Announcing the Foundation’s First Institutional Challenge Grantee

We are pleased to announce that the Foundation has awarded its first Institutional Challenge Grant to Cornell University’s College of Human Ecology in partnership with the Cornell Cooperative Extension-Tompkins County.

The partnership will respond to increasing rates of opioid abuse and child maltreatment in low-income, rural communities in upstate New York. Partners will examine the role of family drug treatment courts in mitigating child maltreatment among families struggling with treatment, as well as evaluate evidence-based interventions that may reduce the risk of opioid abuse for low-income youth and families.

“We are honored to have been chosen as the inaugural recipients of the William T. Grant Foundation’s Institutional Challenge Grant,” said the Rachel Dunifon, Cornell’s primary investigator on the grant. “The College of Human Ecology’s public engagement mission is about breaking down boundaries between academic research and its application to policy and practice. This grant supports a true collaborative research-practice partnership that brings together faculty and community educators to address a pressing local issue—the opioid epidemic. We will not only generate cutting-edge research on this important topic, we will also provide faculty and our community partners with the time, funds, and skills necessary to engage in this type of research collaboration. By doing this, we will pave the way for future research-practice partnerships to succeed.”

The Institutional Challenge Grant, introduced in 2017, encourages university-based research institutes, schools, and centers to build sustained research-practice partnerships with public agencies or nonprofit organizations in order to reduce inequality in youth outcomes. To do so, research institutions need to shift their policies and practices to value collaborative research, as well as build the capacity of researchers to produce relevant work, and the capacity of agency and nonprofit partners to use research.

Adam Gamoran, President of the William T. Grant Foundation, said, “Typically, universities reward faculty members for publishing articles in academic journals. This grant challenges universities to reward faculty members whose research is directed to public service. The inaugural grantees will support research on one of our most vexing social problems, the opioid crisis, in a partnership that is poised to take action on the basis of the findings.”

The Institutional Challenge Grant awards $650,000 over three years, and grantees have the opportunity to apply for a two-year continuation grant to solidify the partnership and institutional change.

The online application for 2018 will open on June 15, 2018, and all applications must be received by September 7, 2018. Updated application guidelines are available now.

The First Recipient of the Institutional Challenge Grant: The College of Human Ecology at Cornell and the Cornell Cooperative Extension-Tompkins County

Partners from the Cornell’s College of Human Ecology and Cornell Cooperative Extension-Tompkins County (CCE-Tompkins) will use a mixed-methods approach to: 1) understand the association between opioid use and child maltreatment rates, 2) examine the role of family drug treatment courts in mitigating child maltreatment among families struggling with treatment, and 3) evaluate an evidence-based intervention that may reduce the risk of opioid abuse for low-income youth and families. The partners will elicit stakeholder views to understand the nature of the problem and potential responses and leverage national data sets to examine external shocks to the opioid supply and how these track to the incidence of child abuse. They will use a quasi-experimental design and in-depth case studies to examine national trends in child maltreatment following the initiation of Family Treatment Courts. They will also test the local effectiveness of a community-based family support program with the potential to reduce substance abuse treatment needs. The partners will use findings from each study to increase understanding about the opioid epidemic and its consequences for families and to improve local practice and programs.

There is substantial engagement by both partners. Within Cornell, both a private university and a land grant college, the College of Human Ecology is a leading center for child abuse research. The university’s principal investigator has been a member of the Cornell faculty for 16 years and is the college’s interim dean. CCE-Tompkins is an independent nonprofit entity that responds to local needs with research-based programming. Their principal investigator has served for 17 years as program coordinator for family and community development. While the affiliation between the two institutions is long-standing, institutionalized connections between CCE-Tompkins and Cornell’s social sciences faculty have been limited.

Both partners are committed to advancing institutional change at Cornell to support research-practice partnerships. First, a committee of university faculty and CCE-Tompkins staff will select highly skilled, well-recognized faculty members to serve as fellows and receive mentoring from the partnership leads. One goal is to change the image of the “successful researcher” to include those who conduct policy-relevant scholarship in collaboration with practitioners. Second, in addition to the required match for a mid-career fellow, Cornell has committed a post-doctoral fellow for the first half of the award, and an undergraduate intern to assist with activities at CCE-Tompkins. Third, Cornell leadership is committed to reviewing current support for research-practice partnerships campus-wide and initiating conversations about alternative tenure and promotion criteria for faculty. Finally, the partnership will build the capacity of CCE-Tompkins staff to facilitate high-quality evaluation work.

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