Rewards and Challenges of Community-Based Research



A key responsibility for all faculty members involves preparing students for active roles in an increasingly diverse society.  Essential acquired skills include teamwork, critical thinking, problem solving, and communication.  Faculty help students to make sense of society and communities by studying the ubiquitous social issues, changes, and often-shifting life phenomena.  Faculty invest both their lives and careers for the ultimate hope that research and teaching will have lasting impact.  As U.S. universities strengthen their focus on STEM disciplines, social scientists, education faculty, and qualitative researchers must make enhanced cases for continued relevance.  One way to accomplish this aim is through community-based research: projects connecting faculty and students with communities and organizations through research and service projects.  An important goal of these collaborations is to benefit the community by addressing particular-identified-needs.  A secondary goal is to benefit researchers who gain access to people, networks, and information—building a body of scholarship over time that makes significant differences in the lives of everyday people.  In the address, Dr. Keene discusses the role of community-engaged research in the academy, including both its rewards and challenges. Her address draws from both published research literature as well as her own experience with the Nevada Volunteerism Research Initiative, a project that studies volunteerism and barriers to volunteerism in Nevada.


Jennifer R. Keene earned her B.A. in sociology from Tulane University and her M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in sociology from Florida State University.  She joined the University of Nevada—Las Vegas (UNLV) faculty in 2001, served as an Associate Dean of the UNLV College of Liberal Arts beginning in 2013, and since 2016 Dr. Keene has served as the college’s Executive Associate Dean.  An active member of the UNLV community, she serves on numerous committees across campus and has studied gender and the relationship of family caregiving to paid work, social inequalities, death and dying, and most recently volunteerism. Her book, Death and Dying in America (2009, Polity Press), with Andrea Fontana, examines major processes surrounding the culture and rituals of death in the U.S.  Dr. Keene currently directs the Nevada Volunteerism Research Initiative, which is a community-based partnership between UNLV researchers and Nevada’s nonprofit organizations, designed to study volunteerism and to encourage a community conversation regarding civic engagement.  Dr. Keene’s CV is located here.