MSU celebrates newest Excellence in Community Engagement Award winners

Contact: Aspen Harris

STARKVILLE, Miss.—Mississippi State is honoring four outreach projects with the university’s fifth annual Community Engagement Awards.

Winners for 2022 were awarded in three categories, including community-engaged service; scholarship of engagement; and community-engaged teaching and learning.

Winning projects receive $3,000, and honorable mention projects receive $750 to further their engagements. The recipients were selected by MSU’s Center for Community-Engaged Learning, Office of the Provost and Executive Vice President, Office of Research and Economic Development and the Division of Student Affairs.

Honorees include (by category):

Those supporting the Health Destination Access program stand in front of a Rideshare bus
Stakeholders in the Mississippi Delta partnered to support a rideshare program to help those without transportation gain access to healthy foods. (Photo submitted)

Community-Engaged Service

Winner—“Health Destination Access,” submitted by Yolanda Pruitt and David Buys, MSU Extension and Department of Food Science, Nutrition and Health Promotion program manager and associate professor, respectively. This rideshare program aimed to improve access to healthy foods across the Mississippi Delta Region in light of the state’s low car ownership rates and common lack of full-service grocery stores in rural communities. Pruitt and Buys collaborated with existing stakeholders to provide technical assistance to improve sustainability outcomes and build trust in the community. Through grassroots and social media, connections were made in the community which created more visibility and empowered residents to tell their stories. Buys and Pruitt believe the initiative could be duplicated in similar communities to achieve the access of necessities in other rural areas.

Scholarship of Engagement

A historical marker for the Old Charity hospital site in Laurel
A historical marker for the Old Charity hospital site in Laurel. (Photo submitted)

Winner—“Rethinking Public Housing,” submitted by David Perkes and Kelsey Johnson, MSU Gulf Coast Community Design Studio director and assistant director, respectively. MSU’s GCCDS was hired by Quadel Consulting and Training in 2021 to lead the planning and design work of the Old North Laurel Neighborhood’s conversion to public housing led by the Housing Authority of the City of Laurel. As a way to bring needed affordable housing, attention and resources to the neighborhood, HACL and Quadel needed GCCDS to create a comprehensive neighborhood plan in addition to a high-quality conceptual design for the Old Charity hospital site located in the center of the area. Over the next year, GCCDS worked with HACL, the City of Laurel, and neighborhood community members to develop the needed plans to position the site to be a catalyst for positive change.

Community-Engaged Teaching and Learning

Students present and learn in a Health Communication course
Students present and learn in a Health Communication course. (Photo submitted)

Winner—“Teaching Health Communication,” submitted by Holli Seitz, MSU assistant professor of communication. Seitz created and evaluated a Health Communication course consisting of 20 MSU students to teach communication concepts through experiential learning while contributing to a health issue of importance in the community. For the course, students worked with one of two community partners including the Preventing Opioid Misuse in the Southeast Initiative and the EXCITE vaccine project. The course consisted of a survey and written reflection of what the students hoped to learn, a situation and audience analysis, creating draft health communication messages, and testing their messages with members of the target populations. The students then produced portfolios and shared their work and final messages with community partners for possible incorporation into existing health communication campaigns.

An educational sign near a small body of water
An educational sign explains the water cycle. (Submitted photo)

Honorable Mention—“Water Quality and Education Awareness,” submitted by Varun Paul, MSU assistant professor of geosciences. As part of a graduate-level course, the first project consisted of two activities where students collaborated with Partnership Middle School teachers and their classrooms and the MSU Department of Facilities Management. Graduate students developed a lesson plan on water analysis and demonstrated water quality measurement techniques to PMS students and teachers during an “Orientation” day. The following week, a “Field Day” was held where graduate students and PMS teachers led the middle school student groups to sample and analyze water from MSU’s recreational Chadwick Lake. The second project centered on developing signs to convey the various stages of the water cycle and contamination by creating a story about an anthropomorphized water droplet. MSU Facilities Management helped locate places to install the signs and handled maintenance.

For more information on MSU’s Community Engagement Awards or the Center for Community-Engaged Learning, visit

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