A Groundswell for Charlotte: New Gambrell Faculty Fellows address Economic Mobility

Clay Banks aerial photo of Charlotte NC
Monday, August 31, 2020
Research & Economic Mobility

Groundswells are a series of waves formed by storm systems off the coast, so-named because the energy from their waves reaches the floor of the ocean at a thousand foot depths. By the time the waves of a groundswell reach shore, the interplay between the ocean surface and floor has built energy and momentum. Unlike wind swells that result in shallow, choppy waves and tsunamis that result in a destructive wall of water, the waves of a groundswell are strong, consistent, and more predictable. Dr. Lori Thomas

Last year, the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, in collaboration with The Gambrell Foundation and Charlotte Opportunity Insights Partnership, launched The Gambrell Faculty Fellowship to build a cadre of faculty researchers and a body of work to inform and impact the Charlotte area, particularly around issues of economic mobility. In many ways the shared aims of the Partnership and the Gambrell Faculty Fellowship was to build a groundswell of relevant information the community could rely on to build understanding and support decision-making.

Nine fellows and five projects were named today in the second year of the Gambrell Faculty Fellowship. Projects approach the topic of economic mobility in a variety of ways, including the participatory development of an affordable homeownership toolkit, informal learning in virtual environments in K-12 computer science magnet programs, mapping food system assets and finding ways to create a more resilient and equitable way to feed our community, assessing the impact of arts on economic mobility, and increasing Latino family access to early childhood education. 

The Fellows represent three colleges and a range of disciplines including architecture, anthropology, community psychology, computing and informatics, geography, and sociology.

[Read about the new cohort of Gambrell Faculty Fellows here]

The Gambrell Faculty Fellows program grew out of the Charlotte Opportunity Insights Partnership, also funded by The Gambrell Foundation. One key objective of the Partnership is to incorporate, facilitate, and build local research capacity to address issues related to economic mobility in Charlotte. The Gambrell Faculty Fellowship Program was developed in 2018 to contribute to this objective by facilitating research on economic mobility and ensuring that our community can access that work. The Gambrell Foundation awarded a second grant to the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute in 2019 to extend and continue to build the fellowship program.

Last year’s inaugural cohort of faculty fellows are completing their research, with some data collection delays due to the pandemic. As research is completed, the fellows' work will be featured on the Urban Institute website and as part of the Urban Institute’s annual Schul Forum, rescheduled for November 2021. ArtsImpact Charlotte, a project from inaugural fellows Ken Lambla, Meg Whalen, and community consultant Nikkeia Lee, was recently featured in the Charlotte Observer.

[Read about the inaugural class of Gambrell Faculty Fellows here]

The Faculty Fellows program includes research and engagement components. First, competitive research funding of up to $15,000 per project supports short-term (up to 18 months) research that addresses economic mobility in the Charlotte region. Proposals are reviewed and selected by a committee of faculty and community leaders. 

Second, Faculty Fellows and community stakeholders will participate in meetings and programming through 2021 that highlight the results of their research, deepen the capacity to build partnerships, and ensure the translation of research to the broader community. Combined, the components ensure the availability of applicable research, the support and cultivation of community-engaged faculty researchers, and depth of subject matter and research expertise. 

Along with other community engagement initiatives at UNC Charlotte and the Urban Institute, this program is part of the growing groundswell of research support the community can turn to for relevant information and analyses

While Charlotte has directed its focus to the challenges of 2020, the community continues to grapple with the inequity, particularly racial inequity, that undergirds the lack of economic mobility and worse COVID-19 outcomes for Black and Latinx Charlotteans.  A phrase that’s caught on during this pandemic rings true: “We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat.” Economic immobility and the factors that cause and shape it remain relevant.

The waves formed by a groundswell are shaped by the shoreline. Where the water becomes shallow as the waves of a groundswell approach shore, the waves become taller and form their peaks. The Gambrell Faculty Fellowship is shaped by its landscape, of a community designed for the success of some and the struggle of others, of a pandemic hitting communities already suffering unequally.

The second cohort of Gambrell Fellows will contribute to a groundswell of energy and resources addressing this central Charlotte challenge.
The Charlotte-Opportunity Insights Partnership is a joint effort of the Opportunity Insights research and policy institute at Harvard University, the Foundation For The Carolinas, Leading on Opportunity, the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, and Brookings Institution scholars Camille Busette and Richard Reeves. The Partnership is funded locally by The Gambrell Foundation. The Partnership connects local non-profit, public, and private stakeholders with data and policy guidance as they develop and evaluate policies and programs to improve economic mobility. The initiative further strengthens local capacity for data-informed decision-making by enhancing the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute’s Institute for Social Capital integrated community data system and supporting local economic mobility research and partnerships.