University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Assistant Professor of Sociology Chandra Ward has taken on the added role of director of community engagement for the University’s Center for Urban Informatics and Progress (CUIP).
Ward, a UTC faculty member since 2017, is an urban sociologist by training with expertise in public housing policy, low-income neighborhoods, community networks, displacement, urban development and transportation. Her research at UTC has focused on Chattanooga and Smart City projects, and she is currently working with Vanderbilt University and the Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority on a multi-million-dollar transportation project that has contributed to her interest in mobility and its relationship to citizenship.
“Currently, as we are working on projects, we include community engagement either before or during a project, but we want to make sure we have continuous community engagement. With Dr. Ward in this role, we will be able to do that,” said CUIP founding director Mina Sartipi, who also is executive director of the UTC Research Institute and Guerry Professor of computer science and engineering. “We will be able to engage the community, pre-project, to understand the needs, then during the project check that it is aligned with the community’s needs and, afterward, make sure the project’s impact is beneficial to the community.”
Ward, an interdisciplinary scholar, has been trained in areas that include Geographic Information Systems, community organizing and market research. She began working with CUIP shortly after arriving at UTC, bringing a social science perspective and approach to addressing urban issues through technology.
A paper Ward recently co-authored with UTC Assistant Professor of Sociology Darrell Walsh, “I Just Don’t Go Nowhere: How Transportation Disadvantage Reinforces Social Exclusion,” has been accepted into the Journal of Transport Geography—a leading interdisciplinary journal focusing on the geographical dimensions of transport, travel and mobility.
“I see my role as educating the public about technology, understanding the needs of the community and designing technology that’s responsive to the needs of people in the community,” Ward said, “Mina and I talked about my taking on a prominent position within CUIP as someone engaged in community engagement.
“Meaningful engagement takes time, and I want to form and build relationships with community leaders so we can work together.”
In addition to her tenure-track faculty position, Ward is active in the Chattanooga community—serving on the boards of The Chattery, Stoveworks, Humanities Tennessee and SPLASH Youth Arts.
“To me, the importance of community engagement involves drawing in community stakeholders and having them help us identify people, places, blind spots and access to other community members through their own indigenous relationships that they already have,” Ward said. “We want to expand on that in a way that we’ve not been able to do previously, and I think that speaks to the investment of CUIP in the community.
“Creating a permanent position within the Center shows that we are committed to the community side in making Smart City projects socially sustainable.”
To learn more about the UTC Center for Urban Informatics and Progress, click here.