Engaged Scholars: Jason Reece

Photo of Jason Reece

Engaged Scholars: Jason Reece

January 2022

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.

Jason Reece, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor and Graduate Program Chair
City & Regional Planning, Knowlton School, College of Engineering
Faculty Affiliate, The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race & Ethnicity

City planning is an applied field, that seeks to create equitable, healthy and sustainable communities. My scholarship seeks to understand ways we can foster a built and social environment which supports an equitable city and healthy communities. More specifically, my work explores how factors such as affordable and healthy housing, safe and healthy neighborhood environments and community engagement can improve outcomes for traditionally marginalized communities.

After nearly two decades at Ohio State, my research has directly influenced planning practice, policy and public or philanthropic investment. I was a collaborator in designing the court ordered fair housing remedy for the Baltimore region in Thompson v. HUD, one of the largest fair housing cases in recent history. I acted as a social and racial equity planning capacity builder for the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development Sustainable Communities Initiative for four years, working with 74 regional planning grantees across the nation.

My research has informed local, regional and national philanthropic organizations. Direct collaboration and engagement with community stakeholders has always been central to my work and I feel is a direct contributor to having success translating research into practice.

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

Engaged scholarship and teaching allows us to not only support our land grant mission at Ohio State, but creates opportunities for learning in tandem with community partners. Our students benefit from seeing the real-world implications, complications and opportunities of concepts taught in the classroom by working directly with community. Hopefully, students walk away from these experiences recognizing the importance of engaging the community's expertise in designing effective policy solutions or community programs.

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

I worked for 15 years at Ohio State's Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race & Ethnicity, where engaged scholarship was and still is critically important. We worked directly with community stakeholders and community members to understand ways to foster policy solutions which would expand access to opportunity for marginalized communities. My 15 years at the institute was very influential in shaping my work as a researcher and teacher. During this time, I worked with community stakeholders locally, but also in more than 30 states across the U.S. It was an amazing experience to have the privilege to partner and learn from community members seeking to improve their community. As an engaged scholar, we are not the sole experts, but should see ourselves in a position of lifelong learning in collaboration with our community partners. Participating in these collaborations, can foster grounded yet innovative solutions, while lifting up the voices of the community.

How has your scholarship benefited from engaging with community partners?

Working with community partners has been foundational to the way I see my field and my work with community and has shifted my perspective on a number of substantive issues in my field. This is particularly relevant in the context of understanding issues of justice and equity in our society. Engaged scholarship provides a widened lens to view our society, to understand the challenges we seek to solve and to design policy or programmatic solutions. In the context of supporting social and racial justice, we cannot advance solutions without the unique insights of people with the direct lived experience of how systems and policies either uplift or marginalize them. As a researcher, I seek to uphold the agency of the communities I work with, hopefully lifting up and amplifying their voices through my scholarship.

What has been a highlight of your community engagement experience?

While at the Kirwan Institute we designed the I am My Brothers Keeper youth development program which served more than 70 youth on the city's South Side. Our program, aligned organizations, community leaders and youth to expand opportunities for participants while addressing critical family needs such as clothing, furniture or assistance with housing. I acted as a program evaluator and had the benefit of watching youth in the program thrive and build confidence, optimism and hope over the course of several years. More recently, I am working with Move to Prosper, a program which provides safe, healthy and affordable housing to housing insecure families, while providing holistic coaching to help families with finances, parenting, wellness and a number of other goals.

As a program evaluator, I have participated on the journey of seeing the transformational impacts healthy housing, safe neighborhoods, community building with peers and coaching can have on families who were housing insecure or facing potential homelessness. Children in the program experienced dramatic changes to their physical and mental health over the past several years, while parents reported improved mental health and increases in income from focusing on career development with coaches. Being a small part in initiatives like I Am My Brothers Keeper, or Move to Prosper, inspire me to continue to collaborate and co-design solutions with community partners to improve life for our most marginalized families. I feel privileged to be able to do this work, and for the relationships I have built over the years engaging with the community. Personally, these relationships have been transformational to how I view my field and my work.

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

I would strongly encourage faculty and students to pursue this interest. I would caution that you should focus first on building relationships with community partners, before jumping directly into a particular project. Through relationship building you can better understand what issues the community would like help in understanding, or the problems they are hoping to solve. Strong relationships are critical to having a foundation to support engaged scholarship. Research must be reciprocal, not just a transactional scenario where you are extracting knowledge from the community. Generate knowledge in collaboration with community partners and utilize your position as a researcher, student or scholar to amplify the voices of communities who are underrepresented in traditional decision making. Not only will your research be more reflective of community experiences but it can provide an opportunity to directly support our community partners.

Sample Engaged Scholarship

Planning for Youth Emotional Health in Unruly Environments: Bringing a Trauma Informed Community Building Lens to Therapeutic Planning in Projections.

Planning for Regional Sustainability and Justice: The Role of Collective Impact in Journal of the Community Development Society.

Going Local to Support Fair Housing in PRRAC Journal.

For research reports produced from Move to Prosper, please visit: https://www.movetoprosper.org/reports

The Healthy Neighborhoods Healthy Families Initiative in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics.