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Monnat part of team recognized for research on rural America

November 4, 2020

Shannon Monnat

Shannon Monnat

October 29, 2020 | SU News Staff

A research team of 39 investigators from 28 colleges and universities from across the United States has been recognized by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) with its National Excellence in Multistate Research Award.

Shannon Monnat, associate professor of sociology in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, currently chairs the research coalition and accepted the award on behalf of her colleagues in a virtual ceremony.

This prestigious award recognizes scientists who conduct exemplary research and outreach efforts across multiple states, and in doing so enhance the visibility of USDA multi-state programs. Monnat, who is also director of the Lerner Center for Public Health Promotion and co-director of the Maxwell School’s Policy, Place, and Population Health Lab, does research on geographic trends in health and mortality and the impact of the opioid epidemic and COVID-19 pandemic in rural America. Her work is part of the multi-disciplinary, multi-institution project known as “W4001: Social, Economic and Environmental Causes and Consequences of Demographic Change in Rural America.”

"This is a very competitive award that underscores the importance of research that spans disciplines and brings together experts from top universities across the country and the impact that it can have on important challenges facing us as a society,” said Interim Provost John Liu. “We are proud that Syracuse University is part of this consortium.”

This is the first time a social sciences project has received this award. In the last three years, the group has produced hundreds of peer-reviewed publications, developed numerous public briefs, secured more than $13 million in research funding, led workshops for community organizations, delivered more than 200 presentations to stakeholders, and served as expert consultants at the highest levels of state and federal government.

“This research is critical,” Monnat said. “Rural areas make up 72 percent of the nation’s land area, house 46 million people, and are essential to agriculture, natural resources, recreation, and environmental sustainability. This team’s focus on the challenges and demographic shifts taking place in our nation’s rural communities has produced critical research findings that inform policy at the local, state and national levels.”

Among the key findings of W4001 researchers include essential information about the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on rural communities, which has guided states’ social distancing policies, resource allocation, and testing and reopening strategies. The project was first to identify rising rates of opioid overdose in rural populations and explain these trends, shaping national legislation and providing tools to help communities visualize data and allocate resources to respond quickly. The group’s research also guided the placement and training of community health workers after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, resulting in enhanced preparedness and health capacity.

Other areas impacted by the project’s research include rural natural resource management and community engagement in decision-making. The research has informed anti-poverty policies, including changes in official measurements of poverty and underemployment and the distribution of safety net resources. Project members were the first to discover that rural populations are shrinking due to young adult outmigration, fewer births, and increased mortality.

Researchers created a database that details county-level, age-specific net migration trends. Hundreds of thousands of regional planners, insurance companies, school districts, senior housing developers, public health agencies, and other stakeholders have used the database to understand rural needs and market demand and inform infrastructure development and resource allocation. Recently, the group’s research and outreach has helped numerous state governments prepare for the 2020 Census and facilitate a complete count.

“It is a privilege to serve as W4001’s current chairperson and accept the award on behalf of my colleagues, whose work has contributed in important ways to science, practice, and policy on issues that are critical to rural America,” Monnat said. “I look forward to the group’s continued work.”

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