2021 Howard R. Swearer Engaged Faculty Awards for Research and Teaching

April 1, 2021

This year’s recipients represent a snapshot of the engaged scholarship produced by faculty at Brown. This scholarship comes from multiple disciplines, employing various methodologies to co-create knowledge on numerous subjects of value to a range of both local and international communities.

Howard R. Swearer Engaged Faculty Award for Research
Dr. David Sobel, Professor of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences
Community Partner: Providence Children’s Museum

Dr. Sobel has previously been spotlighted by the Swearer Center for his work through the Causality and Mind Lab and/ in collaboration with the Providence Children’s Museum. The selection committee highlighted Dr. Sobel’s long standing and numerous partnerships, of which he writes, “Because children’s museums are a rich ecosystem to study learning, offering numerous ways of capturing the dynamics between children’s learning from exploration and parent-child interaction, I have partnered with Providence Children’s Museum (PCM) since 2003… My lab has also partnered with Rhode Island Museum of Science and Art, the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, Children’s Discovery Museum, San Jose, and Thinkery in Austin, TX. I was about to start a partnership with the Roger Williams Zoo, but the pandemic has forced us to delay.” The breadth of these partnerships and possibilities for research enabled through such collaborations are recognized in his nominating letter from a colleague who says, “The intellectual rigor of this community partnership is clearly evident as measured by the academic gold standards of federal grant awards, publications in peer-review scientific journals, and invitations to speak on a national platform. Dave and his collaborators have received three National Science Foundation (NSF) awards totaling in excess of $3 million for museum-based research.” Multiple colleagues throughout the country contribute endorsements to his nomination not only for the scholarly merit of this work, but also its field-defining interventions, “Dave’s reputation in the field of museum studies has led to multiple invitations to speak about his work on children’s learning and to advise museums about creating new researcher-practitioner partnerships around the country… The impact of Dave’s partnership with PCM has been phenomenal both locally in the Brown and Providence communities and nationally in shaping university-museum research collaborations.”

Photogrid of Causality and Mind Lab.

Pictured: Dr. David Sobel (top left) and Causality and Mind Lab.

Aside from the recognition of his colleagues, Dr. Sobel’s nomination is supported by former students who unanimously laud his mentorship of them as researchers and co-creators of knowledge. One student writes, “I was able to design my own research project from start to finish. Dave respected my thoughts and ideas and was committed to helping me grow as a researcher. I felt like a true researcher, not just a research assistant. Dave is a mentor I know I can always rely on.” This respect is confirmed by a second former student, “I enjoyed working with Dr. Sobel because he’s so dedicated to doing great science and pushed me to think critically. He also took my ideas very seriously even though I was a relatively young researcher, which encouraged me to continue pursuing research in graduate school.”

As with most of academia this year, COVID-19 changed the nature of many engaged scholarly pursuits. Dr. Sobel and his team, however, maintained their commitment to engaging with community, “In 2020, when PCM was forced to close, we partnered with PCM staff members and other museum professionals to create an educational activity centered on the importance of handwashing for disease prevention. Using remote methods, and funded by a grant from NSF, our team is now studying how parents and children interact during this activity in their homes, just like we would study how parents and children play together at the museum. We are looking at how this interaction relates to children's handwashing behaviors. And, as part of our outreach, the lab has partnered with the museum to help with their Fiction Fridays program. Students and staff in my lab lead a story time over Zoom. They read children’s books and go through short demonstrations, while also promoting the importance of developmental science.”

Howard R. Swearer Engaged Faculty Award for Teaching
Catherine Trimbur ‘03, MPH, MD and Rahul Vanjani, MD
Community Partner: House of Hope CDC

Pictured: Dr. Rahul Vanjani (second from left) receiving Heart of Hope Award

Pictured: Rahul Vanjani (second from left) receiving 2019 Heart of Hope Award.

This year, for the first time, the selection committee chose joint nominees for the engaged teaching award. Dr. Trimbur and Dr. Vanjani are nominated by students in the Warren Alpert Medical School (AMS) for their contributions to engaged pedagogy. Among the many strengths of their work, the committee noted the range of community-engaged courses Dr. Vanjani and Dr. Trimbur offer, covering such subjects as: incarceration, race, disability, substance use, and homelessness. These courses contribute not only to the students enrolled in them, but have a wider impact on the curriculum of AMS as noted by a nominator, “Catherine and Rahul also work with HoH to oversee the Social Medicine elective, a four-week clinical elective for medical students that centers on the Housing Assistance Collaborative model. Catherine also serves as course co-leader for the Psychosocial Aspects of Care, a longitudinal curriculum for Brown primary care residents emphasizing social determinants and community health. The curriculum includes an experiential component allowing residents to do outreach with HoH.” Their institution-building efforts continue beyond the curriculum as well, establishing both a Transitions Clinic and Recovery Clinic, their colleague notes, “Both clinics incorporate multidisciplinary team members, most notably community health workers who share the experiences of their patients in the respective clinics. In these two clinics, residents learn from Dr. Vanjani and Dr. Trimbur how to care for people with a history of incarceration and/or substance use with skill and compassion.” They have also created a Community Health Worker Initiative within the hospital system and worked with students on the construction of Docs for Health (a provider advocacy website). The attention given to serving vulnerable populations or those who may feel unwelcome in institutional settings, has provided hands-on experience for medical students engaging with community members. This pedagogy is epitomized by the creation of “street medicine” teams that bring together staff from across the hospital, case managers, and medical students to deliver patient care that meets the community where they are most needed.

These efforts at and training in engaging with the community proved vital with the advent of COVID-19, as their nomination letter states, “People experiencing homelessness are particularly vulnerable to COVID19 and often have no safe place to isolate when infected. Working with the RI Department of Health, Rahul, Catherine, HoH, and other community partners created an innovative isolation facility in a former hotel.” Social services were integrated into the infrastructure of this facility, giving the dozens of medical students working alongside Vanjani and Trimbur an engaged training experience in understanding the social determinants of health.  As a community partner explains, “it was clear that Dr. Vanjani and Dr. Trimbur were collaborative partners, focused on coordinating with the state to mobilize resources to have the greatest impact for the homeless community while simultaneously educating and mentoring countless Brown University medical students and residents in community-based care.”

Dr. Trimbur and Dr. Vanjani are exemplars of the possibilities of community-engaged teaching and learning to have broad and deep impact. The importance of their work is summed up by their colleague who writes,  “Together, they have made significant contributions to improve the health of our community through advocacy and community service and have trained the next generation of community-engaged clinicians through their ongoing education and collaboration with medical students and residents.”

Read more about past recipients of the Engaged Faculty Awards here: 2019 recipients & 2020 recipients.