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Section 6: How Do I Get Started?

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Connecting with Researchers

Researchers are often unaware of the specific problems within a community.  Likewise, many community partners interested in finding answers to important questions about the health and wellness of their communities are unsure of where to go to find researchers to help them.  In many cases, researchers work for academic health institutions, colleges and universities, hospitals, government agencies, and private businesses but might not have a public presence.3 Community partners can certainly search online for colleges and their respective academic departments regarding a potential CEnR project.4 However, attempting to find and connect with researchers in this fashion may be a challenging and time-consuming process.

The Penn State CHEER program was built on the idea that community partners should have the ability to easily connect with Penn State expertise when they identify a need in their communities. The CHEER program has access to hundreds of researchers who are interested in a variety of health-related topics, all with the end goal of improving wellness and reducing health disparities in communities across Pennsylvania. CHEER will assist in partnership formation and will offer support throughout the research project to best serve everyone involved.

Wondering where in the state Penn State researchers are already conducting CEnR? Check out our heat map that recently surveyed 78 researchers partnering with communities on over 100 community-engaged research studies across Pennsylvania:

Map of Pennsylvania with Penn State shield logos where there are PSU campuses and dots of varying sizes where there are CEnR partners.

If you have an idea for a CEnR research project and would like to learn more about the CHEER program’s services, please contact We would love to hear from you!

Insider Tip!

Want to share your ideas about potential research topics at an event dedicated to community-engaged research? Consider attending one of our Penn State Community- Engaged Research Days! These events provide a forum for community partners to meet researchers and offer insight into the populations they serve. The opportunity to hear barriers and facilitators within the community allows the researcher to shape a study in a way that can be more relevant and impactful. Email us at to learn more about these events!

Would you like to share your feedback to improve research? Community Engagement Studios (CESs), facilitated through Penn State CTSI Community-Engaged Research Core (CERC), provide a forum for researchers to hear firsthand from patients, caregivers, community members and care providers on how to plan and conduct research that is more relevant, patient-centered and impactful. The Community Engagement Studio is a one-time, 90-minute meeting where community members give feedback and advice to improve upon investigators’ research projects. Stipend is provided.

Email if you are interested in being contacted for a future CES!

Did You Know?

In recent years, increased attention has been given to the necessity and significance of community involvement in research, leading to expanded funding opportunities to support CEnR efforts. Some of the largest federal and independent funders, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), are supporting researchers who engage in CEnR and elevating nontraditional partners as equals in the research process.
CHEER can assist teams participating in CEnR through Penn State during proposal development by providing tips and tricks to build a competitive grant proposal to help you secure funding for your important work. Check out a recent grant writing workshop we delivered.

Check It Out?

Looking for guidance on how to prepare for the pre-award and post-award grants management process when working with an academic researcher? Check out the Community Academic Grants Administration Translation (CAGAT) Initiative Guide for Community Partners.

Start Taking Action

One of the most important decisions a community partner makes in the CEnR process is identifying a researcher(s) for the project. Following helpful guidelines early in the team building process can establish a foundation of trust for a satisfying and beneficial collaboration between community partners and researchers!

Action Steps for Building Teams in CEnR

Step 1

Contact the Penn State CHEER program! We are here to help connect you with researchers based on shared interests and provide resources and educational programming. Email us at!

Step 2

Get to know the researcher(s) to assure they understand your community’s culture, values, economic conditions, demographic trends, etc.23,38

Step 3

Verify that researchers have met with community leaders / influencers by attending local events and becoming familiar with organizations (schools, churches, non-profit agencies, etc.).23,38

Step 4

Determine if you already have the resources (or can develop them) necessary to support your participation in a research partnership.38

Step 5

Determine if a CEnR collaboration will be mutually beneficial for you, the community partner, and the researcher(s).38

Additional considerations

  • Community partners and researchers should not only consider their mutual interests and potential benefits in a proposed research partnership, but also their differences in perspectives, agendas, and needs before agreeing on a collaboration.39 Be sure that you have plenty of time to thoughtfully consider the many factors that need to be weighed before agreeing to participate in a research partnership.

Insider Tip!

The Penn State CTSI Team Science Toolbox is a great resource to explore:

  • How to tailor content to novices of team science.
  • Practical, pertinent team knowledge that addresses specific and common team needs.
  • An array of team-based interventions throughout the team life cycle.
  • Evidence-based team interventions supported by team research.
  • Team-based metrics to assess team processes, climate and effectiveness.

Trainings and Educational Offerings

The CHEER team recognizes the critical importance of preparing community partners for their roles on a research team. Many of our community partners are new to research – we want to make sure you feel supported and that your educational needs are met. We have worked in partnership with several groups to develop tailored trainings that offer opportunities in a supportive, adult learning environment, to learn about research processes, community engagement, ethical considerations, and other important topic areas. These interactive sessions will help you build a solid foundation of research practices and provide you with the best chance for a successful CEnR partnership. Our past educational sessions are available on YouTube.

CIRTification Training Expand answer

The Penn State CHEER team has worked in partnership with the Human Research Protection Program (HRPP) at Penn State to offer the CIRTification (Community Involvement in Research) Training. This free, interactive, online tutorial was created by the Clinical and Translational Science Institute at the University of Illinois, Chicago and is specifically designed for community partners to learn about human research protections.40 The training is required for community partners who are directly involved in certain aspects of the research process, but is highly recommended for all community partners to learn about important topics involving their participation in a research study. Some subject areas included in the CIRTification training include:

  • The basics of research – terminology, people, and methods
  • History of research abuses that has informed current ethical principles, rules, and regulations
  • Standards and best practices
  • Recruitment and informed consent
  • Collecting and protecting data
  • Handling challenges that may arise during participant interactions.

 Please reach out to the CHEER team to determine if this training is right for you!

Future Trainings and Workshops Expand answer

CHEER offers ongoing trainings for community partners to learn about a variety of topics related to CEnR, including Foundations of Community-Engaged Research, Recruitment, Data, Results Dissemination, among others! Sign up to receive upcoming session and event information:

Looking for a Specific Training? Expand answer

If you and/or your organization have a specific concern regarding CEnR, the CHEER team is here to help. Our qualified team is happy to work with you to tailor specific training to meet your unique needs. Contact us by emailing!

Expectations, Rights & Responsibilities

Is it important for community partners to join CEnR with certain expectations and to understand their rights and responsibilities when agreeing to participate in a CEnR study. Roles and responsibilities of community partners and researchers participating in the study should be clearly established and defined early in the planning process. This can be done by creating a MOU (Memo of Understanding). Penn State finance and grants/contracts offices will negotiate an MOU with the research team and you as a community partner if there is any financial exchange over the course of your partnership. These experts will assist in the development of an official MOU that outlines responsibilities of each partner and fiscal agreements for the work proposed. See Appendix B for an example of an MOU.

Did You Know

Community partners should be involved in the sharing, reporting, and publishing of research findings, as they are comfortable. As an equal partner in CEnR, you deserve credit in any publications about the study! In addition to being recognized for your valuable contributions to the study, you should be involved in the decision-making of how study results will be shared and reported. This is an important discussion that should be held between community partners and the researchers early on in the partnership, and included in the MOU.23