Four projects selected for 2024 Rural Life Program grants

June 24, 2024

Contact: Jon Meerdink ([email protected])

ANN ARBOR — The unique challenges and conditions of rural communities around the world will again be studied in-depth thanks to a pilot program partnering two University of Michigan Institutions.

The Institute for Social Research (ISR) and College of Engineering (CoE) have renewed their joint grant program studying issues facing rural populations, aiming to improve rural life through rigorous research and interdisciplinary collaboration. Each of the four projects selected for this year’s funding will receive $150,000 over a two-year period.

“We were very pleased with the progress of the four projects selected for last year’s grants and are excited to continue this interdisciplinary partnership with the College of Engineering,” said ISR Director Kate Cagney. “Through this continued research, we hope we can offer new insight into the issues facing rural populations in addition to fostering effective, sustainable solutions.”

This year’s collaborations touch on issues including accessibility to subsidized housing, energy inequality, the effects of pollen on mental health, and the long-term effects of recurrent flooding. Brief outlines of each project are below.

Access, Accessibility, and Aging in Place in Rural Subsidized Housing and Neighborhoods: Addressing Data Gaps Using Secondary Data and Image Segmentation

By Kimberly Rollings (ISR) and SangHyun Lee (CoE)

Shortages of affordable housing disproportionately affect older people. In the United States, approximately 20% of senior citizens live in rural areas, which often face shortages of subsidized housing, placing a significant portion of the population at risk. This project aims to assess shortages in the publicly available data concerning housing in rural Michigan, then creating new 

Addressing Energy Inequality in Rural Communities through Ocean Wave Energy: A Case Study in Beaver Island

By Xiaofan Li (CoE), Sun Kyoung Lee (ISR), Lei Zuo (CoE)

The 600 residents of Michigan’s Beaver Island depend on unstable and unreliable power sources for electricity. Through this project, the research team hopes to examine the effectiveness of marine renewable energy sources, the success of which may have implications far beyond Beaver Island, stretching to many other shoreline communities throughout the United States.

Understanding the Effects of Pollen on Suicide and Mental Health and Disparities across Rural and Urban Areas

By Joelle Abramowitz (ISR), Carina Gronlund (ISR), Allison Steiner (CoE), and Shooshan Danagoulian (Wayne State University)

In response to long-term increase in deaths by suicide and self-harm injuries throughout the United States, this project proposes to examine one potential underlying factor: seasonal pollen. Deaths by suicide historically peak in late spring and early fall, times of the year during which sleep, cognitive function, and quality of life could be affected by pollen. Researchers will attempt to examine a link between pollen and suicide, continuing a growing trend of research into place-based factors affecting suicide.

Integrating natural hazards engineering and social demography to identify cumulative consequences of recurrent flooding

By Sabine Loos (CoE), William Axinn (ISR), and Dirgha Ghimire (ISR)

Climate change is linked to more intense rainfall, which can in turn lead to more frequent flooding. This relationship is well understood, but there is a knowledge gap concerning how rural communities that routinely experience flooding fare over the long run. This project will study one such community, using long-term data to study population dynamics and health effects of flooding in Nepal’s Chitwan Valley.

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