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Associate Professor and GCSW Alum Awarded Collaborative Grant

 

sheara-stagg2021

August 26, 2021

(HOUSTON, TX) - The Administration for Children, Youth, and Families has jointly awarded Associate Professor Sheara Jennings to continue her partnership with Change Happens, where Alum Helen Stagg (MSW '02) serves as CEO.

For two years, Dr. Sheara Jennings will serve as Co-Investigator of Change Happens' new program, Teen Making a Choice (TMAC) to Prevent Pregnancy, with an award of $99,000. 

We spoke with Dr. Sheara Jennings and Ms. Helen Stagg about what this collaboration means for both organizations and how it can serve as a model for future community endeavors for the university.

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Name: Dr. Sheara Jennings
Pronouns:
she/her

What are some of the goals you hope to accomplish within the next two years with the funding you received? 

My role in this project is to help evaluate the Teens Making a Choice (TMAC) to Prevent Pregnancy program delivered by Change Happens. They are using an evidence-based curriculum as the core component of the TMAC program. Ultimately, my goal is to document the extraordinary work and demonstrate how TMAC helps youth and their families. 

Most importantly, we want to determine whether the evidence-based curriculum effectively prevents teen pregnancy among the youth served.  

The GCSW has a great connection with the Change Happens. Our alum Helen Stagg (MSW ’02), serves as CEO of the organization. What things do you believe tie the two organizations together in what they both hope to achieve with this grant 

The grant value is approximately $1 million over the next two years. A portion of that budget is designated for the evaluation. I am the Co-Principal Investigator on the assessment in partnership with Dr. Jeffrey Guidry, who brings a wealth of experience from the public health field. Ms. Stagg (GCSW MSW ’02), Dr. Guidry, and I have worked together for 10+ years on teen pregnancy prevention projects. What ties us together is our commitment to the communities served by Change Happens. We want the work we do to lead to positive outcomes for youth to have opportunities to realize their potential.

Being the recipient of a grant is crucial to the development of research. This grant is unique in that it ties the research and implementation portions together. Why is it essential to have an organization like Change Happens involved and included?

I could not do this kind of work without Change Happens! 

The organization has a track record of more than 30 years in the community. Through its hard work, commitment, and consistency, Change Happens has proven its trustworthiness. If the community doesn’t know you or trust you, you will not be able to do the work you desire to do. Our partnership is an excellent example of how a university and a community-based organization can work together to benefit the community. We respect each other’s roles in the process. Ms. Stagg values research and evidence-based practices, which allows me to be both an evaluator and a scholar.

Life has drastically changed in the year and a half we all have been living with COVID-19. What are some challenges you believe have become more acute due to the pandemic?

In my opinion, the pandemic has complicated and exacerbated just about every social issue in the U.S. It has exposed disparities in health, education, SES, and employment, to name a few. The science associated with COVID-19 has been colluded with racism, politics, medical distrust, self-determination, and human rights, resulting in inequities, suffering, divisiveness, and death, unfortunately.  

How do you believe the work you and Change Happens will help promote the GCSW’s mission of achieving social justice?

What is new about this project, compared to my current and previous partnerships with Change Happens, is the fact that they have extended the service area from urban-only Harris county to two rural counties. Bringing this service to rural counties where such services are limited or non-existence will help promote the GCSW’s mission of achieving social justice through a health equity lens.

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Name: Helen Stagg 
Graduation Year from the GCSW: MSW '02 

What are some of the goals you hope to accomplish within the next two years with the funding you received? 

Goals for the funding include 1) to educate adolescents on teen pregnancy prevention and prevention of sexually transmitted infections (STIs); 2) to provide medically accurate, age-appropriate programming that is inclusive and culturally appropriate; (3) to use best practices to replicate evidence-based programs that are proven to change behaviors; and (4) to focus prevention activities on high-risk adolescent populations that are disproportionately affected by teen pregnancy.

The GCSW has a great connection with the Change Happens, especially with you being an Alum. What things do you believe tie the two organizations together in what they both hope to achieve with this grant?

Yes, Change Happens has a very long history with the University of Houston and the GCSW. Some of the things that tie the two organizations together in what we both hope to achieve with this grant are that higher education institutions are place-based anchors and should have a vested interest in building strong relationships with communities surrounding their campuses. Additionally, we hope to understand and better focus on higher education's many resources – from academic programs and research to business practices. Universities can improve their core academic work by giving students and faculty real-world experience, informing both research and teaching. Moreover, Change Happens believes in building connections between community-based learning models and educational programs. Learning collaboratively within the community will help to promote a better understanding of social justice issues for all.

Being the recipient of a grant is crucial to the development of research. This grant is unique in that it ties the research and implementation portions together. Why is it essential to have an organization like Change Happens involved and included in research development? 

Community-based research is essential and can contribute significantly to the field of research. It provides a real-world experience influenced by social, economic, cultural, gender, and other factors. Additionally, it more clearly helps to highlight the inequities and social justice issues embedded in our community and society.

Community-based research can help build on strengths and relationships in the community and build partnerships needed to address communal concerns. Moreover, the building of community relationships can help in economic community development in general. Furthermore, the community creates a relationship of trust with the academic institution that will help advance the educational achievement and aspirations of young people attending local schools. 

Life has drastically changed in the year and a half we all have been living with COVID-19. From your professional experience, what are some challenges you believe have become more acute?

This pandemic and economic crisis upended everything around us. It is natural to wish for life to get back to normal. 

But as President Obama reminded us, for millions of Americans, being treated differently on account of race is tragically typical – whether it's in the systems that perpetuate juvenile lock up, to disparities in education, or discrepancies in childhood development. However, this is also a time of opportunity – a time for vigorous and positive action to bring about real change and liberation within individuals, families, systems, and communities now.  

The GCSW's vision is to achieve social justice at every level of society. How do you think this grant and project will help achieve this from your organization's perspective?

I believe that this research can help to lead the way in re-imaging research to better account for culturally diverse populations, to imagine a community where every child has fair and just opportunities.