said. “At the award presentation, I appreciated an opportunity to discuss intersectional marginality that women transitioning from incarceration face. Most of all, I was happy to be joined in the presentation by Tanesha Whitelaw and Jodi Whitt, two former program participants who now serve as digital navigators supporting learning by justice-impacted women in our program.”

“Being a national nominee for a program was something I've never experienced,” Whitelaw said. “The CDI Technology Education Program has changed my life and the outlook of what success can look like with support, determination and a second chance. Congratulations to our whole CDI team. This could not be accepted without everyone's help and support of the program.”

“Presenting at the UEDA awards was an incredible experience. The KU Technology Education Program is very special to me,” Whitt said. “I am honored to be a part of such a life-changing program and to bring the award back to the KU Center for Digital Inclusion."

Seo and her team are seeking industry partners who share their concerns for diversity and equity and aim to expand the program to offer technology education scholarships for women transitioning from incarceration and their children.

Both the HERS program and the Center for Digital Inclusion program are funded by grants managed through the Institute for Policy & Social Research. 

Top right photo: Jenny Mizutowicz, University of Texas at Dallas, co-chair of UEDA Awards Committee; Rebecca Robinson, president of UEDA, Kansas State University; Jay T. Johnson, co-director of the HERS program, KU; Jeff Sachse, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, co-chair of UEDA awards committee.

Bottom right photo: Jenny Mizutowicz, University of Texas at Dallas, co-chair of UEDA Awards Committee; Rebecca Robinson, president of UEDA, Kansas State University; Tanesha Whitelaw, Hyunjin Seo, Jodi Whitt, Center for Digital Inclusion, KU; Jeff Sachse, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, co-chair of UEDA awards committee.

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