CU-CitizenAccess co-founder honored with campus-wide award

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Brant Houston, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Chair and Professor in the Department of Journalism in the College of Media at the University of Illinois 2012-2013 CAEPE Award Winner

The co-founder and director of CU-CitizenAccess was one of three University of Illinois faculty to be honored Tuesday night with a campus-wide award aimed to highlight community engagement projects locally, nationally and globally.

Brant Houston, who holds the Knight Chair in Investigative and Enterprise Reporting in the Department of Journalism, launched CU-CitizenAccess in 2009.

The award-winning online news and information service is nationally recognized for its focus on investigative and enterprise coverage of social, justice and economic issues in east Central Illinois.

The Campus Award for Excellence in Public Engagement, given annually by the Office of Public Engagement, honors teams and individuals who engage the public to address critical social issues. This year a doctoral student and a team received awards along with the three faculty members.

Houston was honored for his visionary efforts to integrate the work of journalism students and faculty with the community through CU-CitizenAccess.

Through Houston’s efforts, CU-CitizenAccess collaborates regularly with The News-Gazette, Illinois Public Media and Hoy Chicago to highlight the social and economic issues of underserved and underreported communities in the region.

Houston also collaborates with another honoree this year – Martin Wolske.

Wolske is a senior research scientist with the Center for Digital Inclusion in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science. Wolske was honored for his wide-spread community engagement work that includes incorporating technology classes with community spaces. For example, as part of his classes, Wolske’s students build and network computer labs in underserved communities, such as East St. Louis.

Houston and Wolske have worked together to develop public computer labs in Champaign communities such as Salt and Light Food Pantry that serves the Dobbins Downs Neighborhood and Shadow Wood Computer Lab, which serves the largest Hispanic community in the area.

Other honorees include this year include Madhu Viswanathan, the Diane and Steven N. Miller professor in the Department of Business Administration and Deirdre Lanesskog, a doctoral student in the School of Social Work.

Lanesskog was honored for her work on immigrant advocacy in the local community, such as public health issues and housing for migrant workers. She received a Graduate College Focal Point grant to support community engagement activities to address the needs of new immigrants and their service providers.

Viswanathan was honored for his work in establishing the Marketplace Literary Project in India to help low-income, low-literate buyers and sellers start their own business or be more informed consumers through tools such as picture-sorting, role play and videos.

Finally, the Office of Public Engagement honored the team of Scientific Animations Without Borders, who developed videos and education materials using cellphones and animated characters.

The videos are geared toward residents in developing countries to help them learn new techniques and technologies for agriculture, health and sustainability. The videos can be recorded in any language and overcome cultural barriers because it features animated characters.

The videos also reach those with low literacy.

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