Last in a series of articles from our fall Inclusion magazine, highlighting diversity in the area.
WATERLOO — As an academic researcher, Tera Jordan has seen communities benefit from diversity.
Jordan is assistant professor of human development and family studies at Iowa State University. She recently received a grant for a project that will better connect Black Hawk County’s African-American communities to Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.
In July, the Engaged Scholarship Funding Program awarded $13,499 to “Strengthening Relationship in the African American Community in Black Hawk County.” The project awaits approval from the Iowa State University Institutional Review Board.
“We’re excited,” said Jordan, principal investigator. “We want to take a moment to listen to African-Americans about what their experiences are, where they’d like to go and what they need to improve the well-being of their families. We hope ISU Human Sciences and Extension can be part of that story.”
In addition to Jordan, six task force members from Black Hawk County will round out the project team. The research format emphasizes small group discussions with Cedar Valley Africa-American residents. Participants will receive compensation for their time assisting with the project.
“I really want to see my people engaged more in this process,” said Jordan, who is of African-American heritage. “If we are to rise to the challenge of building stronger communities, we need more people at the table willing to share their voice. You don’t have to speak for everyone on your block, just yourself. Tell your story and share your experiences about living in Black Hawk County.”
A project goal is to gain insights from African-Americans on how to improve extension and outreach programs and professional practices.
“Engagement with the community is vital, because this cannot just be ISU. It must be ISU and the community, together,” said Jordan. “A second goal is to increase awareness of African-American community members, leaders, stakeholders, initiatives and resources. We want to hear from the community with constructive feedback on how Health and Human Sciences could do a better job of including them.”
In the past, some underrepresented populations have been asked for input that wasn’t truly wanted, Jordan noted.
“I know some might ask, ‘Does ISU Extension and Outreach really want to know?’” said Jordan. “I assure you, I wouldn’t be on this effort if it was just pie in the sky — if I didn’t believe Extension and Outreach honestly wants to hear what people honestly have to say with regard to improving connections.
“There really is a genuine desire to do a better job of service delivery,” she added. “We’re willing to do what it takes. … It does no good to have these state dollars for Extension and Outreach Services if they’re not fully utilized in all corners of the state.”
Another project goal is to ensure ISU Extension and Outreach has a maximum impact on all metro area residents. Black Hawk County is home to the state’s largest per capita African-American community. Data from the area research project could provide insights into connecting with other African-American communities across the state.
ISU Extension and Outreach programs are funded entirely by tax dollars. African-Americans in particular have traditionally been a taxpayer segment that “could be better served,” said Jordan.
“This project came about after extension colleagues have, over time, expressed a desire to me to have their program participation reflect the diversifying — the growing and changing populations — we see taking place in Iowa,” she explained. “My colleagues recognize there’s room to better engage with other communities, and their interests have long been in engagement with African-American communities.”
If approved, more information about participating in “Strengthening Relationship in the African American Community in Black Hawk County” will be shared this fall in The Courier and through other media. The project team will seek approximately 40 participants. Researchers target both younger and older Black Hawk County residents to ensure multiple perspectives are heard.
Discussions will follow a study circle format and focus on individual and family well-being, health, wellness, finance, nutrition and other topics. The project team will also host action forums to share ideas to implement in Black Hawk County.
In addition to the Black Hawk County project, the Engaged Scholarship Funding Program awarded a grant of $12,023 to “Enhancing African American Youth Academic Success in Polk County.” Jordan also serves as that project’s principal investigator. This research project addresses educational disparities in Polk County’s African-American community.