Penn Global Research and Grant Programs 2022 Research & Convening Projects
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In 2022, Penn Global will support 21 new faculty-led research and engagement projects at a total funding level of $1.2 million.
The Penn Global Research and Engagement Grant Program prioritizes projects that bring together leading scholars and practitioners across the University community and beyond to develop new insight on significant global issues in key countries and regions around the world, a core pillar of Penn’s global strategic framework.
- Enchanted Geography: India in the West African Popular Imagination
David Amponsah, School of Arts & Sciences
- Global Lives of Medicines: Materials, Markets, and Healing Practices across Asia
Hsiao-Wen Cheng, School of Arts & Sciences
- Sighting Black Girlhood in Philadelphia, Jamaica, and South Africa
Deborah Thomas, School of Arts & Sciences
- Migrant Associations in Sicily: Growing Capacity for Co-Development
Domenic Vitiello, Weitzman School of Design
- Mega-Eco: Best practice for implementing large-scale nature-based solutions
Richard Weller, Weitzman School of Design
PROJECTS ENGAGING AFRICA
- PENN/UNILAG collaboration on racial disparities in ameloblastoma recurrence
Sunday Akintoye, Dental Medicine
- Health and environmental benefits of improved cookstoves
Susanna Berkouwer, The Wharton School
- Local Histories of Climate Change in the Horn of Africa
Lee Cassanelli, School of Arts and Sciences
- Penn Development Research Institute (PDRI) Fellowship for African Scholars
Guy Grossman, School of Arts & Sciences
- Gambia Goat Dairy: A One-Health Teaching and Research Initiative
Tom Parsons / Brianna Parsons, School of Veterinary Medicine
- African Darks Earths: Climate Mitigation and Sustainable Agriculture
Alain Plante, School of Arts & Sciences
- Leveraging Early Adolescence for Development (LEAP) in Ghana
Sharon Wolf, Graduate School of Education
PROJECTS ENGAGING CHINA & INDIA
- Computational Social Listening of Vaccine Attitudes in India to Increase Provider Efficacy
Sharath Chandra Guntuku, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
- Using Computer Vision to Improve Sustainability of Chinese Pig Farmers
Tom Parsons, School of Veterinary Medicine
- Building the Habit of Regular Labor Supply in the Informal Market
Heather Schofield, The Wharton School / Perelman School of Medicine
- Kerala Maritime Communities Project
Thomas Tartaron, School of Arts & Sciences
- Understanding India’s Urban Future
Tariq Thachil, School of Arts & Sciences / Center for the Advanced Study of India
- Climate, Schooling and Learning in Rural India: A Mixed Method Study
Amrit Thapa, Graduate School of Education
PROJECTS ENGAGING THE AMERICAS
- Pivoting a Profession: School Leadership Formation Across the Americas
Michael Johanek, Graduate School of Education
- Water Rights at the interface of New Constitutionalism, Climate Change, and Extractivism in Latin America
Kristina Lyons, School of Arts & Sciences
- Galapagos Climate Change Adaptation Americas
Michael Weisberg, School of Arts and Sciences / Perry World House
Enchanted Geography is a book project that explores the cultural history of how Ghanaians and Nigerians came to construct India as a repository of the most powerful magic, deities, and spirits. The book further examines how the idea of India is summoned in everyday secular and religious spaces. Amponsah shows that, in tandem with a nexus of historical factors, this view of India is the product of a common West African indigenous worldview that privileges geographical distance in the search for potent spiritual resources.
“Global Lives of Medicines” is a collective project on the cross-cultural exchange of medicines and the ways in which global trade networks and local healing practices are intertwined across Asia. Cheng will bring together specialists in medical humanities in historical and contemporary China, Japan, Korea, Central Asia, South Asia, and Southeast Asia to engage in discussion and collaborative research on the roles materiality and bodily experience play in the production and transmission of medical knowledge. Cheng argues that much of this research will challenge decades of emphasis on European expansion and related influences on trade networks.
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the deep inequities of our social systems, and protests against police killings drew broader attention to anti-Black state violence worldwide. Yet the gendered dimensions of these problems are not always fully understood. As one way to bring the issues facing Black girls globally to public attention, and to celebrate and support Black girls, Thomas will sight, site, and cite Black girlhood in Philadelphia, Jamaica, and South Africa. “Sighting Black Girlhood” will incorporate a team-taught course that includes a travel component during which students will work with community partners in Jamaica and South Africa; artistic collaborations with partners in Philadelphia, Jamaica, and South Africa; and a traveling exhibit that will also generate ongoing engaged research geared toward meaningful interventions in the lives of Black girls.
Sicily is a prime destination of climate migration from Africa and Asia. As in other immigrant destinations, migrants organize community associations that seek to address the conditions that drive migration from their homelands. These transnational co-development activities include funding, organizing, and advocacy around relevant issues, including water and reforestation, schools and employment, agricultural and other enterprises, health, digital infrastructure, combating sex trafficking, and more. This project involves research, teaching, and capacity building in support of migrant-led associations’ co-development work, with a focus on understanding migrant association members’ ideas, aspirations, challenges, and opportunities to address the conditions that drive migration.
Nature-based Solutions (NbS)—landscapes designed to increase the resilience of cities and provide ecosystem services—emerged from the World Bank in the early twenty-first century. The literature around NbS now calls for their rapid upscaling. However, large-scale projects already exist—for example, the Great Green Wall across Saharan Africa—but these types of projects are typically seen as single, and somewhat eccentric initiatives. Weller argues however that large scale nature-based solutions constitute an extension of the 20th century tradition of the megaproject but that to date they have not be studied as a group or organized into a taxonomy. His research therefore coins and defines a new term, "mega-eco projects," and develops a taxonomy of case studies to define it. The aim is to better understand mega-eco projects so that risks are limited, and best management practices encouraged.
Projects Engaging Africa
Epidemiological studies show that ameloblastoma, an aggressively growing jaw tumor, is highly prevalent in African-Americans in the USA and in the sub-Saharan population of Black Africans. However, it is unclear whether the racial differences in ameloblastoma growth and recurrence can be attributed to biological or environmental factors. Akintoye will leverage ongoing research collaborations with the University of Lagos to access the largest tumor bank of ameloblastoma samples from black racial populations to elucidate biological indicators of tumor recurrence. Akintoye will also provide training and research capacity building for junior faculty at the University of Lagos.
Three billion people across the world still use traditional cooking methods: in Sub-Saharan Africa, 77% of households will still not have access to modern cooking services by 2030 according to the World Bank. East Africa in particular is a ‘hotspot’ where demand for charcoal, used to support traditional cooking methods, is unsustainable. In 2019 Berkouwer launched a randomized controlled trial with 1,000 residents of Nairobi, Kenya that demonstrated that the modern Jikokoa cookstove reduced daily charcoal usage by 40%. Given that initial research identified large charcoal usage reductions, significant health benefits are plausible, especially after three years of daily use. This 2022 follow-up is designed to rigorously measure air pollution and respiratory health outcomes using state-of-the-art pollution and medical monitoring technologies.
While a handful of dedicated naturalists and environmental activists in Somalia, Somaliland, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Kenya have reported on the impacts of environmental change at ground level, the results have neither been assembled and systematically compared across the Horn of Africa, nor incorporated into global discussions of mitigation strategies. Cassanelli will organize a series of virtual workshops that will put local African experts in dialogue with natural and social scientists from Penn to raise awareness and establish a collective research agenda to promote joint research projects that integrate indigenous knowledge with regional and international expertise.
The Penn Development Research Initiative (PDRI) is launching a competitive fellowship for international development scholars from sub-Saharan Africa with PhDs to spend a semester in residence at Penn during the 2023 fall semester. The Fellowship will support efforts to build capacity for rigorous research on pressing policy challenges facing African countries through the establishment of interdisciplinary partnerships between Penn researchers and African scholars and provision of training and research opportunities for emerging African researchers. During their time at Penn, fellows will present their own research as guest lecturers, attend workshops and seminars, receive advanced training, and launch collaborative research projects with Penn faculty and students.
A community-led agricultural development initiative, Gambia Goat Dairy aspires to transform into an impactful and self-sustaining teaching and research farm in The Gambia, serving as a model for community-centered agricultural development in the region. Through this project, Parsons and Parsons plan to expand an existing Penn Vet research project to create a high impact, sustainable food sovereignty initiative, with a focus on veterinary health and productivity, animal-source food marketing for local farmers, and maternal and child nutrition. Parsons and Parsons will also host outreach seminars to enable Gambian agriculturalists to apply the resulting research findings.
Soil organic carbon is a critical contributor to soil health and sustainable agriculture for global food production, and an important sink of atmospheric C for climate change mitigation. Localized African Dark Earth soils found in Ghana have been created through long-term intentional human inputs of organic materials, including char, and show greater fertility than surrounding unmanaged soils. African Dark Earths thus represent not only a scientific curiosity but a potential solution to widespread limitations to sustainable agricultural food production and climate mitigation in this part of the world. Plante will establish a reciprocal intellectual exchange of PIs and graduate-level students between Penn, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research-Soil Research Institute based in Kumasi, Ghana, and the University of Ghana, Legon to study the biological, chemical, and physical soil properties and processes that lead to Dark Earth formation.
Early adolescence offers a key window of opportunity to support human development. Interventions during early adolescence may seize age-specific opportunities to prevent risks; bolster the effectiveness of investments made earlier in life; and mitigate damage from early-life adversity. Parenting programs are especially promising. Yet evidence on whether such programs can fulfill this potential, for which children, and through which channels, is scant, especially in low-resource settings. This project’s overall objective is to inform a deeper understanding of parents’ attitudes towards engagement in their adolescent’s education and well-being, with a gender-equity lens to understand attitudes towards children using community-based participatory research with caregivers and adolescents in four peri-urban communities in Ghana. The results will inform the adaptation of a parent engagement intervention to increase engagement and support adolescent well-being and to pilot test the program with a small group of families.
Projects Engaging China & India
Public health information and health promotion campaigns have traditionally relied on theory-based surveys, focus groups, and interview methods to measure knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs, and then to design messaging to address barriers to healthy behaviors. Recent growth in social media use and related advances in analytic techniques provide a unique opportunity to track public views, knowledge, and attitudes seamlessly, and to translate insights from novel analytic pathways into “social listening” output. Guntuku will build a computational engine that will enable social listening of concerns that impede vaccine confidence and feed into a protocolized process for rapid development and testing of message elements that emerge from dynamic social listening. The computational engine will mine large-scale social media data from multiple platforms and utilize state-of-the-art machine learning and natural language processing algorithms to inform precision public health communication.
Food production in the near future must double to meet the growing demands of a world population estimated to exceed 9 billion by 2050. China is home to >1 billion of those people as well as 50% of the pigs in the world. These pigs will feed a burgeoning global demand for animal protein, but also promise to impact climate change, as animal agriculture is a significant contributor to global warming. Efficiency remains one of the largest drivers in reducing agriculture’s environmental impact. An international team of experts with knowledge and experience in animal welfare, productivity, computer vision, and the Chinese swine industry will apply computer vision technology to study facial features of mother sows. This information is compared to several different biological metrics that reflect the animal’s health, welfare, and productivity in an effort to increase efficiency and improve the sustainability of Chinese pig farmers.
Many individuals in low-income settings work surprisingly few days. This is a cause of concern for two reasons. First, this directly translates into lower earnings – in itself a major policy concern. Second, when more people are working, the overall economy benefits due to increased demand and investment. The existing economics literature has traditionally viewed low employment levels as a result of difficulty in finding work. While this view is undoubtedly important, it has not been able to fully explain low levels of work. Using an RCT which incentivizes casual workers to arrive at the labor stand by 8am, Schofield’s project will explore whether building a habit of regular and timely labor supply can increase work and earnings. Understanding what gives rise to these patterns will have broad policy implications for understanding which policies may be leveraged to improve the livelihood of the poor and, ultimately, sustain economic growth.
The Kerala Maritime Communities Project (KMCP) engages several “traditional” fishing communities in Kerala state, South India. The specific aims of KMCP are to:
- Preserve the vanishing cultural heritage of these communities in the form of a physical and virtual open-source archive of recorded oral histories, songs, videos, writings, and artifacts;
- Document changing ways of life as impacted by disruptions to the coastal environment, including human-induced climate change, damaging coastal constructions and engineering, and diminished marine resources;
- Explore Kerala fishing communities as a cross-cultural comparative case of coastal adaptations in world history and ethnoarchaeology; and
- Exchange Indian and American scholars and students for workshops and course development.
Tartaron will partner with Mahatma Gandhi University and the Kerala Council for Historical Research to disseminate results locally and worldwide through open-source platforms. The project follows upon a pilot phase in 2014 consisting of 17 oral history interviews.
India is expected to add 416 million people to its cities by 2050—the largest projected increase in the world. Yet scholars of this rapid urbanization have overwhelmingly focused on large ‘megacities’ like Delhi and Mumbai, even though over 90% of India’s cities have less than 100,000 residents. Thachil’s project will examine governance and development challenges in India’s vast constellation of small cities. This multi-faceted data collection effort will yield novel insights about electoral politics, state-society relations, and the causes and consequences of weak state capacity in these numerous yet understudied urban spaces.
One important manifestation of climatic change is increasing flooding in many highly inhabited places, including India. India also is home to the world’s largest number of school-aged children, the majority of whom live in rural areas in which floods can adversely affect education by hindering transportation to schools, damaging school infrastructure, and disrupting local activities. Floods may also reduce student enrollment, attendance, grade progression, and learning. Effects may vary across outcomes and also may be immediate and/or persist over years; however, few studies have evaluated flooding effects on education. Thapa’s study addresses this gap by undertaking a mixed-method pilot project that will investigate heterogeneous immediate and persistent effects of floods on schools, teachers, and children’s education in rural India.
Projects Engaging the Americas
The Americas have experienced an historic blow to educational progress; 7.6 million more “learning poor” in Latin America, as U.S. low-income students lost seven months in math. Amidst this urgency, continued health threats, economic strains, political instability, and social unrest underline the exacerbated uncertainty faced by school professionals. How can we best support urgently needed educational improvements in such fluid settings? Johanek’s project will help transform the professional formation of school leaders across the Americas by identifying and gauging a core judgment capacity – in situ judgment – which underlies effective, timely, context-responsive performance within our diverse contexts of increased ambiguity across the hemisphere; and by developing systematic ways to help aspiring, novice, and practicing professionals develop that capacity further. This cross-university, cross-disciplinary effort has the potential to spur dramatically more effective adaptation by school leaders to current volatile contexts.
Water Rights at the interface of New Constitutionalism, Climate Change, and Extractivism in Latin America
The proliferation of rights of nature rulings have placed Latin America at the center of innovative legal, policy, and scholarly debates on a hemispheric and global scale. Previous focus on human rights and land redistribution in the wake of dictatorships, armed conflict, and agrarian struggles have transformed into grassroots movements and constitutional reforms dealing with climate justice, fundamental rights to healthy environments, and expanding concepts of legal personhood. Lyons’ research project focuses specifically on socio-environmental conflicts involving source drinking water and the protection of glaciers, watersheds, and aquifers. In so doing, Lyons will engage in comparative research in two contexts – Chile and Colombia – where rights to water, rights of bodies of water, and conflicts over the management of water cycles (from glacial contributions to water availability to surface and groundwater sources) are at the center of emergent constitutional reforms, political economic debates, and climate change mitigation strategies.
Climate change presents existential risks to ecosystems and populations across the globe. Every community will experience the impacts of climate change differently and thus adaptation efforts require local action. The Paris Agreement notes adaptation “should be based on and guided by the best available science and, as appropriate, traditional knowledge, knowledge of indigenous peoples and local knowledge systems.” However, there is not yet an effective way for local knowledge to enter into scientific research or negotiation among countries. Weisberg’s project will address this disconnect, using the Galápagos Islands as a proof of concept. His project will simultaneously develop, implement, and disseminate a framework for connecting local knowledge and adaptation efforts to UN processes.
Penn Global Research and Engagement Grant Program
The Penn Global Research and Engagement Grant Program aims to support projects that bring together leading scholars and practitioners across the University community and beyond to develop new insight on significant global issues in key countries and regions around the world.