Community Action Research Scholars


The Community Action Research Scholars (CARS) program provides UNC Charlotte undergraduate and graduate students with instructional training, community-engaged research, and service-learning experiences.  Students enroll in CARS from many different UNC Charlotte academic programs motivated by their common desire to participate meaningfully in community development.  They receive training in understanding the social determinants of health, community-based participatory research (CBPR), cultural diversity and humility, and community program evaluation. Partner organizations offer host sites for CARS students, who then provide service and conduct mentored program evaluations that contribute to building the capacity of the host organization.  University faculty and staff serve as expert content mentors, who support and guide students in their respective areas of expertise.  CARS program partners are located throughout Charlotte, with a preference given for projects sponsored through the UCity Family Zone and the CommUniversity at Camino.     

“To understand and improve the health of an individual, we must realize that they are a part of a community, don’t tell me about the disease a person has, tell me about the person who has the disease.”  Dr. Mark DeHaven, CARS Founding director

Mission and Goals

Our Mission:

To equip students with diverse interests and backgrounds to have an impact on improving the quality of life in vulnerable communities through training and applied experiences with community organizations.  

Our Goals:

1.     To provide UNC undergraduate and graduate students with essential training in the principles of community engagement and community-based participatory research (CBPR)

2.     To create a mentored community research “pipeline” linking together undergraduate students, graduate students, and faculty researchers with community organizations

3.     To contribute to building the capacity of community organizations in Charlotte and the local University City communities for improving the social determinants of health

Current Projects and Activities


Since 2016 CARS has trained 120 students in community engagement and community-based participatory research (CBPR), CARS students have completed more than 1500 hours of community service-learning and research experiences, and they have contributed to more than a dozen organizations building neighborhood capacity throughout the UCity Family Zone and the City of Charlotte.

Recent Projects
Assessing the Impact of Socialization on Children Ages 5-17 Participating in a Summer Camp in the Sugar Creek Area of Charlotte, North Carolina

Performed an evaluation report and poster showing that children participating in the camp experience were able to develop trusting relationships and proposed recommendations for eliminating barriers to trust for future summer camps.

CARS Student: Ashwin Ramesh (UNC Charlotte Community Scholar)

Community Organization: Heal Charlotte

Community Mentor: Greg Jackson, Executive Director

Faculty Mentor: Crystal N. Piper-Smith, MPH MHA PhD

Kids Eat Free Program Case Study: The Impact of Marketing on Program Participation

Performed an evaluation report and poster describing the effects of different community marketing strategies on program participation from different parts of the community

CARS Student: Kadijah Holder (UNC Charlotte Community Scholar)

Community Organization: Atrium HealthCare - University

Community Mentor: Elaine Jones, RD, LDN, Nutrition Manager

Faculty Mentor: Adriana L. Medina, PhD

In the Mood for Food - What’s on Your Plate?

Developed an 8 session program and curriculum for educating children in the community about healthy food choices – 90% of children demonstrated more knowledge about nutrition and some level of healthy eating behavior change by the end of the program.

CARS Students: Nialah Sharp, Morgan Poole, Ashley Banks

Community Organization: Heal Charlotte

Community Mentor: Greg Jackson, Executive Director

Faculty Mentor: Mark DeHaven, PhD

Self Esteem in the Levels of Leadership Program

Developed a report describing the process of program development and measurement, and found that program participants learned to value themselves and other more by the conclusion of the program.

CARS Student: Morgan Poole

Community Organization: Men of Destiney

Community Mentor: Gary Crump, Executive Director

Faculty Mentor: Mark DeHaven, PhD

My One Dream Measurement of Hope and Self Efficacy 

The project outcome was a 4-session curriculum for supporting community residents in overcoming internal self-imposed barriers that can sometimes limit the ability of inner-city residents to achieve their goals and aspirations 

CARS Student: Tiffany Rikard

Community Organization: Communities Doing Good Inc.

Community Mentor: Leslie James, CEO

Faculty Mentor: Mark DeHaven, PhD


 The partnerships and projects of the Community Action Research Scholars (CARS) address the social determinants of health that impact the quality of life for residents of the communities surrounding UNC Charlotte.    Students participating in the program undergo training in the social determinants of health and then work with organizations to contribute to their missions and activities for addressing the social determinants.  CARS students are equipped to bring expertise about population change to bear in community organizations because of their training and familiarity with holistic health created by the social conditions associated with the place where people live.

The social determinants of health refer to the structural determinants and conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work, and age.  The social determinants can be grouped into six primary areas (Figure 1), including:  1) Economic stability, 2) Neighborhood and physical environment, 3) Education, 4) Food and hunger, 5) Community and social context, and Health care. It is estimated that 80% of chronic diseases are preventable and 70% of all premature deaths result from social factors. Improving the social conditions in neighborhoods can have a profound effect on the physical, social, and economic wellbeing of individuals, families, and entire communities.



Most of our current community partners work in and serve the University City, Hidden Valley, Newell, Farm Crest, and Howie Acres communities of the UCity Family Zone.

Atrium Health-University

Camino Community Center

Communities Doing Good, Inc.

Veritas School

Mayfield Memorial Missionary Baptist Church

University City Connect

University City Partners

Heal Charlotte

Keith Family YMCA

Leadership in the Clouds

Men of Destiney

UNC Charlotte Faculty Mentors:

Janni Sorensen, PhD, Professor, Department of Geography and Earth Science (CLAS)

Jessamyn Bowling, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Public Health Sciences (CHHS)

Crystal Piper, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Public Health Sciences (CHHS)

Teresa Scheid, PhD, Professor, Department of Sociology (CLAS)

Lan Kolano, PhD, Professor, Department of Middle, Secondary, and K-12 Education (CoED)

Adriana Medina, PhD, Associate Professor, Reading and Elementary Education (CoED)

Diane Gavarkavich, MA, UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, Director of Research Services


Want to get involved?

Program and Eligibility Requirements

1.     All undergraduate and graduate students seeking to enroll in the CARS program must submit a program application annually during the Fall semester.  The only requirement is an interest in community engagement and building community capacity.  The enrollment limit is 40 students.

2.     Students are required to participate in the CARS community engagement and research training program.  The program is conducted two times during September and October.  Students who do not complete the training program are not eligible to continue in the program.

3.     All students must participate in a minimum of 40 hours of elective service-learning with CARS partner organizations during the academic year in which they enroll.  All CARS students completing the training program and service learning experiences are awarded an ARCHES Certificate of Knowledge in Community Health and receive a membership a national professional organization, Community-Campus Partnerships for Health. 

4.     Each year six (6) students are selected to participate in a mentored community-engaged process or program evaluation with an eligible community organization (organizations are selected each year from among the UCity Family Zone partners).  These six students receive the designation of Community Action Research Scholar (CARS) Fellow and contribute more than the 40 hours of elective service-learning (level of engagement and hours completed varies by project).

5.     CARS students and fellows also participate in a monthly “Pit Stop” meetings where we will discuss program updates, topics related to working within the community, and community projects our students can get involved in.  Students are required to make 75% of meetings which will be held once a month during the semester.

6.     Each semester we also hold a social for students to engage in team building activities to get to know each other better and to better understand our CARS mission and goals.

7.     Each year a CARS student or fellow from the College of Health and Human Services (CHHS) who performs exemplary service to the community is eligible to receive the Dr. Cynthia A. Rexroat Scholarship with an award of $1000.

Are you a student interested in joining CARS or a community organization interested in working with the CARS program?  Click here to fill out an interest form. Nialah Sharp, CARS program manager will reach out to you regarding next steps. 

Contact us:

Mark DeHaven, PhD.,                                                          Nialah Sharp, BS in Public Health

ARCHES Director                                                                  CARS Program Manager