Dr. Ameena Batada, Assistant Professor in the Department of Health and Wellness receives UNC Asheville Community Connector Award for academic and civic engagement. Recognized at Special Luncheon Ceremony with community members, Provost.
Dr. Ameena Batada’s penchant for campus and community collaboration to address health disparities has earned her immense community recognition, deep respect and credibility within many neighborhoods and non-profits throughout the City of Asheville, including the admiration of UNC Asheville faculty, staff and students. Concluding her third year as Assistant Professor in the Department of Health and Wellness there is much to be celebrated about her accomplishments and yet still more to be done, according to Dr.Batada. Having grown up in the middle-class town of Newmarket, a suburb of Toronto, Ontario, Batada rarely faced the public health challenges she now vehemently combats. Sparked by an undergraduate experience in South Africa during the 1990’s when she studied women’s role in familyand community, Batada recognized the value of community participation in driving sustainable research and practice, and not the other way around. “My appreciation and understanding has evolved, says Batada, I now view community-driven approaches as essential for raising awareness and social change. During my first semester at UNC Asheville, I taught a course on community health promotion and purposefully looked to the community for partners, and that is how it started for me here.”
With a formidable teaching load offering classes ranging from health parity to health communications, community health promotion, maternal and child health to global health, and health policy to health & the media, Batada challenges her students to view health disparitythrough a multifaceted lens of contemporary and all-inclusive understanding. This broad-sweeping approach allows Batada to tackle the myriad of challenges local community agencies confront at the grassroots level; and thus, her students are able to devise impactful strategies to complement the work of those organizations, concerned citizens, activists, and public health officials to promote healthy communities. Recognizing the impact the economy has played in the competition for funding and other resources in the community; Batada’s students mainly address issues of sustainability, including program evaluation, data collection and analysis, and include ways to deepen community collaboration and engagement. Ever pushing the envelope, she virtually leaves no stone untouched when it comes to health disparities! “Many of my students’ projects involve lesser-recognized but very important aspects of community health promotion. We continue, however, to learn and work on including multiple voices in decision-making.” To that end, student projects are unique and tailored to address the complexities of each partner’s needs ranging from direct service to evaluation models to track outcome measurables, database development and beyond, thereby leveraging the best academic scholarship at UNC Asheville in civically responsible and relevant ways.
Batada has masterfully bridged the gap between the academy and community resulting in a formidable network of stakeholders capable of powerful systemic and social change, maximization of collaborative resources, institutionalizing policies and practices, heightening awareness, and building the momentum necessary to develop long-term and lasting solutions. According to Batada, “the most effective alliances are those formed with time and commitment, transforming the individuals and institutions that are part of them. My goal is to work deeply on long-term community projects requiring the cultivation of relationships with local organizations. Our three deepest collaborations are with the Asheville Buncombe Institute for Parity of Achievement (ABIPA), Buncombe County Department of Health and Human Services (BCDHHS), and Buncombe County Public Schools (BCPS). These organizations collectively work with thousands of people and our projects involve mostly students who provide data support, translation, and some direct service work.” It is no surprise that well over 100 UNC Asheville students annually participate in community projects with these and other organizations using Batada’s service-learning courses pairing the scholarship of the academy with the power and authenticity of the community to promote equitable resource allocation for health and wellness.
Of her work, Batada credits the ideas as stemming organically from community-driven and identified needs. “The initiatives with which I have worked are not mine – they were conceived of and started by community organizations so there is built-in sustainability. I have learned so many things from these projects that I hardly would know where to start with the lessons of community engagement.” While she has yet to develop interdisciplinary approaches with other UNC Asheville departments, this is most certainly in the immediate future for Batada and her students. “I think the benefits of community engagement are multi-dimensional. They include tangible rewards for one’s self (in doing something for others), for organizations and communities (providing needed services), and for our society (through long-term changes in structures and policies, changing perceptions of the institution as well). For faculty in particular, recognizing that hands-on experience with real-world issues is one of the best teaching tools is a big benefit of community engagement.” Community members describe her work as giving “voice” to community issues. Je’Wana Grier-McEachin, Executive Director of ABIPA, said “being able to receive support from Dr. Batada and her students to conduct community surveys and synthesizing the data that we have been collecting over the years has been invaluable. Her expertise and commitment to health equity is aiding us in telling our story, measuring our outcomes and impact.”
When asked why she accepted the UNC Asheville Community Connector Award, she smiled and said "Anytime there is an opportunity to highlight authentic partnerships that work – the collaboration of students and community working alongside as partners, it is important to honor them. This award celebrates this collective work and it is great that UNC Asheville values these connections!”