Engaged Scholars: Holly Dabelko-Schoeny

Holly Dabelko-Schoeny, right, meets with community partners

Engaged Scholars: Holly Dabelko-Schoeny

August 2021

Engaged Scholars is a monthly series highlighting Ohio State faculty who have made an impact in our communities through their community-engaged research and teaching. Photo: Holly Dabelko-Schoeny, right, leading an intergenerational innovation session at 99P Labs.

Holly Dabelko-Schoeny, MSW, PhD
Associate Professor and Director of Research, Age-Friendly Innovation Center
College of Social Work

Through the Age-Friendly Innovation Center, I use community-based participation research methods to engage older adults and those who serve them in improving social, built and service environments to foster social connection, inclusion and resiliency among older residents. My most recent work focuses on issues of mobility, transportation and emergency response.

Why is it important to engage the community in your research and teaching?

Improving the quality of our lives as we age is a complex process that is influenced by individual, group and system factors. I believe the answers to some of our most pressing community challenges lie within the intersection of interdisciplinary scientific knowledge, the expertise of older adults and the knowledge of practitioners who serve them and their families.

What led you to the path of engaged scholarship? How did you get started?

As a social work researcher and former practitioner, my scientific curiosity has always been driven by the desire to build knowledge that makes a difference in the lives of others. Working in the field of aging prior to going into academia gave me the opportunity to see first-hand the need to better understand what community-based interventions work best, how and for whom. I am not simply interested in knowledge for knowledge sake, but I want my work to have an impact.

How has your scholarship benefited from engaging with community partners?

My scholarship would not exist if it weren't for community partners. These "experience experts" drive what questions I investigate, how I collect data, how I interpret the data and the implications of my discoveries.

What has been a highlight of your community engagement experience?

There are so many highlights of my community engagement experiences over the course of my career - from meeting incredible people, to gaining new insights, to my work resulting in changes in the way services are delivered. Most recently, I received an email from a community leader in another county in Ohio letting me know how she used an article that I wrote with another one of my colleagues to convince local elected officials to move forward in support of making their community more age-friendly. Utilizing my work to make meaningful community changes - those are the highlights of my community engagement experiences and my career.

What advice would you give to faculty and students who are interested in engaging the community in their scholarship?

Start by listening to the needs and priorities of your partners. Identify how research can assist in answering the questions and challenges community members think are most important. Take the work seriously, but dont take yourself seriously. Engage community members with humility, transparency and intention. They are much wiser than any of us with PhDs.

Sample Engaged Scholaship

Tedx Talk: What is your mobility plan?

Person-led Innovation Report

Safe Routes to Age in Place Report

Select Manuscripts

Dabelko-Schoeny, H., Maleku, A., Cao, Q., White, K., & Ozbilen, B. (2021). "We want to go, but there are no options": Exploring barriers and facilitators of transportation among diverse older adults. Journal of Transport & Health, 20, 100994. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jth.2020.100994

Dabelko-Schoeny, H., Fields, N. L., White, K., Sheldon, M., Ravi, K., Robinson, S. R., Murphy, I. E., & Jennings, C. (2020). Using community-based participatory research strategies in age-friendly communities to solve mobility challenges. Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 63(5), 447463. https://doi.org/10.1080/01634372.2020.1769787