UNCW Center for Social Impact Aids Partners in Tackling Systemic Problems

Friday, January 22, 2021

Alongside an interdisciplinary team of faculty, the UNCW Center for Social Impact is helping community partners tackle issues from poverty to affordable housing.
The center officially launched in fall 2020 and is housed in the Office of Community Engagement and Applied Learning, said Christopher Prentice, associate professor of nonprofit management and CSI director. CSI draws faculty expertise from a multitude of fields including public health, sociology, data science, economics, nursing, education and public administration.
Faculty conduct research with community partners; consult with nonprofit, public and for-profit sector organizations to improve service delivery, cross-sector collaboration and philanthropic engagement; and educate students through applied learning experiences in collective pursuit of healthier and more equitable communities, said Prentice.
“The idea for the center was borne in 2019 when local groups and institutions began to coalesce around the idea that we needed to find new ways of working together to better serve this community,” he continued. “Independently we were all doing great things, but we understood that together we might leverage collective resources to have a greater social impact. For me, UNCW’s role in this emerging community effort was clear: we needed to facilitate and encourage more intentional partner engagement that invested our diverse wealth of human and intellectual capital. Several fantastic engagement offices already exist in UNCW, but none were doing what we proposed for the community.”
Over the last 18 months, faculty researched community needs and used the information to establish the center. “We didn’t attempt to recreate the wheel,” said Prentice. “We learned from what other universities on the cutting edge of social innovation and impact are doing in their communities and we adapted it to work in this community.”
CSI’s interdisciplinary faculty investigate community-defined research questions to produce actionable insights that inform policy and guide decision making, he added. Projects include analyzing patient records for more than two million individuals in the region to understand the effects of COVID-19 on vulnerable populations. The center is collaborating with the Cape Fear Collective, Coastal Connect Health Information Exchange, MedNorth Health Center, and the New Hanover County Public Health Department on the project.

The center is also conducting workforce and economic development studies to identify barriers to workforce engagement and the keys to inclusive economic growth. Another project calls for performing social network analysis to map the health, social service, and human service ecosystems and identify how they might operate more efficiently and effectively in service provision. Cape Fear Collective is a partner in those projects.
“Having the center on board enhances our partnership with UNCW and brings much-needed academic horsepower to our work,” said Patrick Brien, CEO of the Cape Fear Collective. “This kind of collaboration is essential if we’re going to tackle systemic problems like poverty, affordable housing and racism. CSI is a perfect example of the power of anchor institutions working collaboratively with the nonprofit community towards a brighter future.”
Prentice, who serves on boards and offers guidance to numerous local nonprofits, said he is thrilled to see CSI become a reality.

“In my years of service to this community I’ve witnessed the strength and resilience of this region and I’ve also seen persistent inequities that prevent some of our neighbors from accessing opportunities and getting the care they need,” he said. “I know that UNCW can play a larger role in creating healthier and more equitable communities in this region, and I’m so pleased to be part of that effort with CSI.”
Community organizations or faculty interested in learning more about CSI’s work or getting involved can contact the center at
-- Venita Jenkins