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VCU welcomes iCubed visiting scholar

Visiting scholar Jan Ivery, Ph.D., is applying her expertise in macro social work practice to improving life for residents in the city of Richmond.

Ivery is a key member of the recently formed Social Justice Transdisciplinary Core of VCU’s Institute for Inclusion, Inquiry and Innovation. iCubed’s goal is to forge partnerships between faculty and the community that solve persistent urban challenges. The institute’s Social Justice Transdisciplinary Core — one of five iCubed teams of VCU faculty, visiting fellows and scholars — has been tasked to make significant and meaningful changes in equality around food security, education, well-being and economic status in Richmond, where a quarter of residents live in poverty.

Ivery, an associate professor at Georgia State University’s School of Social Work, is working closely with colleagues in other disciplines to address structural inequalities and racism in Richmond that underpin poverty and affect residents’ employment, education and well-being. Risha R. Berry, Ph.D., iCubed visiting scholar in the VCU School of Education, and Nakeina E. Douglas-Glenn, assistant professor at the Wilder School and director of the Grace E. Harris Leadership Institute, have joined Ivery in developing a multidisciplinary, multidimensional approach to improving the quality of life of Richmond residents. Each scholar brings a unique perspective: Ivery is viewing urban challenges through the social work perspective; Berry, through education, and Douglas-Glenn, through policy.

“We’re looking through the structural racism lens,” says Ivery. “Our core wants to look at structural barriers that contribute to people living in poverty. We want to take a systems approach and begin to reduce the poverty rate in Richmond.”

Their collective work will have policy implications at the local, state and federal levels, says Aashir Nasim, Ph.D., director of iCubed and VCU’s interim vice provost for faculty affairs.

Ivery was selected for the core from a highly competitive and diverse pool of faculty candidates from across the country. “What was quite appealing to us about Jan’s academic and research background is her expertise in developing cultural and social capital among older adult populations in urban areas,” says Nasim. More than 7 percent of the Richmond region’s adults ages 65-74, who represent the fastest-growing segment of the population, live below the poverty line.

Ivery earned a Ph.D. from the VCU School of Social Work in 2004. Her scholarship has focused on community partnerships, community and organizational capacity, and service delivery associated with homelessness and gerontology. Her research on collaborative partnerships has explored the systemic and environmental factors that influence program development and implementation in economically diverse communities.

“Jan’s research extends the social justice lens to include populations typically ignored and overlooked in the redress of poverty and other structural inequities that disproportionately impact older adult populations,” Nasim says.

Ultimately, the Social Justice Transdisciplinary Core will develop impactful community-based research with resulting scholarship that addresses structural barriers affecting residents’ educational attainment, economic advancement and family well-being.

Taking an ecological approach, Ivery and her colleagues are in the process of creating the blueprint for the core, addressing operations and identifying partnerships. A proposal is due at the end of 2017.

“The plan is to begin plugging in the pieces,” Ivery says. “Who are the key strategic partners? How can we bring players together for collective effort to reduce poverty, address the educational attainment gap and develop an educated and skilled workforce? Our hope is to identify how we can work with communities.”