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Engaged Scholars Institute
The goal of the ESI is to create a cohort of community engaged scholars who provide guidance, support, resource development and increase best practice participation in their respective colleges in order to advance scholarship, promotion and tenure support, and overall community engaged practices at WVU.
Meet our Engaged Scholars 2023 Cohort
Assistant Director, WVU Cancer Institute's Cancer Prevention and Control
Amy Allen is an Assistant Director with WVU Cancer Institute’s Cancer Prevention and Control and has spent 20+ years engaging West Virginia communities in outreach, education, and community-based research. Working among several Cancer Prevention and Control programs spanning mobile cancer screening, health communications, and healthcare provider/public education, Amy consistently seeks out new partnerships and technologies to address cancer health disparities in rural Appalachia. Current research partnerships focus on messaging to promote cancer screening, breath-based biomarker testing for lung cancer, and the dissemination of evidence-based practices and research findings. Her educational background includes a Master of Science in Community Health Education, a Master of Arts in Sociology, and Graduate Certificates in Health Care Administration and Digital Marketing Communications.
Director of Design and Community Development
Professor, Landscape Architecture Extension Specialist
Peter Butler joined the WVU faculty in 2008. Prior to coming to Morgantown, Butler obtained his bachelor of arts in English and creative writing from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in landscape architecture from Iowa State University. His research interests include cultural landscape research and planning; community design process; industrial landscape reclamation and interpretation; and design studio pedagogy. His research projects include cultural landscape inventory, analysis and treatment; visualization; brownfields reclamation; land use planning; historic transportation corridor planning; and participatory design methods.
Assistant Professor, Department of English
Erin Brock Carlson is an assistant professor in the Department of English, where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Writing Studies, including technical and professional writing. Community engaged scholarship and teaching is central to her work at WVU given her commitment to honoring the knowledge of rural community members across our state and region. Erin’s research centers the relationships between place, technology, and power, focusing on how communities work together to address complex public problems through communication and community organizing. She is currently working with Tamarack Foundation for the Arts on a statewide cultural equity research project and has worked with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition and the Highlander Center on participatory research in the past. In her courses, she has partnered with a range of area organizations, including Girls on the Run of North Central West Virginia and the West Virginia and Regional History Center. Erin earned her Ph.D. in Rhetoric and Composition from Purdue University, her M.A. from Miami University, and her B.A. from Transylvania University.
Ph.D. Student, Communication Studies
Rebekah M. Chiasson is a second-year Ph.D. student of Communication Studies at WVU. Her teaching experience includes instructing and acting as course coordinator for the Fundamentals of Group Communication service-learning course. She has managed service-learning opportunities for nearly 200 students per semester during the last two academic years. In the service-learning course, students work in groups to complete ten individual service hours with various community partners throughout Monongalia County. Students apply course concepts in hands-on experiences with their community partners and develop an appreciation for making a positive difference in their community. Her students' growth in group communication skills and commitment to bettering their community is a constant inspiration to Rebekah. Rebekah received her master's degree at Northern Illinois University. Her research includes instructional and interpersonal communication. She focuses on communicative behaviors teachers can employ to inspire student motivation and achievement, as well as supportive messages and conflict in personal relationships. Rebekah's service-learning COMM 112 course worked with 21 community partners during the Fall 2022 semester.
Assistant Professor, School of Public Health
Elizabeth Claydon is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Social & Behavioral Sciences, where she teaches a variety of undergraduate and graduate level courses. She received a dual BA in Child Development and Medicine, Health, and Society from Vanderbilt, which started her interest in public health. She then pursued an MPH and Master of Science at Yale, focusing her research on obesity and eating disorder prevention. Dr. Claydon received her Doctorate in Social and Behavioral Sciences from West Virginia University in May 2018. Her dissertation work focused on preventing the intergenerational transmission of eating disorders and dieting behavior, in both community and clinical populations. Dr. Claydon’s research also involved a qualitative piece on the intersection between pregnancy and eating disorders. She is continuing this research agenda by educating health care professionals about eating disorders and weight stigma. Dr. Claydon is also starting to research the intersection between intimate partner violence and eating disorders. For service, Dr. Claydon acts as the Faculty Advisor for the Gamma Mu Chapter of the Delta Omega Honorary Public Health Society and is a member of the West Virginia University Council for Women’s Concerns. Elizabeth Claydon's PUBH 352 and PUBH 621 classes have earned the S-designation and are official WVU service-learning classes.
Associate Professor, Reed College of Media
Rita Colistra is an associate professor of advertising and public relations at WVU’s Reed College of Media. She is also the founder and director of BrandJRNY, a grant-funded community branding initiative that serves rural West Virginia communities. Colistra’s research focuses on media sociology and theory from a public-interest perspective, community and audience engagement, and tourism and place branding. She has conducted extensive community-engaged research with West Virginia communities. Taking a multi-method approach, her work has focused on residents as well as regional and national audiences. Her applied and theoretical research has informed place-branding campaigns that have boosted tourism and economic development in partner regions, significantly increased community engagement, and expanded the knowledge base and enhanced understanding of these areas in academia. Her research also has guided advocacy work for organizations, leading to increased funding and participation and enhanced recognition and support among key stakeholders. Colistra’s focus on and passion for community informs all areas of her work. Her people-first, solutions-oriented approach to community engagement and scholarship has guided research-based strategies and campaigns to help address challenges and elevate opportunities in partner communities. Her process centers on authentic storytelling and representation of people and place and building and maintaining meaningful community relationships. Through this work, she equips communities with the knowledge, foundation and tools to allow for sustainable implementation and lasting positive impact. An award-winning professor, scholar and practitioner, Colistra has obtained nearly $450,000 in funding for research-based community branding and engagement projects and strategic communications work. She has partnered with students and professionals to develop nearly 20 campaigns for communities and organizations in West Virginia. She and her teams have won over 30 Crystal Awards and Honorable Mentions from the PRSA-WV Chapter and several national and regional awards for campaigns and research. Colistra has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including state Public Relations Practitioner of the Year; state Public Relations Educator of the Year; college Faculty Research Award; college Golden Quill Teaching Award; national Promising Professor Award; national PR SuPRstar Award for Professional Freedom & Responsibility; university Faculty Excellence in Civic Engagement Award; and Caveney Faculty Excellence Award, which honors WVU faculty for productivity in all three academic pillars—research, teaching and service. Rita Colistra earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from West Virginia University and her Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a Roy H. Park Fellow.
Associate Professor and WVU Extension Specialist
Daniel Eades has significant experience in applied, community-based economic research, and has worked for the past 12 years as an Associate Professor and West Virginia University Extension Service Specialist in the areas of rural economics and rural development. He views community engaged scholarship as the heart of the Extension Service mission – an opportunity to share best practices and expertise from the university in ways that empower residents and build capacity, and an opportunity to learn from and with residents who are working daily to address the challenges impacting West Virginia’s rural communities. Daniel’s teaching and outreach activities engage government and community leaders in the process of data driven economic development decision making and support a breadth of community and economic development initiatives focused on local planning and place making. His research interests include rural and regional development economics, the community development process and community vitality, and community data analysis. Daniel grew up in Beckley, WV. He received his B.S. degree in Environmental Studies, Natural Resource Management from Shepherd University and a Master's in Agricultural and Resource Economics from WVU. He is completing his doctorate in Human and Community Development at WVU. Before accepting his current position, he worked as a research associate in Clemson University’s EDA University Center and Regional Economic Development Research Laboratory (REDRL).
Director of Undergraduate Studies, WVU School of Public Health
Audra Hamrick is the Director of Undergraduate Studies with the WVU School of Public Health and a Service Assistant Professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences. Audra joined the School in 2018 as the Director of Public Health Practice and Service Learning. In that role, she coordinated experiential learning opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students, working closely with public health agencies and community organizations to identify needs and ways to help meet those needs. Prior to joining WVU, Audra worked as a professional school counselor and in residential treatment for adolescents. She continues to work closely with the WV Center for Children’s Justice to provide training and support to school systems and stakeholders. Audra is personally invested in the community through her service as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA). In this role she advocates for the best interests of children who have experienced abuse and neglect. Audra’s efforts center on preventing and mitigating the effects of adverse childhood experiences. Her personal service allows her to also detect opportunities for the university to partner and develop mutually beneficial outreach. Audra earned a B.S. in Behavioral Science from Glenville State College and an M.A. in Counseling from WVU. She is currently pursuing a Graduate Certificate in Community Development Policy and Practice. Ms. Hamrick is a National Certified and Licensed Professional Counselor and a member of the University’s Student Success Committee, Prevention Committee, Health Sciences Interprofessional Education Steering Committee, and Faculty Senate.
Business Advisor for the LaunchLab
As an Advisor, Anne shares her business knowledge with students as well as members of the West Virginia Community by providing coaching, access to resources, and networking. She has a BA from St. Lawrence University, MA from the University of Massachusetts, and an MBA from Cranfield School of Management, UK. She has worked in new product development at Citigroup and served as an Assistant Dean at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Management. Anne was Executive Director of Economic Development for Tucker County, WV, and Business Advisor for the Mon Forest Business Initiative.
Assistant Professor in Exercise Physiology
Miriam Leary is an assistant professor and the assistant chair in the division of exercise physiology. She received a BS in Exercise Biology from the University of California Davis, a MS in Exercise Physiology from West Virginia University, a PhD in Exercise Science from the University of Texas at Austin, and completed a post-doctoral fellowship in the department of human nutrition and foods at West Virginia University. Much of her focus is on student success including the first-year experience, advising at-risk students, and academic support for all undergraduates. One of her leading areas of interest is in community engaged experiential learning through which she has created programming for undergraduate and graduate students to promote health through physical activity. She has established a productive research agenda in discipline-specific education research of exercise physiology students with a particular focus on experiential and service-learning opportunities in community-based exercise training. She has received internal funding to develop and implement community-engagement projects providing exercise training to community dwelling adults. Miriam serves as a faculty representative for the Faculty Advisory Committee at the WVU Center for Community Engagement as well as the Teaching and Learning Commons Faculty Associate for Student Success. She received the Excellence in Community Engagement award for Service-Learning Instruction in 2020.
Assistant Professor, Coordinator of the Higher Education Administration Program
Erin McHenry-Sorber is the coordinator of the Higher Education Administration program. McHenry-Sorber has been an assistant professor in the program since 2014. Prior to coming to WVU, she worked as an assistant professor at Wilkes University. Her research centers on the internal and external structures and contexts that influence rural schools and communities and their relationships. She has authored papers in the Peabody Journal of Education, the International Journal of Inclusive Education, the Journal of Rural Social Sciences, and Leadership and Policy in Schools. The former publications focus on rural school-community conflict and the politicization of rural community identity. The latter publications investigate the gendered risks and opportunities in Marcellus Shale gas boomtowns and the experiences of rural school leaders in a Marcellus Shale community. Erin McHenry-Sorber has presented at numerous conferences, including the annual meetings of the National Rural Education Association (NREA) and the American Educational Research Association. She won the NREA Howard A. Dawson Best Research Paper Award in 2016. She serves as a consulting editor for the Journal of Research in Rural Education, as chairperson of the advisory board for The Rural Educator, and as a member of the NREA Higher Education/Research Committee. Her courses include Higher Education Curriculum/Reform, Diversity Issues in Higher Education, Higher Education Policy and Politics, Leadership and Organizations, Women and Gender Issues in Higher Education, and Qualitative Research Methods. She obtained a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from the Pennsylvania State University, a M.Ed. from Harvard University in Administration, Planning, and Social Policy, and a B.S. Ed. From Bucknell University in Secondary Education and English. Prior to working in higher education, Erin taught high school English and middle school reading and worked as a school district grant writer.
Assistant Professor, Environmental Engineering
After obtaining a B.S. in Civil and Environmental Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he served for two years as a Water and Sanitation Engineer in the Peace Corps in Panama. Kevin completed his M.S. in Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of South Florida, is an E.I.T. with engineering consulting experience, and was awarded a Fulbright Research Grant to study the recovery of nutrients and energy in Costa Rica. He received a PhD in Environmental Engineering from the University of South Florida in Tampa in 2019, where he studied nutrient and energy recovery from centralized wastewater treatment plants. From 2019-2021, Kevin was a postdoctoral researcher in Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley. Kevin's CE493A and CE593C Sustainable Development Engineering courses have earned the S-designation and are official WVU service-learning courses.
Pd.D. Candidate, Human & Community Development Program
Toni Owens is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Human & Community Development program, who was born and raised in Kansas City, and she currently serves as a Founding Advisory Member for WVU’s Faculty Justice Network. She has a B.S. in Social Sciences with a minor in American Ethnic Studies and a B.S. in Social Work from Kansas State University and a Master of Social Work degree from Park University. Toni is a licensed social worker and instructor with work experience in multicultural student affairs and diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. She has been teaching on the collegiate level since 2020 and completed her certificate in University Teaching in 2021. Her motivation for community engaged scholarship comes from her extensive history of community service and activism, as well as her desire to use research to assist with addressing community issues. Toni is currently a member of the Kansas City Association of Black Social Workers, the K-State Social Work Community Advisory Committee, NAACP, ACLU and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. She has been selected to be a Diversity Dissertation Fellow at Middle Tennessee State University, where she will teach one class a semester in the Department of Social Work for the 2023-2024 academic year, while completing her dissertation. After Toni completes her Ph.D. program, she plans to transition into a full-time career that will combine her passions for higher education, social work, and community development. She is a committed advocate that personally and professionally promotes mental/emotional wellness and social justice for all.
L. Chris Plein
Professor, Public Administration
L. Christopher Plein is a Professor of Public Administration and Eberly Professor of Outstanding Public Service at West Virginia University. He served as chair of the Department of Public Administration from 2004 until 2011 and also served as an Assistant and Associate Dean for West Virginia University’s Eberly College of Arts & Sciences from 2005 to 2013. He also holds an appointment as adjunct specialist in community and family development with the West Virginia University Extension Service. Christopher Plein’s area of research specialty is public policy formation and implementation. His research concentrates on social and health policy; rural development and community transition; and higher education outreach and engagement. He has recently published in such journals as the Journal of Extension , Social Science Quarterly , and the Journal of Applied Social Science . Chris also studies public administration and policy in West Virginia. He is co-author of Welfare Reform in West Virginia (West Virginia University Press 2004) and West Virginia Politics and Government (University of Nebraska Press, 2008). Christopher Plein has taught courses across the MPA curriculum, and currently teaches classes relating to healthcare administration, administrative justice and ethics, and the student capstone experience. He has also taught courses in WVU’s social work and leadership studies programs. He is active in the public administration teaching community and regularly serves as a site visitor in accreditation reviews and as a presenter at professional conferences. Chris has been active in service to the West Virginia and its communities. He has served as a citizen member of the West Virginia Legislature’s Legislative Intern Committee; served as a gubernatorial appointee to West Virginia’s high risk insurance program; and has assisted policymakers in both the executive and legislative branches with various policy and program studies. He has served on the boards of non-profit organizations, and currently is on the Board of Directors for the Allegheny Highlands Chapter of the American Red Cross.
Jennifer Ripley Stueckle
Teaching Professor, Department of Biology
Jennifer Ripley Stueckle's research primarily focuses on the reproductive physiology of fishes and the influence of environmental factors, particularly endocrine disruptors, on parental investment, embryonic development and behavior. She prefers to integrate techniques from several fields including, but not limited to, field observations and collections, molecular and cellular biology, physiology, and behavior. Recent projects have utilized pipefishes of the family Syngnathidae (seahorses, sea dragons, and pipefish). Males of this family possess a placenta-like brood pouch in which eggs are fertilized and held for approximately two weeks or until free-swimming fry are released. Jennifer's BIOL 454 course has earned the S-designation and is an official WVU service-learning course.
Clinical Associate Professor, School of Nursing
Angel Smothers was born and raised in a small rural coal camp community in southern West Virginia, where poverty is high and access to healthcare continues to be a significant issue. The proximity and shared values and beliefs of Appalachian community-based nurses place them in a unique position to support the health-related needs of the community members. Angel Smothers is a Clinical Associate Professor at West Virginia University (WVU). She is nationally board certified as a family nurse practitioner, faith community nurse, and hospice and palliative care nurse. She is also board certified as a clinical nurse educator (CNEcl). Dr. Smothers is also board certified in evidence based practice. She was the recipient of the WVU Undergraduate Research Mentoring Award in 2022 and has been nominated for the 2023 WVU Heebink award for service to the state of West Virginia. In 2021, she received the WVU Provost Office Research MVP award. In 2019, Dr. Smothers received the Future of Nursing WV Action Coalition leadership award. In 2018, she received the WVU School of Nursing Dean’s Spirit award. In 2013, Dr. Smothers was the recipient of the Future of HPNA Leadership award. She has worked in the area of faith community nursing for a decade, has taught at the university level for the past 19 years, and has been a nurse for 24 years. Over the past 7 years, Dr. Smothers has provided training for faith community nurses across West Virginia using the national Foundations of Faith Community Nursing curriculum through the Westberg Institute. Dr. Smothers has worked with nurses in rural communities across West Virginia as they seek to build faith community nursing roles within the communities of faith they serve. In addition, Dr. Smothers has forged collaborative connections with faith communities throughout counties in southern West Virginia. Dr. Smothers completed her undergraduate nursing education in rural WV and continued to maintain connections with the nursing faculty in this area of the state. In addition, Dr. Smothers has worked in a federally funded clinic in rural WV as a nurse practitioner. Her dedication to the nursing profession extends to education by teaching various nursing courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels in West Virginia for over 19 years. Dr. Smothers has expanded nursing education by taking nursing students to rural areas to complete their undergraduate capstones within a faith community. She is actively involved with national organizations including the following: HPNA (Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association), AANP (American Association of Nurse Practitioners), National Health Ministry Association, American Nurses Association (ANA), WV Nurses Association (WVNA), National Nursing Christian Fellowship, and Spiritual Care Association.
Professor, Public Administration
Margaret Stout is a Professor of Public Administration, having joined the WVU faculty in 2009 after receiving her Ph.D. in Public Administration in 2007 from Arizona State University and teaching for two years at Bridgewater State College (now University) in Massachusetts. Her published research can be found in many books and leading journals in public administration and related fields. She enjoyed a career in community development spanning over twenty years. Learning the skills of mobilizing and organizing cross-sector collaborations for participatory strategic planning through the Arizona Strategic Partnership for Economic Development, Margaret applied those approaches in her own community. This led to creating the Northwest Tempe Neighborhoods Community Development Corporation, or NewTowN CDC. Its mission was to create a sustainable urban village in the heart of the Phoenix metropolitan area. Throughout her doctoral studies, Margaret consulted with other nonprofits in community development, providing planning, organizational development, program and project design and evaluation (logic model approach), resource development, and contract management. As a faculty member, Margaret continues her passion for community development through integrated action research and service-learning with her graduate students. She is the Program Coordinator for a Master of Public Administration Area of Emphasis in Local Governance & Community Development and a Graduate Certificate in Community Development Policy & Practice. She employs a unique apprenticeship-style pedagogical approach that was recognized by the Eberly College Outstanding Public Service Award (2016), the CSL’s Faculty Excellence in Civic Engagement Award (2017), and the Community Development Society’s Outstanding Educator Award (2017).
Extension Agent - Agriculture & Natural Resources
Betsy has a strong desire to give back to the state she calls home and feels this position is a perfect way for her to share her passion and expertise in agriculture. She has been busy meeting people in the community and taking part in events, including her first Mon County Fair and State Fair of West Virginia over the summer. She notes that listening to people and hearing what they are interested in helps her define programs and activities to meet those needs.
Teaching Associate Professor, John Chambers College of Business and Economics
As a Teaching Associate Professor at WVU John Chambers College of Business and Economics, Li worked with students closely in and outside the classroom. She is a firm believer in “learning by doing” and passionate about enabling students to engage in experiential learning opportunities to develop and achieve their academic and professional interests. Li also serves as the Director of Business Honors Program at Chambers College, preparing high-achieving students to become the next generation of global business leaders. Li encourages and challenges them to take on leadership roles and make positive impact to local non-profit and/or business communities and beyond. Every Fall semester, students in her Honors sections of BCOR 199 Intro to Business work with 15+ community partners on service-learning projects and generate impact value of $15,000+. Projects range from raising awareness of social issues, developing marketing materials, running social media campaigns, to hosting fundraising events. Students apply the knowledge and skills of various business functions to support non-profit community partners through these real-world projects. Li's Honors BCOR 199 course has earned the S-designation and is an official WVU service-learning course.
Associate Professor, Geography
Director, WVU Center for Resilient Communities
Bradley Wilson is a broadly trained human geographer. His research is rooted in fields such as community economies, agrarian studies, political ecology, post-colonial theory, and rural development. For 20 years he has focused on the response of communities to regional economic crises - in coffee and coal country - and the central role of solidarity, mutual aid, grassroots initiatives and social movements in forging alternative rural development pathways in those regions. Methodologically he practices critical ethnography but in recent years have more fully embraced his identity as a participatory action researcher - working in teams to accompany community partners as they work for social change. With his students, he has established a robust action research program and experiments focused on cooperative economics, food justice, food system development, community health and environmental justice in West Virginia and Appalachia which is now housed in the WVU Center for Resilient Communities. In recent years he has been thinking about pragmatist pedagogies and how to practice community geographies.
Head, Research Services, University Librarian
Alyssa Wright is the Associate Librarian for the Social Sciences at West Virginia University. She has a MA in Communication Studies and an MLIS from the University of Iowa. She is certified by Foundation Center as an expert funding researcher and trainer. She teaches courses in information literacy and grant seeking. Her previous teaching experience includes courses in communication, writing, rhetoric, and public speaking at the university level.