ITHACA, N.Y.—Cornell University has awarded four grants to local research projects in hopes to “address opioid use, increase food security, build a greener construction industry and share stories of Ithaca’s Black pioneers.”

The money for the projects, more than $192,000 according to the school, is being provided by the Office of Engagement Initiative and is distributed through the Engaged Research Grants program.

The school described the four projects in a press release. “Understanding and Supporting Communities within Communities” involves four students who will connect with Black community member who use opioids. With help from Southside Community Center and the local REACH Project, a harm reduction-focused drug addiction services facility, the project aims to conduct surveys, oral histories and interviews with “hundreds of people who use drugs to better understand their backgrounds, drug use, medical and social needs. Jerel Ezell, assistant professor in Africana Studies and team lead, calls the project a “multilayered community partnership, student-to-neighborhood cultural exchange.”

Focusing on the pandemic and its intersection with food security, the second project is called “Enhancing Mutual Aid Food Sharing during a Pandemic,” in which faculty and students are collaborating with the local Mutual Aid Tompkins group to increase food security for local residents. The Mutual Aid Tompkins group has risen substantially in local prominence during the pandemic, serving as a hub for those wishing to help fellow community members with a variety of needs, COVID-19 related and otherwise. The Cornell research team is led by senior lecturer Karla Hanson, from the Master of Public Health (MPH) Program. Their work started in January, in which four students began analyzing the establishment and flow of the locally-established food cabinets and how they actually help with food access for vulnerable populations.

Thirdly, there is a team investigating “how to eliminate waste from building design, construction and operations,” under the name CI:RCLE (Circular Ithaca: Researching Construction in the Local Economy). The project is being helmed by Felix Heisel, an assistant professor of architecture, and Mark Milstein, a clinical professor in the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management. According to the school, “students will collaborate with experts from across the materials cycle—from architecture and construction to recycling and reuse—to analyze how resources move through the system and where more sustainable methods can be used.”

Additionally, a headphone walking play explaining Ithaca’s connection and history of the Underground Railroad and the civil rights era called “Trap Door” received funding. Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, an associate professor of literature in English, is leading the team of students who are researching and writing texts related to the project. The play will debut in May as a collaboration with The Cherry Arts and the History Center in Tompkins County.

Matt Butler is the Editor in Chief of The Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at