MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL (10/31/2022)Michele Statz, PhD, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School, has been awarded a 2022 National Science Foundation CIVIC planning grant of $50,000 to improve access to legal advocacy for rural and Indigenous communities in Alaska. 

In Alaska, under-resourced rural infrastructure and professional shortages leave low-income individuals with unmet civil legal needs like debt collection, domestic violence, or eviction with little chance of achieving a just resolution. The Bridging the Rural Justice Gap: Innovating & Scaling Up Civil Access to Justice in Alaska project, a collaboration between the University of Minnesota Medical School, Alaska Legal Services Corporation, the American Bar Foundation, and the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, explores the Community Justice Worker model — a promising solution to these justice gaps.

“Our goal is to explore and scale up the growing Community Justice Worker program — a replicable delivery model that trains trusted, culturally-representative community health workers already embedded in rural and remote regions to provide formal legal advocacy,” Dr. Statz said. 

Kevin Diebel, PhD, interim regional campus dean of the University of Minnesota Medical School, Duluth Campus, is a core member of this team. Dr. Diebel is tasked with helping to design a curriculum that expands opportunities for training, eliminates attrition from the program and increases the geographical reach for distance learning.

The Civic Innovation Challenge is a multi-agency, federal government research competition that funds ready-to-implement, research-based pilot projects that have the potential for sustainable and transferable impact on community-identified priorities. 

Statz’s project is one of 56 teams granted Stage 1 planning awards. Each Stage 1 team will have an opportunity to compete for Stage 2, which grants up to $1 million per team to implement their envisioned pilot projects.


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