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United Way and Furman Partner in Needs Assessment

|United Way/Furman partnership aims to strengthen Cycle of Success|

In an effort to strengthen Greenville’s ability to build a Cycle of Success for current and future generations, United Way of Greenville County will partner with Furman University to undertake a needs assessment in neighborhoods that feed into Berea High School and Carolina High School.

United Way will fund the effort with a nearly $50,000 grant awarded to Furman.

The grant supports an interdisciplinary team of Furman faculty, staff, alumni and students, which will study the presence (or lack thereof) of infrastructure and services needed to ensure success in school and beyond. Roughly 10 neighborhoods will be the focus of the assessment.

In dialog with community members (through focus groups, interviews, and surveys) the team will also identify community assets that can be leveraged, such as community associations, local churches, and existing programs. Data will also be gathered on community stressors such as neighborhood crime, households with language barriers, unemployment, and single-parent households.

Once the data are collected, the needs assessment will be completed through quantitative and spatial analysis using Geographic Information Systems (GIS).

United Way/Furman partnership aims to strengthen Cycle of Success

United Way/Furman partnership aims to strengthen Cycle of Success

The goal is to provide quality information to assist communities with their own decision-making. To that end, the team will rank stress indicators in each neighborhood based on extent and impact on school performance and graduation rates. Reports in English and Spanish will be produced to communicate findings to United Way of Greenville County and community members across the 10 target neighborhoods.

Says Mike Winiski, Associate Director of Furman’s Center for Teaching and Learning, “The project is a great way to partner with local communities to learn more about barriers to educational opportunities, as well as community-based assets that can be leveraged to close gaps in access to things like afterschool programs, opportunities for physical activity, art and music programs, and transportation.”

The Furman/United Way partnership is an example of Furman’s renewed focus on community engagement announced early this year with the appointment of Dr. Angela Halfacre as Special Advisor to the President for Community Engagement. Furman’s Community Engagement Initiative is designed to catalyze community partnerships, provide an inventory of existing community-facing initiatives at Furman, and coordinate existing and new programs that match community needs with the expertise of Furman faculty, staff, students and alumni.

Halfacre, Furman professor and co-principal investigator for the assessment, says, “This solution-oriented endeavor brings people and resources together to help ensure a Cycle of Success for students during their schooling and beyond. The first of its kind in Greenville County, this project could serve as a pilot model for larger scale, coordinated data collection and analysis, and management for the region.”

Already this summer Furman undergraduates and recent graduates have been involved in the effort structuring the quantitative needs assessment. In fall 2016, Dr. Matt Cohen, Assistant Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences and co-principal investigator for the study, will mentor Sustainability Science seniors who will gather qualitative data as part of their coursework. Likewise, Spanish majors will lead outreach in Spanish-speaking communities under the supervision of Furman Spanish professors Dr. Sofia Kearns and Dr. Stephanie Knouse.

Says Cohen, “At Furman we often say that we are uniquely positioned to be interdisciplinary due to the small size and collegiality of the faculty, but the reality is that the demands of our profession make it hard to do so. This project is a fantastic example of an interdisciplinary team of not just faculty, but also students, staff, and alumni to collaborate on meaningful research that will help a community partner generate public good in Greenville County.”

The needs assessment taps faculty resources from the departments of Earth and Environmental Sciences (EES), Spanish, Sociology, and Biology. It involves current students from EES’s Sustainability Science major as well as Spanish. In the near term, the assessment team is looking to engage recent Furman alumni whose diverse majors include Biology, Business Administration, and Music.

“Strengthening our community’s ability to tackle the root causes of key community issues in a holistic, sustainable way is of paramount importance as we work to help every person achieve their full potential,” says Lisa Colby, Director of Impact Investments and Initiatives with United Way of Greenville County. “This project seeks to identify barriers to success, minimize them, and identify community and social assets with the most potential for creating new opportunities for success.”

For more information, contact:

Dr. Matthew Cohen (Co-principal investigator), Furman Assistant Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences, 864-294-2505,
Lisa Colby, Director of Impact Investments & Initiatives, United Way of Greenville County, 864-467-3548,
Dr. Angela Halfacre (Co-principal investigator), Furman Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences and Political Science,
Mike Winiski, Associate Director, Furman University Center for Teaching and Learning, 864-294-2451,


Last updated August 24, 2016
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Clinton Colmenares
News & Media Relations Director