The overall goal of the Penn State CTSI Community Engagement Program is to support and enhance the translational research mission of the CTSI by nurturing opportunities to collaborate with local urban and rural communities on health-related research topics with the potential to improve public health. Penn State views the community as our principal “customer and partner” whose needs we strive to meet and whose collective capabilities we seek to engage. The community is where health problems arise, disease-promoting conditions prevail, and disease can be predicted, prevented and treated. Therefore, it is critical that we establish and nurture trust among people, organizations and the translational research community through transparency, utmost ethical conduct and demonstrated commitment toward the common good.
The Community Engagement Program provides a community-centered translational science infrastructure that builds on existing networks of community engagement already in place at Penn State, including the Penn State Cooperative Extension and Outreach system, and focuses on the development, implementation, evaluation, and diffusion of empirically-based interventions. Penn State has a dedicated organizational infrastructure that sponsors community outreach and disseminates knowledge through numerous community programs relating to science, engineering, and agriculture. In the area of public health, Penn State researchers have designed and conducted a number of successful projects involving interdisciplinary teams, community-based approaches, and effective community engagement in both urban and rural areas. Some of these projects have received state and national recognition as model programs and are described below. Although exemplary health research at Penn State has successfully delivered value to communities, the larger body of applied health research at Penn State has not been formally organized within a community service and engagement infrastructure in the same way as other areas of scientific investigation at Penn State, such as the agricultural sciences. The history and experience of Penn State in service to Pennsylvania, in combination with its interdisciplinary health research and education programs, provide the foundation for a transformation in health-focused community engagement through the Penn State CTSI.
Building upon successful models of community engagement research developed at Penn State, a cross-campus, interdisciplinary Community Engagement Research Core (CERC) has been developed to serve the Penn State CTSI. The CERC will:
- Provide the infrastructure to support and coordinate collaboration among community members, health care providers, and research scientists, and it will ensure community input to the research agenda.
- Identify needs and set priorities for health-related research in Central Pennsylvania communities through consensus-building. This includes a focus on innovative approaches to health promotion, disease prevention, and health services delivery in rural and urban communities. Community members will play a key role in identifying needs and setting priorities.
- Provide core educational and research services that will enable investigators to design and conduct research protocols that effectively engage communities.
- Increase the level and diversity of community members’ participation in health research by improving awareness of health research and involving community members in the development of effective recruitment, retention, and dissemination strategies.
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