Faculty Research Program

The IC² Institute engages with and supports UT Austin faculty research projects related to the institute’s focus on advancing the well-being economy.  IC² is especially interested in research that combines some of the following elements – computational methods, computer modeling, social science, or design – to grow knowledge and insights in areas such as health, education, energy, employment, entrepreneurship, and technology. Past awards have been for $100,000 (1-3 PIs) or $150,000 (+4 PIs) for a two-year research project. The Call for Proposals for 2022 will offer seed funding up to $80,000.

2021 IC2 Faculty Research Program (FRP) Awarded Teams

Congratulations to the 2021 Faculty Research Program Awardees. The four funded research proposals propel the Institute’s mission to better understand and support economic development, community resilience, and well-being through rigorous research. Like last round, the recipient group is diverse and multi-disciplinary – seven lead researchers from five schools (Policy, Communications, Engineering, Liberal Arts, and Education) and three centers across UT. Their research begins in Fall 2021 or Spring 2022 for a two-year duration (2021-2023).

1- Assessing Black Social Well-Being in Rural Texas. Danielle Wright, Steven Pedigo, Ricardo Lowe. IUPRA.

2- Disaster Continuity for Businesses and Communities in Rural Texas: Investigating Infrastructure, Communication, and Planning Needs. Keri Stephens, Kasey Faust, Sharon Strover.

3- Building Rural Journalism: Leadership & Training. Kathleen McElroy.

4- Building Equitable Healthcare in Rural Texas. Sharmila Rudrappa, Matt Kammer-Kerwick, Deborah Parra-Medina, Joshua Barbour, Craig Watkins, Kara Takasaki.


Kathleen McElroy

Moody College of Communication

Danielle Wright

College of Liberal ArtsCollege of Education

Kasey Faust

Cockrell School of Engineering

Ricardo Lowe

College of Liberal Arts

Keri Stephens

Moody College of Communication

Steven Pedigo

LBJ School of Public Affairs

Sharon Strover

Moody College of Communication

Joshua Barbour

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

S. Craig Watkins

Moody College of Communication

Kara Takasaki

IC2 Institute

Debra Parra- Medina

College of Liberal Arts

Shamilla Rudrappa

College of Liberal Arts

Matt Kammer-Kerwick

IC2 Institute

Assessing Black Social Well-Being in Rural Texas

Danielle Wright

Associate Director Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis (IUPRA)College of Liberal ArtsCollege of Education, Dept of Educational Leadership and Policy

Ricardo Lowe

Institute for Urban Policy Research & Analysis (IUPRA)College of Liberal Arts

Steven Pedigo

LBJ School of Public AffairsDirector of LBJ Urban Lab

Project Summary:

This study will empirically assess indicators of social well-being, economic opportunity, and quality of life among rural Black Texans. Most rural studies tend to center the experiences of White and Hispanic communities, who collectively comprise about 92 percent of the state’s rural population. Black rural communities on the other hand receive less empirical attention. For one, the state’s Black rural population is almost exclusively clustered in East Texas and is relatively small compared to the aforementioned groups. Second, most of the state’s Black population is concentrated in central cities or metropolitan areas, which might also explain the lack of prioritization of Black rural communities. This in turn has led to a limited understanding of the lived experiences and social well-being of Black rural Texans.

The study will examine the economic recovery of Black rural Texans from COVID-19 while at the same time informing a larger body of research regarding the long-term economic, health and social trajectories of this population. It will rely on both quantitative and qualitative methods to address gaps in the literature, inform public policy, and develop specific economic development strategies for observed communities.

Disaster Continuity for Businesses and Communities in Rural Texas: Investigating Infrastructure, Communication, and Planning Needs

Keri Stephens

Moody College of Communication, Dept of Communication Studies

Kasey Faust

Cockrell School of Engineering,Dept of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering

Sharon Strover

Moody College of Communication, School of Journalism and MediaDept of Radio-Television-Film

Project Summary:

Disasters, including floods, fires, weather events, and hurricanes, are frequent in Texas. They affect both large and small businesses and highlight the vulnerabilities of infrastructural systems such as power, water, and broadband connectivity. While some disaster-recovery resources are available for businesses and communities in Texas (e.g., Government Land Office, FEMA, SBA), small, rural communities often lack the resources to plan for and respond to disasters.

This project focuses on the Gulf Coast region of Texas and uses an interdisciplinary approach to understand the social and technical aspects of disaster-resilience efforts needed to help small businesses and communities in Texas.

Building Rural Journalism: Leadership & Training

Kathleen McElroy

Moody College of Communication, Director of School of Journalism

Project Summary:

The focus of this proposal is a program to supply rural Texas with a much-needed pipeline of newsroom and publishing leadership –trained not just in newsroom practices but also in business innovation within the context of their specific communities. This proposal is crucial to the health of rural Texas because it addresses issues central to IC2’s mission: entrepreneurship and innovation in rural journalism;small business development, especially at the mom-and-pop newspaper owner level; and workforce retention and development, through a much-neededsuccession plan for rural papers, which in many cases have been the social and cultural heartbeat of small Texas communities formore than a century.

Boosting rural journalism leadership boosts rural economic recovery and resilience.

Building Equitable Healthcare in Rural Texas

Joshua Barbour, Sharmila Rudrappa, S. Craig Watkins, Kara Takasaki, Deborah Parra-Medina, Matt Kammer-Kerwick

Project Summary:

This study focuses on mental health care delivery and the management of chronic co-morbidities to evaluate healthcare accessibility and efficacy in rural Texas. The patterns of telemedicine adoption, implementation, and adaption across Texas spurred by the pandemic are not well understood. The work will focus on mental health care delivery and the management of chronic co-morbidities, specifically diabetes, to understand the potential and challenges in using remote delivery strategies to manage long-term diseases in rural populations and marginalized communities through a mixed-methods approach. This project brings together an interdisciplinary team of researchers from Communications, Sociology, Latino Population Health, and Decision Science. It allows us for building new research on the shared focus of understanding. mental health crisis and systemic inequities with an eye toward building resilience among healthcare workers and community members, to the overall effective delivery of healthcare in rural Texas.


2019 Funded Research

In 2019, after reviewing many proposals, the Institute’s Faculty Advisory Board awarded 10 UT Austin faculty research projects from across campus including schools of Business, Policy & Public Affairs, Journalism, Communications, Architecture, and Engineering. In addition, the Institute is funding three additional faculty on related research. Funds are provided from the Institute’s research endowment and matching funds from generous donors. 

Funded research includes economic resilience, transitioning industry areas, urban migration, rural innovation incubators, and the leveraging of data science and machine learning.  Factors impacting rural entrepreneurial success, such as broadband access, social learning, digital media, and co-working options, are also addressed by some of the studies.

Read more about the projects in this news release: https://news.utexas.edu/2019/06/12/rural-entrepreneurship-in-texas-gets-boost-from-ut-austin-research-projects/


1- Big data strategies to map social networks in co-working spaces

John S. ButlerProfessor of Management and Sociology, McCombs School of Business

2- Digital media and venture creation in selected rural communities in Texas

Wenhong Chen, Associate Professor, School of Journalism, Moody College of Communication

Joe Straubhaar, Professor of Communication, School of Journalism


3- Social learning in small farm settings using western Kenya as a model

Raissa Fabregas, Assistant Professor, LBJ School of Public Affairs


4-  Developing an online system to evaluate the rural entrepreneurship environment in Texas

Jason Abrevaya, Professor and Chair of Economics Department, College of Liberal Arts

Jungfeng Jiao, Associate Professor in the Community and Regional Planning program, School of Architecture

5- Rural Innovation Incubator model relative to energy workers in transition

Sheldon LandsbergerProfessor in Nuclear and Radiation, Chair in Mechanical Engineering, Cockrell School of Engineering

6- Return to rural regions after urban migration in China

Ji Ma, Assistant Professor in Philanthropic and Nonprofit Studies, LBJ School of Public Affairs 

7- Innovation and entrepreneurism ecosystem blueprint for selected rural regions

Steven Pedigo, Professor of Practice, Director of the LBJ Urban Lab, LBJ School of Public Affairs 

8- Economic booms, entrepreneurial activity, and economic resilience of rural Texas

Varun Rai, Associate Dean for Research; Professor of Public Affairs, LBJ School of Public Affairs 

9- Broadband access and entrepreneurial outcomes in rural regions

Sharon Strover, Professor at School of Journalism and Media, Department of Radio-Television-Film

10- Co-working spaces and innovative enterprises in rural and urban centers

Craig Watkins, Professor at School of Journalism and Media, Department of Radio-Television-Film

Additional Funded Faculty

Marcelo J. P. Paixão, Associate Professor of African and African Diaspora Studies, College of Liberal Arts

Clay Spinuzzi, Professor and Associate Chair in Rhetoric and Writing, College of Liberal Arts

Michael Pyrcz, Associate Professor in Petroleum Engineering, Cockrell School of Engineering 




Posted on

May 15, 2019