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February 22, 2023

Projects selected for grants focusing on rural life

Rural areas around the globe face distinct challenges, and four new projects bring University of Michigan social scientists and engineers together to improve understanding and develop solutions.

The projects are part of a joint pilot program between the Institute for Social Research (ISR) and College of Engineering (CoE). Each project will receive $150,000 in funding over a two-year period.

The pilot grant program aims to address issues facing rural populations and to improve rural life through rigorous research. The projects are strengthened by the interdisciplinary nature of the collaboration. ISR and CoE are leaders in interdisciplinary research, combining the expertise and perspectives of diverse disciplines to address real-world problems.

“When engineers and social scientists work together, they bring different yet complementary skill sets and perspectives to the table,” said ISR Director Kate Cagney. “Our hope is that these grants can foster a more comprehensive understanding of the issues facing rural settings, resulting in more effective and sustainable solutions.”

The collaborations will touch on issues of rural life including water stewardship, electric vehicles, energy poverty and diabetes care.

Noah Webster will partner with Branko Kerkez (CoE) on Part-time water management: untangling the role of technology in rural water stewardship. This proposal aims to develop a web-based decision support tool for rural dam operators by identifying the barriers to coordination among dam operators in the Huron River Watershed through mixed-method interviews.

Jess Francis and Noah Webster will partner with Albert Shih (CoE, Biomedical Engineering, Institute of Gerontology) and Miguel Funes (CoE, Mechanical Engineering) on Transforming rural diabetes care through social science, engineering, and medicine. This study employs a community-based participatory framework to understand the experiences and concerns of rural diabetes patients in the Upper Peninsula, identify systems level needs with partners, and evaluate the adoption and creation of technologies (such as 3D-printed custom prosthetics, or telemedicine) to aid in diabetes care for rural patients.