Extension Collaboration Grants

Extension Collaboration Grants fund partnerships between University of Illinois Extension personnel and investigators at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to develop programs and projects that leverage campus-based research to enhance the quality of life for people in communities across Illinois. Project themes may vary widely – from improving school nutrition programs to helping farmers manage nitrogen application – but, all focus on research with practical applications for Illinois residents. Each winning team receives up to $60,000 that can be spent over two years to enact their projects.

The grant program was initiated in 2018, within Extension and the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, under the name Interdisciplinary Collaborations in Extension.

The 2020 Extension Collaboration Grant Program receives financial support from University of Illinois’ Office of the Provost Investment for Growth Program and Illinois Extension, with a focus on supporting research and partnerships that address critical issues in five key areas: food, economy, environment, community, and health.

    2020 Extension Collaboration Grant Recipients

    Illinois Geothermal Coalition Technical and Outreach Program

    Awarded to: Illinois State Geological Survey

    Principal Investigator: Andrew Stumpf



    • Mohamed Attalla, executive director, Facilities & Services
    • John Freitag, executive director, Geothermal Alliance of Illinois (GAOI)
    • Frank Holcomb, associate director, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Champaign, Illinois
    • Madhu Khanna, interim director, Institute of Sustainability, Energy & Environment (iSEE)
    • Yu-Feng Lin, director, Illinois Water Resource Center
    • Scott Tess, sustainability and resilience officer, City of Urbana
    • Steve Whittaker, director, Energy and Minerals, Illinois State Geological Survey

    As Illinois moves towards achieving its commitment of converting all energy systems to running on 100% renewable energy by 2050, it is recognized that other renewable energy sources besides solar and wind energy, including geothermal energy, will be needed to meet the state’s future energy demands. This project will develop a technical, outreach and education program that supports wider adoption of geothermal energy systems and disseminates information to decision-makers and public stakeholders about the potential economic, energy efficiency, and environmental benefits to the residents of Illinois. An interactive dashboard will be developed that provides technical data and explanatory information to the geothermal industry and government organizations. In addition, a decision support tool will be programed to assist decision-makers and public stakeholders in identifying how geothermal energy can be implemented successfully in long-term solutions. The project will involve a coordinated statewide education and outreach program that introduces all aspects of geothermal energy pertinent to Illinois and provides a venue to discuss potential benefits to the residential, commercial and industrial sectors.

    Central Illinois’ Cultural Assets: Mapping Resources, People and Meaning to Propel Community and Economic Vitality

    Awarded to: Fine and Applied Arts Administration in the College of Fine and Applied Arts

    Principal Investigator: Jennifer Novak


    • Andrew Greenlee, associate professor & head of community development for social justice graduate study, Department of Urban and Regional Planning


    • Kathie Brown, Extension educator, Illinois Extension
    • Earl Allen, county Extension director serving Fulton, Mason, Peoria and Tazewell counties, Illinois Extension
    • Anne H. Silvis, assistant dean, Illinois Extension
    • Claire Rice, executive director, Arts Alliance Illinois
    • Jennifer Gordon, executive director, Arts Partners of Central Illinois
    • Shannon Cox, executive director, Peoria Arts Guild/Peoria Fine Arts Fair
    • JD Dalfonso, president/CEO, Peoria Area Convention & Visitors Bureau
    • Andrew Ngui, director of innovation and startups, Greater Peoria Economic Development Council
    • Patrick Urich, city manager, City of Peoria

    To address the statewide issue of recovery from the economic and social toll of the pandemic on creative and cultural workers and cultural life in Illinois communities, this project will generate an expansive mapping of creative and cultural assets in Peoria, IL. This project stands to make significant contributions to Peoria and Illinois by propelling reflection and connections across Peoria’s cultural ecosystem to identify strengths and opportunities, providing research-informed community-based cultural asset mapping products that can inform local and regional community and sustainability planning, and serving as a pilot project to inform and model how cultural asset mapping can be implemented in communities throughout Illinois.

    This mapping project is purposively designed to be inclusive, both in process and perspective. In addition to utilizing geospatial mapping, our mapping process will use a video-based, iterative interviewing process to capture individuals’ reflections to curate a holistic vision around strengths and opportunities in Peoria’s cultural ecosystem. The interview methodology focuses on engaging underrepresented stakeholders, and on using an iterative process of listening, capturing community thoughts, sharing those thoughts through video, and listening to responses via individual conversations, focus groups and reflection. In terms of perspective, an expansive view of Peoria’s cultural ecosystem will be used, one that encompasses non-profit, for-profit, third-sector, and other activity; a broad array of artistic and cultural forms, and ways to engage with them; an array of artists and culture-bearers; and the variety of values and meaning that people ascribe to arts and culture.

    This project leverages research faculty expertise in applied research spanning arts and culture, public policy and community planning, and Extension collaborators’ community engagement expertise and deep local networks through a highly iterative, community-engaged mapping and critical reflection process that will produce geospatial maps, a public narrative report and videos about Peoria’s cultural ecosystem.

    Statewide Community Engagement in Pollinator Conservation

    Awarded to: Department of Entomology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

    Principal Investigator: Alexandra Harmon-Threatt


    Pollinator declines threaten ecosystem stability by reducing plant and crop seed set. Providing additional forage is considered key to slowing declines, but we lack practical planting guides for most homeowners due to a lack of information on most plants. By bringing together scientists, extension specialists and citizens, I-Pollinate engages citizens in scientific data collection on plants in their yards while educating them on environmental issues. The project has been in existence for two years and seeks additional funding to achieve two major outreach objectives:

    1. Increase the number and diversity of people engaged;
    2. Produce and distribute planting guides for home gardens.

    The objectives for this grant are to significantly extend the reach of the program by engaging new groups of people (4H and gardeners not affiliated with the existing Master Gardener and Master Naturalist programs). We propose to use the data generated by citizens in I-Pollinate to create “Planting for Pollinator Guides” that will be made freely available both in printed and digital copy to all Illinois residents. This project will help Extension reach its environmental goals by educating citizens through the project and providing all Illinois residents with planting guides to improve conservation efforts. We believe this project can be self-sustaining through USDA and NSF grants and has already been reviewed favorably.

    Increasing Knowledge of Human Tickborne Diseases among Farmers and Extension Officers in Illinois

    Awarded to: Department of Pathobiology in the College of Veterinary Medicine

    Principal Investigator: Rebecca Smith


    Tickborne diseases have become extremely prevalent in the United States and tick vectors of concern have become established in many counties in the state of Illinois. Farmers, agriculturists and some veterinarians are at a high-risk of being exposed to tick bites and contracting tickborne diseases due to their time spent outdoors. The present study is a multi-pronged approach to increase knowledge of tickborne diseases in the farming community in Illinois. We are a team of interdisciplinary researchers interested in determining the perception and actual risk of contracting tickborne diseases among farmers in Illinois. We plan to identify gaps in knowledge and awareness regarding tickborne diseases among farmers in Illinois using a survey currently underway and fill these knowledge gaps with effective educative materials.

    In addition, we want to train interested individuals in tick dragging and surveillance efforts to help monitor tickborne disease prevalence in the state. We hope that this will create awareness about the presence of ticks and tickborne disease in areas frequented by the target audience. The findings from this study will help us to develop effective communication and education materials to help reduce human exposure to tickborne diseases in Illinois. We believe that identifying the knowledge gaps and providing the necessary tools to the community to monitor risk of tickborne diseases and measures to prevent tickborne disease is critical and needs more work.

    Developing and Delivering a Stress Management and Mental Health Program in Pembroke Township and Kankakee County

    Awarded to: Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering in the College of ACES

    Principal Investigator: Josephine Rudolphi


    • Azizah Ashraf-Ali, Pembroke Township community member
    • Johari Cole-Kweli, Pembroke Township community member
    • Courtney Cuthbertson, assistant professor and Extension specialist, Department of Human Development and Family Studies
    • Bobby J. Smith, II, assistant professor, Department of African American Studies
    • Shardé Smith, assistant professor, Department of Human Development and Family Studies
    • James Theuri, Extension educator, Illinois Extension
    • Megan Walsh, county Extension director serving Grundy, Kankakee and Will counties, Illinois Extension

    Focusing on health as a critical issue area, this project addresses farm stress and mental health among agricultural producers in Pembroke Township. Illinois Extension has increasingly provided resources to agricultural producers and agribusiness professionals to support mental health and wellbeing. To date, such resources have not included content or approaches that are responsive to how farm stress may be experienced differently by race or ethnicity. Given historical trauma and discrimination faced by Black farmers and farmers of color, and in context of Illinois Extension’s aim to provide relevant programs to all residents of the state, farm stress programs must take racism and race into account. This proposal engages a community-driven approach to identify needs and create relevant and responsive farm stress programs/resources in Pembroke Township, a predominantly African-American, rural, agricultural community. A community advisory board made up of University of Illinois faculty and Extension specialists, Extension educators, and interested community members will guide the process through collaborative decision-making. The group will engage in a needs assessment using methods determined by the community advisory board to identify concerns related to stress and mental health among agricultural producers in Pembroke Township, as well as what supports producers would like from Extension. Findings of the needs assessment will be shared in a presentation to the community and then used to create relevant resources and an educational program. Evaluation of the process and new materials will assist in further revisions to ensure relevancy and assess impacts. This project sits at the nexus of agriculture and health in a way that acknowledges Extension’s history of providing resources for agricultural communities, while simultaneously pushing Extension to continue to be responsive to needs of Illinois residents.

    Illinois Positive Aging for Latinos Study (I-PALS)

    Awarded to: School of Social Work

    Principal Investigator: Lissette Piedra


    • Willene Buffet, Cook County Extension director, Illinois Extension
    • Molly Hofer, Extension educator, Illinois Extension
    • Melissa Howe, senior research scientist, NORC at the University of Chicago
    • Yadira Montoya, principal research analyst, NORC at the University of Chicago

    Latinos (65+) number nearly 5 million people in the United States; this number is projected to increase to 15.9 million by 2050. Among U.S. aging populations, Latino older adults tend to be socioeconomically disadvantaged. While this group has greater longevity than the general population, many spend their later years in decline and with serious functional limitations, adding economic and emotional burden to their families. Yet despite their greater needs in later life, Latinos tend to underuse formal supports. Instead, many turn to family for caregiving, which places enormous pressure on Latino families to provide care for longer periods. To reach this underserved population, this Illinois Extension collaboration will culturally and linguistically adapt existing Extension curricula to help Latino families: 1) talk about long-term care needs and 2) increase their awareness of available resources and caregiver support strategies. Such an approach will bolster Latino families’ ability to plan for and manage long-term care with older adult family members, which will go far in bridging a service gap and improving health outcomes.

    Advancing An Integrated Approach to SEL, STEM, and Equity in Middle and High School

    Awarded to: School of Social Work

    Principal Investigator: Kevin Tan


    The field of social work and cooperative Extension are historically rooted in addressing large societal inequities. This collaborative effort between the School of Social Work and Illinois Extension proposes to address a pervasive inequity that impacts the vitality of the Illinois workforce. The practical nuances Extension offers to the world of research are essential to the communities we serve across the state. This type of faculty-staff partnership has the potential to create meaningful action research, which seeks transformative change and allows for stakeholder participation in ways that immediately help to inform the change(s) and best practice(s). The purpose of this project is to develop and evaluate an equity-focused teacher intervention that integrates social and emotional learning (SEL) and restorative action principles among middle and high school mathematics and science classes in two Chicago schools. This project provides the opportunity for teachers’ and students’ voices to be heard from start to finish. Their lived experience in STEM-related classes will be the driving force for meaningful curriculum change. This project focuses on addressing the inequities in STEM careers through promoting teacher-student SEL and self-efficacy that can contribute to improved student grades, yield long-term interest in STEM careers, and enhanced teacher effectiveness.

    GSI Research Toolkit and Outreach throughout the State of Illinois

    Awarded to: Illinois Extension in the College of ACES

    Principal Investigator: Eliana Brown

    Core Team:

    • Layne Knoche, visiting outreach associate, Illinois Extension/Illinois Indiana Sea Grant
    • Mary Pat McGuire, associate professor, Department of Landscape Architecture
    • Margaret Schneemann, water resource economist, Illinois Extension/Illinois Indiana Sea Grant

    New Collaborators:

    • Mohamed Attalla, executive director, Facilities & Services
    • Kate Gardiner, visiting outreach associate, Illinois Extension/Illinois Indiana Sea Grant
    • Andrew Mackay, associate scientist, Illinois Natural History Survey Medical Entomology Laboratory
    • Kevin McSweeney, director of arboretum, Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences
    • Chris Stone, director, Illinois Natural History Survey Medical Entomology Laboratory

    Rainscaping Education Program Extension Educators:

    Existing Collaborators:

    • David Grimley, principal research scientist, Illinois State Geological Survey
    • Andrew Phillips, principal research scientist, Illinois State Geological Survey
    • Ashlynn Stillwell, associate professor, Civil & Environmental Engineering

    Advisory Group:

    • Matt Bardol, senior principal engineer, Geosyntec Consultants
    • Jeff Edstrom, water resource specialist, Illinois Department of Natural Resources
    • Kate Evasic, senior planner, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning
    • Chelsey Grassfield, policy specialist, Friends of the Chicago River
    • Ted Haffner, climate fellow and landscape architect, Openlands
    • Justin Keller, associate, Metropolitan Planning Council
    • Lisa Krause, coastal management specialist, Illinois Department of Natural Resources
    • Bill Wood, associate civil engineer, SmithGroup

    Facilities & Services (F&S) is responsible for the campus landscapes, from design to installation to maintenance. The F&S team, led by Dr. Mohamed Attalla, will be key collaborators in this project, including departmental representatives from the Grounds Department, the Campus Landscapes Department, F&S Sustainability, Utilities and Energy Services, Construction Services, and Environmental Compliance. Additional information may be found on the Facilities & Services website.

    This project proposes to create the first-ever comprehensive design, modeling, implementation, and maintenance toolkit in Illinois for urban and rural communities to implement systemic green stormwater infrastructure (GSI). The ultimate goal is to reduce impacts from flooding, while increasing co-benefits for residents and communities such as community health, pollinator habitat, water quality, economic development, and traffic calming.

    This toolkit will build from recent multi-disciplinary GSI design and modeling research completed for the Calumet region of Illinois by adding complementary implementation and maintenance knowledge from constructed demonstration GSI landscapes. For planning and site design, the research goal is to provide an innovative method of siting GSI that is uniquely based in soil mapping and neighborhood conditions, rather than opportunistic land availability. For practical design, the research goal is to investigate GSI barriers, such as an approach to native plant selection that maximizes performance and minimizes maintenance, while balancing aesthetics and biodiversity and whether mosquitoes in GSI pose a public health concern.

    The toolkit will contain multiple types of university GSI data, from rain garden planning and design guidance, to large-scale planning strategies, to economic and co-benefit metrics allowing communities to carefully assess potentials and investments. Moreover, it provides a platform to both unite the currently bifurcated and multidisciplinary campus research, as well as a vehicle to advance translating this research into outreach and education benefiting communities. The project toolkit will be disseminated through a website (separately funded) and will be integrated into the Extension Rainscaping Program and other workshops, thereby leveraging state networks and creating additional demonstration landscapes. The proposed project addresses Extension critical issue areas of health, environment, economy, and community.

    Sustainable Insect Control in High Tunnel Vegetable Production through Biological Control

    Awarded to: Department of Crop Sciences in the College of ACES

    Principal Investigator: Kacie Athey


    The interest in sustainability and learning where our food comes from has invigorated the need for fresh local food production. In Illinois, local produce production is limited by climate; high tunnels allow vegetable growers to extend their growing season, thus allowing more people to assess local produce. High tunnel production may increase in the coming years as the demand for local food increases. High tunnels have unique insect pest pressures with a hybrid of open field and greenhouse pests. Many of the common greenhouse pests -- aphids, thrips and mites -- are difficult to control through conventional means leaving high tunnel growers looking for more sustainable, non-chemical means of pest control. Biological control by insect predators may be a viable solution for these growers. This could be achieved through either releases of commercially available natural enemies, or conservation of natural enemies present in the system. We will release commercially available generalist predators and monitor the effect on pests in high tunnels in tomato and pepper production. An expected decrease in pest pressure may show that our releases are working, or it may be that the resident predators immigrating from the surrounding open field are contributing to pest control.

    To uncover which predators are consuming the focal pests, we will use molecular gut content analysis to pinpoint the identity of the most effective predators in the high tunnels. Conserving some of the resident natural enemies may be cost-effective for growers and either natural enemy release or conservation biological control may be a viable solution for growers to limit their exposure to conventional insecticides. Local foods Extension educators are the direct liaisons between growers and researchers, and working directly with Extension educators may facilitate further adoption of this sustainable growing practice after the conclusion of this study.

    Empowering Illinois’ Farmers to Mitigate Food Safety Risks – A Community Engaged Collaboration between Research and Extension

    Awarded to: Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition in the College of ACES

    Principal Investigator: Pratik Banerjee


    This project pursues a sustainable collaboration between University of Illinois researchers and Extension professionals to empower small farmers and growers in Illinois to comply with federal, state, and local food safety regulations. Ensuring the safety of farm-grown fresh produce from contamination by pathogens is a critical issue for farmers in Illinois. The transmission of pathogenic E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria monocytogenes, Campylobacter, Norovirus, Cyclospora, and more recently, SARS-CoV-2 (the virus causing the COVID-19 pandemic) through various pre- and post-harvest routes continue to pose serious threats to the farming communities. It is well known that when farmers and growers lack access to food safety knowledge and technical tools, it exponentially elevates the food safety risks associated with the production, storage and distribution of food. To address this issue, the project will build a comprehensive food safety program to assist small fresh fruit and vegetable growers, mid-sized farms, and socially disadvantaged farmers in Illinois to comply with FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) Produce Safety Regulations (PSR).

    The specific objectives of the current project are:

    1. Develop statewide water and soil testing initiative (mandated in FSMA PSR);
    2. Conduct onsite community-based boot camps to educate farmers on developing a food safety plan; and
    3. Increase the number of Produce Safety Alliance (PSA) Lead Trainers for FSMA in Illinois.

    The project will build around a recently funded USDA Food Safety Outreach Program grant awarded to Pratik Banerjee. The project will help small and underserved growers to remain compliant with major FSMA-covered topics and increase the number of Extension educators with PSA Lead Trainer credentials. Overall, the project will close the knowledge and resource gaps by assisting farmers across the state of Illinois to comply with food safety regulations and best practices.

    Illinois Inquiry Adventures in Nature: Expanding Environmental Education for Youth

    Awarded to: Education Policy, Organization & Leadership program in the College of Education

    Principal Investigator: Samantha Lindgren


    • Susan Gasper, Extension educator, Illinois Extension
    • Abigail Garofalo, Extension educator, Illinois Extension
    • Barbara Hug, associate teaching professor, Curriculum & Instruction
    • Meghan McCleary, Extension educator, Illinois Extension
    • Jacqui Ulrich, assistant director, Forest Preserve of Cook County

    Stephen Jay Gould, an American evolutionary biologist, once said about the environment “…we will not fight to save what we do not love” (Orr, 1993). Today’s most pressing issues are related to climate change. An understanding of how human activity impacts the environment helps us make sense of how a zoonotic transfer of a virus to humans causes a global pandemic, and how rising temperatures increase the frequency and intensity of wildfires and storms. Environmental Education (EE) connects people to their environments, instilling values and knowledge that leads to better environmental stewardship of local environments and natural resources. There are several well-established EE programs offered throughout Cook County by Illinois Extension and the Forest Preserve of Cook County (FPCC). Missing from these opportunities are programs available to middle school-aged children, the age best suited for EE experiences because their environmental sensitivities are still developing and early experiences in nature have been shown to have impacts throughout adulthood (Boom, 2017). This proposal seeks to develop a program, Illinois Inquiry Adventures in Nature (IIAN), for middle school children and their families, suitable for small groups during the pandemic and expanding in scope to include classrooms when safe. A series of four seasonal activities and teacher workshops will be created to bring groups to their local green spaces, including FPCC sites. Groups will engage in open-ended investigations based on their own observations and questions, complete activities at home and enact local community conservation projects. Research will be conducted to examine how individuals’ connections to nature and environmental stewardship change over the course of their participation. This program fills a local need in Cook County, creating a continuum of opportunities across ages, and will be made available to all residents in Illinois, and nationwide, encouraging the next generation of environmental leaders.

    Assessing the Needs and Connecting Young & Beginning Farmers with Extension Resources in Northern Illinois

    Awarded to: Illinois Extension in the College of ACES

    Principal Investigator: Joseph Malual


    • Nikki Keltner, Extension program coordinator, Illinois Extension
    • Grant McCarty, Extension educator, Illinois Extension
    • Hope Michelson, assistant professor, Department of Agricultural & Consumer Economics

    More and more young people are engaging in small-scale farming, with many focusing on specialty crops and sustainable agricultural production. Despite this trend, entry into farming, which is a complex business, is challenging. Beginning farmers face serious obstacles in accessing critical assets, including startup capital to acquire land, farm equipment and agricultural technical knowledge needed to develop a successful agricultural practice and profitable business. The situation is complicated by lack of adequate research to understand the unique challenges facing this generation of farmers. In Illinois, there is limited research to understand how people new to farming navigate access to critical resources. This research project aims to provide a comprehensive assessment of the needs and opportunities facing young and beginning farmers in northern Illinois. We will identify and map farms owned by young and beginning farmers, examine their experiences and strategies used to leverage critical startup assets, including farmland and equipment, financial capital and agricultural technical assistance, as well as strategies for marketing agricultural products. This project will build relations and connect this new audience with Extension resources, which can help beginning farmers develop the knowledge and skills necessary for solving critical problems. Through interdisciplinary collaboration between Extension educators and specialists with faculty at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, this research will generate useful knowledge that can help beginning farmers, businesses and communities make informed decisions and plan for future support of those new to farming. The knowledge and practices discovered and identified through this project will be shared with Extension across the state. Extension educators can build on this knowledge to plan and deliver educational programming that empowers farmers to develop financially viable and sustainable farms. Those successful endeavors will, in turn, help to revitalize their rural communities.

    New Immigrant Foodways

    Awarded to: Department of History in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

    Principal Investigator: Teresa Barnes


    This project will leverage new and existing research with immigrant communities about challenges and strategies in adapting home foodways to American food systems to create short instructional videos related to nutrition and cooking. The project addresses a complex issue at the intersection of three critical areas of Extension’s mission: food, health and environment. It addresses the public need of new immigrant families to access information and expertise and develop sustainable strategies when faced with the bewildering array of often unhealthy food options in the USA. This proposal is an interdisciplinary public impact-focused scholarship that brings community- and institutionally-based knowledge to better outcomes for new immigrant families.

    This interdisciplinary partnership unites historical, culture area and linguistic expertise about the diasporas of Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean communities with outreach programs in citizenship rights and resources, nutrition research and education, and the wide network of Extension services. These areas of expertise are housed in two academic area studies centers with public outreach programs (the Center for African Studies [CAS], and the Center for Caribbean and Latin American Studies [CLACS] of the Illinois Global Institute), the New American Welcome Center (NAWC) at the University YMCA, and the “Abriendo Caminos” and the “Afro-Centered Abriendo Caminos” (ACAC) programs of Extension.

    The centers have been producing outreach programs linking faculty to communities and schools in Champaign-Urbana for many years. The University YMCA initiated the NAWC in 2017. Abriendo Caminos has a 12-year track record in Champaign County and the new ACAC initiative began last year. In particular, this project will leverage one of Abriendo Caminos’ central research findings, that the respectful integration of community knowledge into programming is crucial to the uptake of educational programming. Thus, “New Immigrant Foodways” will work with research subjects to become transmitters of home-country-based and US-based healthy food knowledge.

    I-Rural: Reimagining Illinois Rural Tourism through Community and Extension Collaboration

    Awarded to: College of Applied Health Sciences

    Principal Investigator: Joelle Soulard


    Rural communities in Illinois face an increasing demand by tourists for outdoor recreation activities. This growth in demand presents an opportunity for rural Illinois communities to reimagine rural tourism and sustainable development strategies that align with the communities’ values and priorities, advance local workforce development, support local entrepreneurship, and foster collaboration among rural communities across the state. Our overall aim is to design and implement a model that local communities in Illinois can use to guide rural tourism development. Thus, the goal of this project is to identify the challenges and opportunities present in Illinois communities that seek to develop rural tourism and understand tourists' motivations and constraints to engaging in rural tourism in Illinois. Our interdisciplinary team will use a community-participatory approach to achieve our project goals (see Appendix B for letters of support). In the first phase of the project, we will offer four interactive workshops in four rural Illinois communities (Grafton, Havana, Savanna, and Galena). The workshops will form the basis for a toolkit that provides communities an evidence-informed process for stakeholders to co-create and foster tourism development and collaboration in their community. Building on the outcomes of these workshops, we will conduct interviews with stakeholders during Phase 2. These stakeholder interviews will then be used in Phase 3 to develop a survey targeting tourists in Illinois and surrounding states to understand their motivations and preferences to travel to rural Illinois communities. In Phase 4, we will develop executive reports and infographics and hold four webinars to disseminate our findings and provide clear evidence-informed tourism strategies to help stakeholders design successful rural tourism experiences across Illinois. Finally, we will continue to work with the rural communities that are ready for more development by helping them find grants and assisting with planning for sustainable tourism development.

    Health Data Literacy Ambassadors

    Awarded to: School of Information Sciences

    Principal Investigator: Rachel Magee


    • Catherine Blake, associate professor, School of Information Sciences
    • Jana Diesner, associate professor, School of Information Sciences


    In this two-year project, information sciences researchers and Extension staff will collaborate to implement the Health Data Literacy Ambassadors program. Building on existing 4-H Ambassadors and Advocate models to address critical issues in health and community, this work supports Illinois teens in developing health data analytics skills to advocate for change in their local areas. Fifteen Illinois teens will participate in the program, which will introduce health concepts, health data, analytics concepts and tools, and develop youth presentation and communication skills through two workshops. Supported by a Youth/Adult Partnership (YAP), the teens will also conduct needs assessments of health topics in their communities, develop and conduct data analytics projects to address issues that arise from their assessments, and present their findings to University and local audiences. Teens will be matched with faculty and University students for dedicated mentorship and have opportunities to interact with Extension and local health experts. This project models youth engagement with health and data, will build teen expertise in analytics, communication and health topics, and provide scaffolded opportunities for youth voices to positively impact local communities, while also creating a career development pathway. Research activities including analysis of workshop recordings, interviews and surveys with teen participants about their experiences, and assessments of the health data analytics projects and media they create throughout the YAP experience. It will inform scholarship of youth information behavior, youth services, positive youth development, mentorship, and health and data analytics learning and literacies. The resources developed will be shared with Extension audiences, informing the development of the Ambassador program with further statewide impact, as well as a broader data literacy program for national 4-H youth, and will inform other public audiences through the researchers' efforts in K-12 educational institutions and public library settings.

    Safe, Efficient Schools during the COVID-19 Pandemic

    Awarded to: Department of Landscape Architecture in the College of Fine and Applied Arts

    Principal Investigator: Brian Deal


    The Smart Energy Design Assistance Center (SEDAC) proposes to collaborate with Illinois Extension to launch a training program to a) improve the safety of schools, childcare facilities and other public sector facilities so that they can offer services during the pandemic; b) prepare HVAC and engineering small businesses for new market opportunities in building safety and energy efficiency; and c) evaluate the impact of collaborative workshops vs. traditional webinars in learning and implementation outcomes. This proposal is at the intersection of three of Extension’s focus areas: economy, health, and environment. We will work with Lisa Merrifield to engage with local governments, schools and building professionals; and with Karen Winter-Nelson to evaluate the program.

    One major barrier to economic recovery is the closure of schools, childcare centers and other local government facilities. Until these places can safely open, many parents will be unable to return to work. To help the economy recover, we need safe and healthy places where children can learn and receive care services. Almost none of these facilities were designed to mitigate virus transmission, and most of them are inadequately ventilated. Without corrective measures, there is high risk of airborne virus transmission. At the same time, the untrained application of HVAC corrective measures could significantly increase energy use, potentially doubling the utility expenses of organizations that are already struggling financially. We propose to provide collaborative education and traditional webinar-based training to facility managers, building professionals and HVAC contractors to expand services related to indoor air quality and energy efficiency. Our training program will identify solutions that keep students and teachers safe, opening the door for broader economic recovery. Our research objective is to evaluate the impact of our collaborative and traditional training methods to expand the body of knowledge on effective training methods.

    Identifying and Breaking Down Barriers to Inclusivity in the Master Naturalist Program

    Awarded to: Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences in the College of ACES

    Principal Investigator: Joy O'Keefe


    • Peggy Doty, Extension educator, Illinois Extension
    • Chris Evans, interim Master Naturalist coordinator, Illinois Extension
    • Abigail Garofalo, Extension educator, Illinois Extension
    • Ross Wantland, director of curriculum development and education, Office of the Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

    Our natural environment is at risk, but not all stakeholders have an opportunity to advocate for change because there is inadequate representation of race and ethnicity in natural resource conservation organizations and programs. The Illinois Extension Master Naturalist program trains and certifies environmental stewards who help to protect and restore habitats and to educate people in their communities about conservation. However, this program primarily serves white residents, with low participation by Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. Our proposal aims to begin the process of increasing diversity in the Master Naturalist program through four main objectives. We will conduct a yearlong training for Master Naturalist program facilitators that uses online lectures, trainings and readings to examine the relationships of people of color to natural areas and the environmental movement and to identify strategies to change current norms. We will also engage in community research to hear from leaders of communities of color and to find willing participants for an advisory board that will track our progress. We will create a continuing education module that will give Certified Master Naturalists the tools to recognize and be better prepared to confront issues of low diversity and barriers to inclusion through their volunteer efforts. Finally, we will identify and propose changes to the Master Naturalist manual and modes of delivery to make the program more inclusive for the diverse people of Illinois.

    2018 Grant Recipients