Dr. Jennifer Carrera wins the Practice & Outreach Award

June 21, 2021

Dr. Jennifer Carrera, Assistant Professor of Sociology, is one of two winners of the Practice & Outreach Award given by the Environmental Sociology section of the American Sociological Association.

The award recognizes outstanding practice and outreach contributions that advance equity in the context of socio-environmental relations. Dr. Carrera received the award for "her extensive work on water quality and access with Flint, Michigan community leaders." She was nominated for the award by fellow Sociology professors Dr. Tom Dietz and Dr. Stephen Gasteyer.

The award is shared with Dr. Corrie Grosse for her "on-going work with Indigenous groups organized against the expansion of Enbridge's Line 3 tar sands oil pipeline." Dr. Grosse is an assistant professor of environmental studies at the College of Saint Benedict & Saint John's University.

"Our award winners are exemplars in building relationships and trust with their community partners, asking partners about their needs, and listening with intention," the announcement read.

The ASA Awards Committee shared the highlights of Dr. Carrera's work:

Dr. Carrera has worked for years in partnership with Flint, Michigan community leadership groups on water quality and accessibility. Dr. Carrera’s “long-term, continuous commitment and presence in Flint” and “vision for equity in research” has empowered community leaders and has made community members feel legitimate as producers of knowledge.

When Dr. Carrera’s work in Flint began, one letter writer observed, “She was intentional about listening to residents as opposed to speaking on their behalf.” She also recommended that officials talk directly to affected community members and invite them to meetings.

In 2018, Dr. Carrera founded the “Community Driven Flint” project, a community action group that works to collect “the knowledge and expertise of residents, regarding their health experiences associated with their water, and to use this information to better understand how communities can respond positively to public health crises.” This includes creating an equity-based research model for use in other communities that redefines community science and participatory research, as well as developing a water safety phone app for residents. The “Community Driven Flint” group functions as a community advisory board and as full research partners. Dr. Carrera published a paper with 18 community-based co-authors involved with the project. This project has several additional goals including: listening to the community, helping the community regain control over their data and validating their experiences as researchers, making data more accessible and understandable within the community, and rebuilding trust in researchers. A letter writer explains, “On more than one occasion members of the team have expressed how important this group is to them and that participation is healing and hopeful.”

One community leader explains: “Dr. Carrera did not look at our work as a lesser value because none of us were traditional scientists or researchers, in fact, Dr. Carrera has taught us how to look at the work we have done and our expertise as just as valuable as what was done by researchers...Working with Dr. Carrera has given us the ability to focus on building a sustainable and protective research model that other communities can replicate to help bridge the gap between scientists and community members as all levels of expertise are respected and are equal parts in a typically unequal process. Being able to build a new research model with the community, we can be assured that the research will be for the community’s best interest. The uplifting of our community voices in the research process and the valuing of the community’s expertise in our own lives and crises have had an incredibly positive impact on our community. For the first time in a long time, Flint residents are starting to rebuild our trust in researchers and see the value of our expertise and input.”