Hey there! I’m Alej Martinez, and I recently went on a road trip across Kansas with my team from EPSCoR/ARISE. Picture this – warm Kansas sunsets, open roads, and a whole lot of insightful conversations about community resilience.
K-State Professor Jason Bergtold (center left) and his graduate student Mariam Gharib traveled to Dodge City with me (right), along with Claudia Bode (left) who oversees education and outreach efforts for Kansas NSF EPSCoR.
Our journey took us from bustling urban areas to serene rural landscapes. From northeast to southwest, we trekked across 20 counties to arrive in Dodge City after a beautiful sunset.
The next day, we hosted a focus group with community members, chatting about the resilience of their households. Each resident had a unique story of challenges and strengths, sharing a colorful mosaic of experiences.
We wrapped up our week in Olathe, where Professor Sutley and I introduced Johnson County employees and leaders to the ARISE project over the lunch hour (sandwiches included!). We also learned about their roles and how they’re boosting resilience in their county.
At several meetings with Kansas residents, we tried something cool – word clouds! We asked folks to type whatever words popped into their heads when we asked, “What is community resilience?” In Wyandotte County, it was all about empathy, solidarity, and adaptation. Johnson County folks threw in words like willingness to change, hope, and inclusivity. It felt like a true privilege to be getting this insight, and I felt grateful for that opportunity.
The aim of our project is diverse representation. We want everyone – from individuals to institutions to governing partners – to be included in and benefit from our research. This is why we host roundtable presentations and focus groups. These forums help us understand all the different sides of the story ensuring no one’s left out.
In other words, social equity is truly at the heart of all our community engagement. We don’t see communities as research subjects but as equal partners. We want rural and urban areas to take the reins, control their stories, and use this project for their benefit. We’re on a mission to build capacity for research and resources that actually make a difference in people’s lives.
As the sun set on the Kansas landscape, we snapped a photo to remember our adventure. It feels good to link so many different people together to create a future where communities are strong, adaptive, and truly resilient.