Campus Life

Texas Target Communities Program Honored For Community Engagement Work

Researchers and community members are collaborating to improve health in a local Houston community.
By Texas A&M University Division of Academic and Strategic Collaborations October 31, 2023

Urban Buffalo Bayou Park offers downtown Houston a green oasis for recreation and beautiful views of the skyline.
Since 2014, Texas A&M has worked alongside Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Service (T.E.J.A.S.), a nonprofit in Houston, to jointly investigate and document the city’s vulnerabilities.

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Texas A&M University’s Texas Target Communities (TXTC) Program recently was honored by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) as a 2023 W. K. Kellogg Foundation Community Engagement Scholarship Award winner. Program leaders – Jaimie Masterson and John Cooper Jr. – represented Texas A&M University at the Engagement Consortium International Conference in Lansing, Mich.

Texas A&M is one of four universities recognized at the event as award winners and as finalists for the 2023 C. Peter Magrath Community Engagement Scholarship Award, which will be announced in November. The award honors universities that have made exemplary strides to become more closely and productively engaged with communities through teaching, learning, discover and service activities.

“This is the first time Texas A&M University has won this award, and we are honored to be among top universities pushing for community-engaged research,” said Jaimie Masterson, director of the Texas Target Communities Program, which is a university-wide initiative helping to increase resiliency of communities across Texas.

Since 2014, Texas A&M has worked alongside Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Service (T.E.J.A.S.), a nonprofit in Houston, to jointly investigate and document persistent vulnerabilities at the nexus of chronic pollution and natural hazards, as well as chemical and nonchemical stressors. The partners, along with local high school students and teachers, collected data on a range of complex environmental issues, educated residents and developed solutions to reduce exposure and contamination. The relationship and research questions eventually resulted in a federal Superfund Center to research the health impacts of toxic pollutants.

Masterson said that the partnership with T.E.J.A.S. allowed faculty to recalibrate their research questions to better support the community’s needs.

Representatives from Texas A&M accepting the 2023 W.K. Kellogg Foundation Community Engagement Scholarship Award
Texas A&M University’s Dr. John Cooper Jr., assistant vice president and director emeritus of Texas Target Communities, accepts the 2023 W.K. Kellogg Foundation Community Engagement Scholarship Award.

Texas A&M University Division of Academic and Strategic Collaborations

“They were nimble and responsive, which has allowed for the longstanding relationship, successful grant-getting and immersive educational opportunities for our students and local high school students,” she said. “This project truly embodies our university’s mission of teaching, research and service.”

The research validated community concerns and revealed an increased risk of exposure to heavy metals found in drinking water and standing water, along with reduced general physical health scores. Students and community members co-developed landscape architecture and green solutions based on environmental and health assessments, along with community desires.

“At Texas A&M, the partnership underscored the value of specialized community engagement staff, a thoughtful methodological approach to engagement, cultural competency training for students and faculty, and the involvement of residents to increase community participation,” Masterson added.

The partnership will be sustained with additional grants to further reveal and document health outcomes from environmental toxins.

“Congratulations to the regional winners of the Kellogg Community Engagement Scholarship Awards and exemplary projects,” said APLU President Mark Becker. “Community engagement is a critical part of public universities’ mission, and we’re pleased to highlight the work of institutions that are engaging communities to solve challenges. From the underserved areas of their communities and states to overlooked regions of the world, public research universities are engaging communities to solve the most pressing problems they face.”

Since 2007, APLU and the Engagement Scholarship Consortium, with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, have partnered to honor the engagement scholarship and partnerships of four-year public universities. The award recognizes programs that demonstrate how colleges and universities have redesigned their learning, discovery, and engagement missions to deepen their partnerships and achieve broader impacts in their communities. The national award is named for C. Peter Magrath, APLU president from 1992 to 2005. Other finalists for the award are North Carolina State University, The Ohio State University and the University of Pittsburgh.

A team of community engagement professionals from public research universities judged this round of competition. A second team will pick the national winner following presentations at the 2023 National Engagement Scholarship Conference. The C. Peter Magrath Community Engagement Scholarship Award includes a sculpture and $20,000 prize. The three other regional winners will each receive a $5,000 prize to further their work.

Media contact: Megan Lacy,

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