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Innovation[X] Answers the Call

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Texas A&M University School of Innovation’s Innovation[X] Program made a special call for proposals addressing the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020.

Fall 2020 will mark the second year for the Innovation[X] Program, which provides grants for interdisciplinary research teams focused on complex, real-world problems. Selected projects will consist of a team of interdisciplinary faculty members and a multidisciplinary team of 10-20 students from the undergraduate and graduate level across the university.

Successful proposals will be funded up to $20,000 for the upcoming academic year. The school has accepted three new proposals relating to the impacts of COVID-19, along with their original 12 projects.

Associate Professor of Sociology & Women’s and Gender Studies, Dr. Chaitanya Lakkimsetti is leading one of the special call projects, studying effective communication strategies during COVID-19. This study will focus on how and why particular communities respond to social distancing messages. More specifically, this study will look at how different factors, such as community leadership, various media sources, and the frequency of messages affects communities from two different countries.

“We approach social distancing messages as a communication strategy that targets behavioral change,” Lakkimsetti said in her proposal. “Behavioral change communication strategies are at the center of contemporary community based public health interventions and in these strategies sources of communication vary widely from one community to another. Specifically, in the dissemination of social distancing messages community-leaders, social media, news programs, health-experts, government, and religious organizations have been at the forefront.”
Lakkimsetti’s team is focusing on four outcomes, including policy-relevant research papers and op-eds, a curated online archive of lived experiences of people in the two countries that will be studied, external grant proposals to expand the research to more countries, and epidemiological models to estimate effects of social distancing on health outcomes to use for future outbreaks.
The second accepted proposal, which studies insecurity and inequality in academia at A&M, will be led by Dr. Cynthia Werner, Director of ADVANCE and Professor of Anthropology. Werner said they’re expecting to see differences based on gender, care-giver status, and race and that they’re expecting to see already existing inequities amplified due to COVID-19.
“At this moment in time, some of those insecurities in academia will be increased,” said Werner. “There’s a lot of insecurity in the job market, so for postdoc scholars, as well as PhD students it is unclear what their futures will be like and we want to capture how their work has been impacted by the pandemic.”

According to Werner, the team is hoping to have recommendations and guidelines to university administrators and to further understand the differential impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on work conditions and work-life balance within and between different groups.

The final project studies vulnerable populations and community impacts among affordable housing residents. Dr. Xuemei Zhu is leading this project that aims to understand how COVID-19 impacts daily living and health of affordable housing residents in Austin, TX. Zhu’s team will partner with Foundation Communities as an extension of previous research done with the non-profit organization.

“We are looking at affordable housing in Austin, which is one of the very vulnerable populations, especially when it comes to COVID-19,” said Zhu. “Since we already have a strong connection with Foundation Communities, we have been learning about how heavily impacted those in these communities are. We expect them to be heavily impacted financially, mentally, and in physical well being because they have limited resources and pre-existing conditions.”

Zhu’s team hopes to generate more extensive knowledge about the roles of housing and community environments during the COVID-19 outbreak to help inform future practice in housing and community design and public health promotion in terms of crisis mitigation and management. Additionally, the team wants to showcase approaches to high-impact education that brings multiple fields together to solve real-world problems.

The three new projects all address social effects of COVID-19 and will begin their research through Innovation[X] funding in the Fall of 2020.

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