A team of researchers from the University of South Florida has received a $1.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to help build more equitable communities. The award, which also includes researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, will fund a project to establish practices to improve civil and environmental engineering curriculum by providing students with training that focuses on equitable development of critical infrastructures.
The project focuses on the East Tampa Community Redevelopment Area – home to 38,000 residents and many historic African American neighborhoods. USF will be partnering with East Tampa businesses and community members to improve local neighborhoods and prevent disparities in urban infrastructure.
Students will master how to work with community stakeholders to co-design equitable and inclusive solutions to infrastructure problems, such as highways dividing disadvantaged neighborhoods. Students will learn about perpetuating infrastructure challenges and how to develop policies to address those issues.
“Those infrastructures, coupled with local initiatives to increase housing, food and job security, provide opportunities for designing more impactful curriculum for both our students and our local partners,” said principal investigator Maya Trotz, USF professor of civil and environmental engineering.
Several studies show low-income communities of color are disproportionately exposed to higher levels of air, soil and water pollution that are harmful to human health. In East Tampa, students will co-design solutions to such challenges as poor stormwater drainage and limited transit options that build more resilient and sustainable neighborhoods.
The hands-on approach of the courses will allow students to engage directly with their communities to learn engineering through real-world experiences.
“This grant provides resources for us to build on authentic partnerships with community stakeholders, especially those who have been left out of environmental decision-making,” Trotz said.
The project will expand on USF’s existing partnerships with the East Tampa Community Revitalization Partnership and the Corporation to Develop Communities of Tampa, Inc. Since 2004, the partnerships have focused on improving communities and tackling infrastructure disparities, such as stormwater management.
“I am excited about the continued partnership with USF to educate the next generation of engineers to have an equity and community lens,” said Ernest Coney, president of Corporation to Develop Communities of Tampa, Inc. “Historically, our low-income communities, like East Tampa, have had a greater share of retention ponds, older infrastructure and unsafe industrial facilities. USF will help to reshape the conversation and practice.”
“We must involve communities in the decision-making processes if we want the solutions to be sustainable and long-term,” said co-principal investigator Christian Wells, professor of anthropology. “We can train the next generation of engineers to be more community engaged.”
In addition to Trotz and Wells, the project team includes Ruthmae Sears, Deirdre Cobb-Roberts and Katherine Alfredo of USF, and Maya Carrasquillo at the University of California, Berkeley.