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USC State of the Neighborhood Report - Interview with Dr. Hortensia Amaro

Figure source: USC State of the Neighborhood Report, April 2015


By Evelyn Moreno 

“What are the community conditions that shape life opportunities and well-being of residents in the communities surrounding the USC Health Science and University Park campuses and how might we best align efforts to address them?"

~Dr. Hortensia Amaro

In a recent effort to address these questions, a team of faculty and community stakeholders embarked on a study comparing data indicators of community conditions related to education, health and health care, neighborhoods and built environment and social capital in the communities surrounding the University Park Campus and Health Sciences Campus to the city of Los Angeles. The report resulting from this effort highlights the largest disparities facing the communities neighboring USC and provides baseline data that can be used to guide efforts to create positive change within these local neighborhoods. As such, the report is meant to serve as a starting point that hopefully will encourage the faculty, students and community stakeholders to look more deeply into community conditions through further research and engage key players in the development of strategies to uplift the life conditions of residents.


Source: USC State of the Neighborhood Report, April 2015  


Evelyn Moreno and Minhee Son from the MetaConnects team recently connected with the project lead, Dr. Hortensia Amaro, Associate Vice Provost for Community Research Initiatives, to talk a little bit more about the State of the Neighborhood Project.

In her short time at USC, Dr. Hortensia Amaro delved right into community research and noted the vast array of USC civic engagement and community-based projects, many initiated in 1992 as part of USC’s community-university partnerships. At that time priority areas identified were successful schools, healthy families, connecting campus and community, thriving businesses and safe streets. Currently, USC invests $35 million annually to support community initiatives, which now serves nearly 40,000 community members. Two decades after the initial priorities were outlined, Amaro felt that a community assessment was needed to determine if they remained the most relevant and strategic domains for targeting programs and research.

In collaboration with USC Office of the Senior Vice President for University Relations, the Office of the Provost and deans across various colleges and schools, Amaro initiated the State of the Neighborhood Project in 2013. A community advisory board and faculty task force were formed to provide guidance and input during the development and implementation phases of the project. To help conduct the study, the Advancement Project was brought on board for their community-based research capacity--using data for equity and social justice issues, and experience working with different community organizations.


Three main goals of the State of the Neighborhood project

Amaro stated, “the goals of the State of the Neighborhood Project are to:

1. Examine current data trends in local neighborhoods and propose strategies that USC and community stakeholders could pursue to achieve positive community impacts;

2. Identify strategic priority areas for USC civic engagement efforts;

3. Identify opportunities for interdisciplinary faculty research and scholarship that could further inform community needs and assets and place-based research and interventions; and

4. Serve as a resource and framework for university and community stakeholders in the areas of civic engagement, place-based research and student service learning.”

The report is being released this month with kick-off events at the UPC and HSC. And a website with geo-coded data from the report will be available in May that can serve as a resource for community stakeholders. While the report does not provide an evaluation of current USC civic-engagement activities or the Good Neighbors Campaign, the findings can be used to inform such efforts.


From our Q & A with Dr. Amaro


MetaConnects: What role does USC play in the community through the Good Neighbors Campaign, civic engagement efforts, and place-based research?

Dr. Amaro: The Good Neighbors Campaign is a significant and important community-academic partnership effort. It funds projects that address important needs in the local communities. USC also has a significant number of students in service learning projects through which they collaborate with local community agencies on service programs.  And we have a large number of faculty who conduct community-based research. Many of these efforts across the university include community stakeholders as collaborators or as community advisory boards. Because of the significant magnitude and variety of ways in which our students and faculty are involved in the community, it is a challenge to have a comprehensive picture of our civic engagement efforts. 


MetaConnects: What can you share with us regarding any of the recommendations or key findings from the report?

Dr. Amaro: The report presents findings regarding inequities and community conditions that warrant attention. The recommendations provide guidance on actions that various stakeholders can take to address the needs identified. We also hope that the report along with the website providing a link to the census-track level coded findings will be a resource for community agencies as they seek funding for programs and initiatives that address the needs of their service populations and communities. Some of the findings, such as those related to economic stability, won’t be surprising since we have long been aware of the high rates of poverty in the local communities. Other findings such as the high rates of child abuse and neglect allegations and uninsured residents, and the striking lack of green space, healthy food options and banks provide more insight into challenges that residents experience. Similarly, the findings regarding low rates of 3rd grade language proficiency and community’s interest in increased avenues for higher education for youth and employment help to point to some priority areas. The hope is that we can continue to track these data over time, and assess if recommendations are implemented by stakeholders and what impacts these actions have.


The State of the Neighborhood Report is available here



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