How I Work Open: Anaid Yerena

Photo of Anaid Yerena

Anaid Yerena, PhD
Assistant Professor
Urban Studies Program
University of Washington Tacoma

Spotlight on: Community Engaged Scholarship

What kind of open work do you do?
I’m interested in affordable housing policy, and how community advocates can create more affordable housing.

How would you describe your work to colleagues?
With colleagues, I’ll talk more about the theoretical foundations.  Most people, beyond reviewers, are not too interested in diving deeply into theory.

How would you describe your work to the community?
Sharing my work with community advocates is often a positive affirmation of why I do this work.  In addition, I make my work available via Digital Commons.  I’ve worked closely with Justin Wadland, Head, Media and Digital Collection Librarian at the UW Tacoma Library.  He has helped by reviewing my publishing contracts to making sure versions of my work can be made available.

How did you get started working with the community?
I’ve been interested in community engaged scholarship and working with community advocates to understand how community advocates get work done since graduate school.  My PhD advisor encouraged me to look into advocacy and to get in contact with local advocates about my interest in community engaged work.  I got started when I worked on a report with a community partner.  This approach has worked very well.  It’s been fun, rewarding and useful for the community partners.  It’s easier to draw conclusions from applied work.

How do you work openly?
I have accepted every opportunity, such as this interview today, to speak about my work to share it rather than just hoping people come and look at a website that includes my work.  I’ve worked with the community here in Tacoma – for example, the Neighborhood Council Program and other advocacy organizations.  I’ve participate with various advocacy organizations on urban issues.

How do you identify which community groups to work with on projects?
Chemistry is important, as is the topic I’m interested in. It is easiest to connect if I see myself as part of that group.  I try to gauge their reception and openness to connecting.  There’s a desire among groups for more support and participation.  I haven’t leveraged community participation into research projects yet, but will in the future. So far I haven’t had to turn down a collaboration opportunity.

What barriers, if any, have you faced in doing this work?
Help from UW Tacoma librarian Justin Wadland was critical.  I wouldn’t have taken the time to share my work in Digital Commons otherwise.  Having an institutional partner like Justin is important.  Early career faculty need to concentrate on teaching and research for tenure and don’t have as much time to investigate these options.

What skills have you had to learn in order to work openly?
Being an efficient communicator is key.  Using clear language that is easy to relate to rather than jargon and theory is necessary.

Why do you work openly?
I’ve approached my work with a background in architecture and as an immigrant.  I feel like it’s on me to reach out to the community.  I see it as my responsibility to let people know how my research contributes to practice.  I find this work very energizing, motivating, and worthwhile.  This kind of work has the potential to make a difference in people’s lives.  I can take my show on the road and share knowledge with the community.  I can help advocate for policy change.

Do you incorporate open scholarship skills into your classroom?
Yes, all the time. One of my roles as an educator is to give students the opportunity to engage with the community in the context of their coursework.  I have professionals from the community come into class, so students can learn from and interact with them.

Connecting students with internship opportunities is also important.  I try to help students create relationships with the community, and learn from the practical experience.   It allows the students to learn from the community partner and put their new skill set into practice.  It motivates students, and helps raise the bar on their work product—they want to get it right for the community partner!  Students produce an evaluation of their chosen organization and create a poster of the framework used to analyze the organization.  Posters are displayed in our building’s front window facing the street.

Students in my courses have also partnered with a local elementary school and have worked with kindergarten and second graders on a project based learning assignment.  My students present on urban planning to the elementary students, and the elementary students share their work with my students who serve in a mentoring role.  The result has been positive and the school would like to formalize this and make the interactions longer-term.  The quarter system is a barrier to sustaining long-term interactions so I am exploring if partnering with a student organization on campus might be a way to sustain this program.

Why do you think open scholarship is important?
Open scholarship and community engaged research makes it easier for potential users of my research to connect with my research.  If you want to learn, you should have access to the materials regardless of income or ability to pay for it.  Community partners don’t have access to research journals.  They are providing a service so offering them access to my research openly is the least I can do!

In your field, is there a trend toward open access?
I see questions and offers from editors about open access.  It’s starting.  My department has encouraged me to publish openly or deposit materials in Digital Commons, but has not mandated it.  An institutional mandate on open access would be useful and would demonstrate our commitment to open access. I haven’t had to pay any article processing charges (APCs) yet. APCs are a barrier to publishing openly.  Digital Commons serves this purpose and is more efficient than spending money on APC costs.

How do you measure the value of your work?
It’s difficult to assess impact in community engaged research.  I am getting more invitations to speak.  I document my outreach efforts for annual evaluations.  It is very difficult to measure and define success in advocacy work.  I consider it a success if the issue isn’t dropped and the conversation keeps going.  Being invited to be part of the scholarly conversation is also an indication.

I feel supported by my department and my institution for my open work but I have also been intentional about publishing a lot for the tenure process.  Community work is not sufficient for tenure, but it’s important for service.  In Urban Studies, authors usually work in small teams.  I love working in teams but it can be difficult to define contributions in multi-authored works.  I have to make sure to write sole authored pieces as well for tenure and promotion purposes.

What’s your vision for an open future?
Open scholarship will become more prevalent in the future.  As an institution, we do a good job marketing ourselves for students to explore themselves, learn, earn degrees, and make discoveries but we could be doing more to highlight the research that is being done at the University.  We shouldn’t rely on the media coming to us but should be more proactive about sharing our research with the community.  Junior faculty could use some more support here.  Sometimes community partner politics can complicate communications.

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