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Jan. 14, 2022

A spark worth igniting

How two MSU social scientists united in the fight against violence

Each of us has something we are passionate about, as well as the capacity to create meaningful change as individuals - but when we connect with like-minded people who share our convictions and drive to make a difference, that's when the magic is amplified.

Dr. Heather McCauley (left) and Dr. Joanne Smith-Darden (right)

For proof, take Spark Research for Social Change (or Spark4Change), a lab in the MSU School of Social Work led by researchers Heather McCauley (left) and Joanne Smith-Darden (right). The two met in 2019, when McCauley transferred to the School of Social Work from her previous role in human development and family studies, and Smith-Darden joined MSU’s faculty after spending 10 years at Wayne State University.

From their first meeting, the two discovered that despite their differences in expertise and experience, they shared a common goal of transforming the world into a safer and more just place through team science. The name of their lab represents the spark that was re-ignited by their shared passion for research advancing social justice and violence prevention.

Despite several challenges, Spark4Change has been extremely successful in publishing and securing federal awards for transformative research surrounding violence prevention.

Most recently, McCauley and Smith-Darden were awarded a $1.6 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to work with the Traverse Bay Children's Advocacy Center on research to prevent child sexual abuse. The project, "The Public Will Campaign: Shifting Social Norms to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse," will embrace a social norms approach to violence prevention via  a series of media campaigns, community events and survey research to promote the rights and safety of children in northern Michigan.

Smith-Darden, in collaboration with researchers from Wayne State University, also received a $2.5 million grant from the CDC for a project called "Creating Protective Environments Through School Policy Development." Together with McCauley and the Michigan Organization on Adolescent Sexual Health, the research team is working to identify and inform best policy practices that Michigan middle and high schools can use to protect students from sexual violence and harassment, teen dating violence and bullying.

Learn more about Spark4Change on the College of Social Studies website.

By: Liz Schondelmayer