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University of Missouri-Kansas City professor receives President’s Award for Community Engagement

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Kelly Wiemann

April 14, 2017

Award recognizes faculty who are involved in exemplary community engagement activities

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – University of Missouri System Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs Bob Schwartz and Interim Chief of Staff David Russell today awarded the seventh of ten University of Missouri System President’s Awards to be presented to faculty in 2017 to Joan McDowd, professor of psychology at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Russell and Schwartz—accompanied by UMKC Chancellor Leo Morton and Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer—surprised McDowd while she was enjoying lunch with colleagues with the President’s Award for Community Engagement, which includes a $5,000 prize. The award recognizes faculty who are involved in exemplary community engagement activities such as volunteerism, service-learning, educational programming and outreach.

McDowd joined the UMKC Psychology Department as a faculty member in 2011, following six years as the associate director for research at the Landon Center for Aging at the University of Kansas Medical Center. Prior to her work at UMKC, she had not been involved in community-based work.

“When I came to UMKC, two experiences pushed me toward greater community involvement through the University,” McDowd wrote in her nominee statement. “However, I was drawn in by the magnitude of the need, the genuineness of my community partners and the potential for UMKC to have an impact.”

One of her first contributions was establishing the SilverRoo Research Program. In the SilverRoo Lab, McDowd and her students conduct research on the ways that aging impacts attention, memory and decision-making. Using volunteer alumni as test subjects, the project provides much needed data for her research and provides a connection with the community.

“Joan’s community engagement goes far beyond her laboratory research,” said Jennifer Lundgren, chair of the UMKC department of psychology. “She has also spent five years developing relationship with three community organizations that allow her to share her expertise and talents in ways that strengthen the organizations and highlight UMKC’s desire to be a valuable community partner.”

Those three organizations include: The American Stroke Foundation where McDowd served as interim executive director, without pay, while the organization worked to achieve financial stability; The Chestnut Avenue Family Resource Center where McDowd coordinated volunteer efforts of UMKC students, faculty and staff to restore the resource center which was originally a drug house in need of significant repair; and The Grandparents Raising Grandchildren project where McDowd partnered with Palestine Missionary Baptist Church to initiate a support group for grandparents raising their grandchildren in the greater Kansas City area.

McDowd credits the willingness of UMKC students to get involved in community engagement and seeks opportunities for citizens to come into her classroom to share their insights and perspectives on the needs of the community.

Beyond helping the community, students gain valuable experience in working with non-profits.

“I have benefited in many ways from my experiences working with Dr. McDowd at the American Stroke Foundation and I have learned a lot about the importance of community engagement,” wrote doctoral student Mark Poirier. “Two key principles that I have come away with are that, 1) The value of knowledge is only truly realized when it has been transmitted and applied for the public good and 2) that knowledge can flow not only from the university to the community, but also from the community to the university.”

“In this way classroom ‘walls’ are broken down, ideas are challenged and knowledge from the classroom and the community can be applied to solve problems,” McDowd wrote.

The UM System President’s Awards are presented annually to faculty members across the four campuses of the UM System who have made exceptional contributions in advancing the mission of the university. McDowd will be formally recognized by UM System President Mun Choi during an awards celebration to be held in June.

Interim Chief of Staff David Russell, Professor McDowd and Interim VP for Academic Affairs Bob Schwartz.