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Community Engaged Learning and Scholarship 2024 faculty award winners

Community Engaged Learning and Scholarship is thrilled to announce this year’s Faculty Award Winners. We offer congratulations and gratitude for their incredible service to University of Utah students and Utah communities.

The Public Service Professor Award is designed to help a faculty member strengthen community-engaged learning experiences and foster stronger partnerships with the local community. This year’s Public Service Professor is Akiko Kamimura, Associate Professor of Sociology in the College of Social and Behavioral Science. Professor Kamimura has extensive experience in community-based research. For her Public Service Professor project, Kamimura will be working with Understanding Us – a grassroots (501) (c) non-profit organization that provides Tai Chi and physical activity programs to persons experiencing homelessness (PEH) in Salt Lake City. The Tai Chi sessions are lead by individuals who are currently experiencing homelessness or have experienced homelessness in the past. Together Kamimura, her research team and students, and Understanding Us will evaluate the effectiveness of the Tai Chi program for PEH’s physical, mental, and social well-being. Results of the research will be used to inform revisions to the program and implementation of interventions that improve cognitive function, decrease stress, and promote confidence in people who are dealing with a number of mental health issues such as severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorders.

The Distinguished Faculty Service Award honors faculty members who have demonstrated sustained commitment to the campus-community connection through a life of active, unpaid community service and the integration of service with research and teaching. This year two exceptional faculty members will be honored with the 2024 Distinguished Faculty Service Award: Randy L. Dryer, Presidential Honors Professor (Lecturer) in the S.J. Quinney College of Law and Honors College, and Teresa Molina Avella, Assistant Professor (Lecturer) in the College of Social Work and Associate Director at University Neighborhood Partners.

Randy L. Dryer’s service both on and off campus is a testament to his lifelong commitment to community engagement. His volunteer community service has focused on government transparency and addressing the unmet legal needs of underserved persons. Professor Dryer established and personally recruited five law firms to participate in a pro bono legal program to help the Salt Lake Tribune with requesting and litigating records requests made pursuant to the Utah Government Records Access Management Act. This program has enabled the Tribune to obtain information about how our government operates, how our tax monies are spent, and to hold elected officials accountable for their actions. He was the inaugural chair of the Utah State Courts Forms Committee, which is charged with developing forms that the rapidly growing number of self-represented parties can use to better navigate the judicial process. He brought this deep experience to his Praxis Lab Honors courses where students drafted policies for transparency and developed mini-courses to educate other students on topics such as big data and the dangers of misinformation. Prior to these engagements, he was an integral part of the Board of Directors and Management Committee of the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympic Organizing Committee (1995-2002), chaired the Utah Sports Authority (1990-1999), and chaired the Utah Athletic Foundation (2002-2006). Professor Dryer truly shines in his service to the campus community. Prior to receiving his full-time faculty appointment, he served a combined total of 15 years as a member of the University’s Board of Trustees, six as chair or vice chair. After becoming a full-time professor in 2011, Professor Dryer served in several administrative and leadership roles at the University, including President of the University Academic Senate, Acting Dean of the Honors College, and President of the Board of Advisors of the Museum of Natural History of Utah. Professor Dryer’s service has had a profound impact both on campus and in our greater community.

Isabel Teresa Molina Avella’s long-term presence in the community has established trusting relationships with diverse partners to find creative solutions to existing challenges. In 2011, with an awareness of the unmet mental health needs in the Latinx community, Molina, Jacqueline Gomez-Arias, and a small group of dedicated volunteers started a peer-to-peer support program. In 2013, Molina expanded the resident-led partnership and with the support of the University of Utah, founded Latino Behavioral Health Services (LBHS) with a mission to “enhance the mental health awareness and well-being of people with mental illness.” LBHS now has four offices, 15 part-time or full-time staff, and works in partnerships with organizations like the College of Social Work, University Neighborhood Partners, and Utah Support Advocates for Recovery Awareness (USARA). From founding partner to board member, researcher and student mentor, Molina continues her service with LBHS and has been at the forefront of an effort to shift the mental health paradigm from one that diagnoses and treats individual with mental illness, to one that promotes recovery and wellbeing. Professor Molina’s scholarship is located within a community-based participatory action framework (CBPR) and is focused on Latinx mental health, how mental health is understood across diverse communities of immigrant and refugee backgrounds, and how organizational processes can be changed to improve access for individuals accessing services Molina has also been engaged with university-community global partnerships. She is one of the founding faculty members of Bridging Borders (BB), a global collective of educators, students and community partners working to create vital networks that lead to innovative opportunities and pathways in education for communities living at or working with those at the margins. One of those opportunities is the Case Management Certificate (CMC) which is a 9-month education program resulting in a university certificate. For her lifelong work as a brige builder, we honor Professor Molina with the Distinguished Faculty Service Award.