Four 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 and College of Engineering. 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. Brief outlines of each project are below.

Part-time water management: untangling the role of technology in rural water stewardship

Noah Webster (ISR) and Branko Kerkez (CoE)

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.

Policy interventions for increasing the impact of used electric vehicles in rural contexts

Sabina Tomkins (ISR) and Anna Stefanopoulou (CoE)

The study aims to examine the extent to which used EVs can meet the needs of rural drivers through novel data collection on attitudes and adoption behaviors of drivers as well as fine-grained driving patterns.

Tracking Rural Energy Poverty (TREP) in India

Brian Min (ISR) and Raj Rao Nadakuditi (CoE)

This project will leverage nighttime satellite imagery and new settlement-level data on energy poverty and link these to a range of sociopolitical indicators in order to generate insight about what obstacles lead to sustained energy poverty.

Transforming Rural Diabetes Care through Social Science, Engineering, and Medicine

Jess Francis (ISR), Albert Shih (CoE, Biomedical Engineering, Institute of Gerontology), Noah Webster (ISR) and Miguel Funes (CoE, Mechanical Engineering)

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.


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