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Impact Learning Office Announces New Community-Based Research Project Grants

The Impact Learning Office (ILO) is thrilled to announce the inaugural cohort of faculty researchers slated to start Community-Based Research (CBR) projects this month. This grant supports projects that actively engage Houston communities in the research process. Student researchers will also be involved in the projects as part of their studies at UHD.

Building Partnershipspulati

“The beauty of CBR projects is that they build strong connections with local communities,” explained Dr. Poonam Gulati, who serves as the Executive Director of the Impact Learning Office and as an Associate Professor of Microbiology and Biology. 

Fundamental to these projects is the integration of local community members to facilitate recruitment of research participants. By involving Houstonians, the research projects will incorporate a variety of voices and perspectives. 

This community-centered approach is expected to yield robust analysis and findings, Gulati noted, adding, “Community-based research is vital to understanding community issues and providing solutions that will uplift communities.” 

By partnering with UHD experts, community agencies can gain opportunities for building out their capacity in areas such as grant-writing and evaluation skills. Research findings are also expected to empower community members to request policy changes that can positively affect life in Houston.

“CBR has gained widespread popularity, and we are very happy to support it at UHD,” Gulati said. “It is the duty of universities to provide the expertise necessary to conduct such projects in collaboration with communities. We hope the initial seed grants will lead to external funding to support in-depth studies.”

To learn more about CBR grants, contact Dr. Poonam Gulati and visit the ILO CBR webpage.


2024-25 CBR Grant Recipients


hanjin-maoDr. Hanjin Mao, Assistant Professor of Political Science and Nonprofit Management, “Technology Adoption in Nonprofit Organizations”

Mao’s project focus is on how non-profit organizations can keep up with technological change. Her project will survey several non-profit organizations in the Houston area to better understand the challenges they have in adopting new technologies, including financial hurdles. Mao is building off her previous work, which examined the financial benefits to non-profits that come from information technology. She hopes to build strong partnerships so that her findings can be shared with the wider non-profit community.


mesias-pedrozaDr. Mesias Pedroza, Lecturer of Natural Sciences, “A Community Needs Assessment to Develop Community Education and Navigator Program”

Pedroza plans to carry out a community needs survey on the north side of Houston (Acres Homes, Aldine, EastTex/Jensen, Northline, Northside, etc.). This survey will investigate nutrition, disease, education, crime, drug use, and mental health. Pedroza currently engages in service-learning projects related to science education at local schools in the same area. He plans to present the study results and create toolkits for community partners at both the Community Navigator program and the Community Education program.


sq-shahnaz-savaniDr. Shahnaz Savani, Lecturer of Social Work, “Closing the Mental Health Treatment Gap Through Field Education”

Savani has done extensive field work, including abroad in India, and her project aims to extend mental health treatment for common mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression, to adults in underserved communities. To execute the project, five student volunteers will do a training program approved by the World Health Organization (PM+) and work with the Wesley Community Center to provide the service. Savani sees this as a pilot program that, if successful, can be expanded in the future.


vishakha-shembekarDr. Vishakha Shembekar, Lecturer of Natural Sciences, “Studies of Community-Based Drug Abuse: Analysis of Issues and Prevention”

Shembekar teaches Chemistry classes and in the past her students have conducted service-learning projects that focused on enhancing high school student awareness of drug risks in the Near Northside of Houston and in the Aldine School District. Shembekar would like to conduct a systematic study of the challenges and community issues that lead to substance abuse. Some neglected areas she plans to address are economic analyses of the costs of drug abuse in a community, why there is a poor application and understanding of best practices related to patient care, and the issues in employing those recovered from drug addictions. She will work with the non-profits BakerRipley and AvenueCDC in creating focus groups to collect data and then use that data to guide future efforts in the community.


About the University of Houston-Downtown

The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.

U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.