Grand Challenges sparking new partnerships, igniting innovation

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New initiative sparking partnerships, igniting innovation

The UW–Madison School of Education launched a Grand Challenges initiative in 2017 in an effort to bring together faculty, staff and community members to start thinking about interdisciplinary and innovative ways in which to address critical problems that span education, health and the arts.

Fourteen teams representing more than 50 people ultimately submitted proposals for the inaugural Grand Challenges Engage initiative and in September, eight of these projects were selected to receive a combined $200,000 to carry out the Wisconsin Idea on behalf of the School of Education.

Rosenthal and Bal project
This poster represents the project titled, “Developing a
Culturally Sensitive, Holistic, and Sustainable Health
Promotion Program for El Salvadorans with Chronic Illness
and Disability.”
Two of these winning proposals feature faculty members from the Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education (RPSE).

David Rosenthal and Aydin Bal are part of an initiative titled, “Developing a Culturally Sensitive, Holistic, and Sustainable Health Promotion Program for El Salvadorans with Chronic Illness and Disability.” These RPSE faculty members are partnering on this project with Barbara Alvarado of the Madison Arcatao (El Salvador) Sister City Project, Ian Davies of Edgewood College and Alberto Vargas, the associate director of UW–Madison’s Latin American, Caribbean, and Iberian Studies program.

This team plans to develop a sustainable health promotion program for El Salvadorans, many of whom were injured in the Salvadoran Civil War between 1980- 92, living in and around Arcatao. The goal is to enhance health promotion and rehabilitation systems in this small, poor Central American nation using Culturally Responsive Positive Interventions and Supports (CRPBIS), and the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Function framework. CRPBS is an educational initiative being developed by Bal that’s grounded in local to global justice theory, with the ultimate goal of educational systems change.

The team visited Arcatao in April to meet with the mayor’s office, physical therapists, and other health workers and stakeholders in the community to conduct a needs assessment and start envisioning a plan for how best to help.

“It’s important to show the people of El Salvador we care and support them, and to work hard to find sustainable, meaningful ways we can collaborate and interface with organizations to address their needs,” says Rosenthal, a professor with RPSE.

In addition, RPSE Assistant Professor Taucia Gonzalez is part of a team working on a project called, “Exploring and Realizing the Equitable Inclusion of Immigrant Parents and Students in Educational Policy and Decision-Making.” Mariana Pacheco, an associate professor with the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, and Yang Sao Xiong, an assistant professor with UW–Madison’s School of Social Work, are also part of the team.

“I strongly believe that scholars trained in different disciplines can leverage their collective expertise to address larger, more complex problems,” says Gonzalez. “Our team brings together a dynamic interdisciplinary framework that can more deeply address issues of equity and inclusion for Hmong and Latino youth in our local community. All three of us come from immigrant households, which allows us to engage in this work with some insider knowledge.”

Taucia Gonzalez's project
The project that includes the expertise of Taucia Gonzalez is titled,
"Exploring and Realizing the Equitable Inclusion of Immigrant Parents and
Students in Educational Policy and Decision-making."
Gonzalez notes that the educational opportunities and schooling experiences of immigrant students have traditionally been developed “top-down” and tend to exclude insights of the immigrant students and parents these reforms attempt to serve. This project will examine how parents’ and students’ insights can help shape and realize the equitable potential of education and schooling for disenfranchised students.

The grants for these projects were made possible with support from UW–Madison’s Office of the Provost, the Wisconsin Center for Education Research and donors.

“The Grand Challenge process is about making new connections so that faculty and staff can envision new directions for their work,” says Richard Halverson, who directs Grand Challenges and is a professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis. “We feel that it is helping to create the conditions where people from different corners of the School are coming together and seeing each other as collaborators.”