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2017 Final Projects

Posted by on Friday, August 18, 2017 in Final Projects and Theses, .

Of the most recent cohort of CDA graduates, six completed a project for their final assessments. These projects, designed and conducted within an organizational or community context, integrate core philosophy, coursework, and field experience of the Community Development & Action program. Accompanied by a final document and presentation, the final projects account for a minimum of 100 hours of the students’ practicum. Several of this year’s final projects are described below.

Casey Ayres, M.Ed. 2017

Organization: PENCIL, Glencliff High School


As part of her practicum with PENCIL at Glencliff High School, Casey Ayres carried out a project that evaluated teacher opinions of an alternative discipline policy called Restorative Practices (RP). In order to combat the tendency of harsh, Zero Tolerance policies to lead to the “school-to-prison pipeline,” which inequitably affects students of color, RP focuses on repairing harm and restoring relationships. After being trained in RP and helping to develop the model for Glencliff, a Nashville public high school, Casey designed a survey to evaluate teacher opinions of the model, thus providing a feedback loop for the program’s constituents. She then compiled the data into a summary for the school, which highlighted strengths, areas for improvement, and suggestions for how to address the main challenges. This project ultimately benefitted coordinators and administrators as they expanded the program to the whole school. Through her project, Casey established connections with staff and students, engaged in the RP program’s development, and was later hired as Glencliff’s full-time Restorative Room Director.

Gary Gaston, M.Ed. 2016

Organization: Nashville Civic Design Center

image002Gary Gaston, who completed his M.Ed. while working at the Nashville Civic Design Center, integrated his CDA coursework and final project requirements into the book he directed and co-authored titled Shaping the Healthy Community: The Nashville Plan. In the book, which was published by Vanderbilt University Press in June 2016, Gaston explored the relationship between the built environment and public health and presented an action plan for a healthier city. The project included in-depth research and city mapping, case studies of specific neighborhoods, policy recommendations, and design strategies. The community impact of the book extends from private citizens to policy makers, health officials, designers and developers, as it informs these groups of the infrastructure investments needed to help Nashville become a healthier city.

Dawn Harris, M.Ed. 2016

Organization: Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC)

Dawn Harris’ final project involved the design and implementation of an online train-the-trainer program for a community intervention project at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC). The overarching research project was an obesity prevention program implemented through the Parks and Recreation infrastructure. It involved preschool-aged children and their parents in a 12-week interactive and multi-modal life-skills building program on the topics of setting goals, nutrition, physical activity, wise use of media, and the importance of sleep. Dawn’s project to develop the online training modules included researching how people learn, understanding web-based training platforms, creating digital materials, and learning and applying program evaluation concepts to assess the training portal.image003

Sarah Imran, M.Ed. 2017

Organization: Pact

PresentationWhile working with Pact, an international NGO that helps communities develop capacity, Sarah Imran engaged with the Pact Ventures team, which is in the process of developing a social enterprise strengthening program. For her final project, Sarah conducted a landscape and case study analysis of organizations that  support social entrepreneurs, social enterprises, and the field of social entrepreneurship. After completing the landscape and case study analysis, Sarah presented her findings to a groupof people from the Pact Ventures team, Social Innovation team, Capacity Development team, and others with experience and
interest in the topic. The presentation culminated in a focus group session
that included a discussion of what is already happening in the field, Pact’s unique value proposition, design elements that Pact is best positioned to offer, and the ideal enterprise with whom Pact should work. Ultimately, the project provided Pact with knowledge of the range of services and variety of programs offered in the social enterprise space, and based on this knowledge, allowed the organization to assess what Pact can offer, given its assets and resources.


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