Woman of Action

The American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) recently bestowed its 2017 Excellence and Innovation Award to UNC Charlotte.

The association honored the University in the category Civic Learning and Community Engagement for the Charlotte Action Research Project (CHARP), founded by Janni Sorensen, an assistant professor in the Department of Geography and Earth Sciences. Sorensen and Chancellor Philip L. Dubois accepted the national honor at the AASCU’s annual meeting.


CHARP has frequently been lauded for it's civic research. It's purpose is to forge partnerships between the University and marginalized communities in Charlotte. The project is based on the principles of "participatory action research," which means neighborhood residents work in partnership with University representatives. Residents then identify and prioritize the tasks to address and, in exchange for access to local knowledge, campus partners work on these projects. CHARP has completed a number of projects, many are highly tangible; examples include community cleanups, youth outreach events and National Night Out celebrations.

One effort that demonstrates widespread environmental impact was the development of a Butterfly Highway. Sorensen recruited a doctoral student in geography, Angelique Hjarding, who worked with residents in the greater Charlotte area to establish roughly 60 gardens with native plants to attract butterflies. Hjarding now is director of pollinator and wildlife habitat programs at the North Carolina Wildlife Federation.

AASCU is a Washington-based higher education association of nearly 420 public colleges, universities and systems whose members share a learning and teaching-centered culture, a historic commitment to underserved student populations and a dedication to research and creativity that advances their regions' economic progress and cultural development.

The AASCU Excellence and Innovation Awards recognize and honor member institutions that demonstrate excellence and innovation in major areas of campus life and leadership: teacher education, civic learning and community engagement, international education, leadership development and diversity, regional and economic development, student success and college completion and sustainability and sustainable development.

Janni Sorensen is just one example of the faculty stories that exemplify the talent you can support though EXPONENTIAL: The Campaign for UNC Charlotte.