Research & Community Engagement


Community Engagement

Community engagement means studying the problems that matter to members of a community and providing services to those organizations in a variety of forms. Faculty, graduate students and undergraduate students in our department are committed to the goals of community engaged research, teaching, and service.

In terms of research, this means that we work closely with organizations to determine their needs so that we can help generate research on topics that matter to them. Our department was among the first at USF to create its own “Community Engagement Committee” and to formulate long-term agreements with local community organizations such as the Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association. This particular relationship has led to several research projects, resulting in two MA theses and several conference paper presentations. In conjunction with the undergraduate Sociology/Interdisciplinary Social Sciences club that is based in our department, we have organized volunteer days when we go out to the organization’s site in Tampa Heights and help with painting, gardening, tutoring, or whatever services the organization currently needs.

Beyond this particular organization, many faculty and graduate students have pursued research of relevance to individuals and their communities, some of which are local and some very far away. For example, community engaged faculty research projects include:

  • Dr. Beatriz Padilla studies the global refugee crisis in an effort to create more sustainable lives for refugees.

  • Dr. Sara Green has conducted research to improve accessibility for people with disabilities within the city of Dunedin, Florida.

  • Dr. Elizabeth Aranda works with Florida Immigrant Coalition and Faith in Florida to collaborate on research that uplifts the communities of immigrants they serve.

  • Dr. Kusenbach works with Tampa Bay community organizations and emergency managers to better understand, and remove, barriers to hurricane preparation and evacuation among marginalized social groups.

  • Dr. Will Tyson works with local community colleges to provide research regarding effective pathways for students into STEM fields.

  • Dr. Elizabeth Hordge-Freeman has created successful study abroad programs to Brazil in which the emphasis is often on human trafficking.

  • Dr. Sara Crawley works with organizations in Ukraine to improve the human rights for anyone whose sexuality might be deemed non-heteronormative.

  • Dr. Laurel Graham and Dr. Jennifer Friedman provide research to a local community recreation center to assist in improving nutritional programs.

  • Dr. James Cavendish has worked with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to conduct research that contributes toward greater racial inclusiveness in the Church and society. He also shares research with the Racial Justice Committee of the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg.

Graduate students are also involved in an ever widening array of community engaged research projects. Please visit their individual pages on this website to learn more about their research projects.

Several of our faculty are also involved in the joint university-community Food Sovereignty Initiative, which aims to support, encourage, and advance interdisciplinary research and action on urban food sovereignty: the right of persons in urban ecosystems to define their own food and agriculture policies and practices, and to produce healthy and culturally appropriate food through their own means using ecologically sound and sustainable methods, independent of industrial food systems.

The members of our department are firm believers in the idea that the “local” and the “global” are connected more closely than people realize, and we are committed to a sociology that engages with those communities and individuals that can benefit from its insights. This applies not only to research, but also to the courses we offer as well. Community engagement is available in more and more courses in Sociology and ISS, as are study abroad opportunities and undergraduate, community-engaged research experiences.

Those wishing to learn more about the research and community engagement of our faculty and graduate students may wish to read our most recent news and newsletters.