For many years, Dr. Kiesha Warren-Gordon has been a dedicated, service-oriented Ball State University faculty mentor, an involved citizen, and an advocate for improving equity and quality of life for others. A longtime professor of Criminal Justice and Criminology in Ball State University’s College of Science and Humanities, Dr. Warren-Gordon encourages her students to find ways to make positive impacts on others.
For that and more, Dr. Warren-Gordon was named the recipient of the 2023 Gerald Bepko Community Engagement Grant Award (Bepko Award). Given by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education (ICHE), the Bepko Award honors a faculty member at an Indiana public or private institution who embodies the concept of community engagement.
“I appreciate this award, and I think of it as being shared by all of the people who have to come together to do the work,” Dr. Warren-Gordon said. “When I found out I won the Bepko, I was on my way to teach. I told my students, ‘This isn’t mine; this is our award.’”
Dr. Warren-Gordon has demonstrated a long-term commitment to incorporating community-engagement and collaborative partnerships into her curriculum. She is a faculty mentor for high-impact Immersive Learning course experiences that involve collaborative student-driven teams working with community partners, such as neighborhood associations, businesses, nonprofits, and government agencies. Much of the collaborative engagement efforts, made possible in part through strong community partnerships, have been done in Muncie’s Whitely Neighborhood. The aim is for her students to address community challenges through the creation of products that have lasting impacts.
One of those products developed by her students is a website created to help formerly incarcerated individuals re-enter the community. This came up during the COVID-19 pandemic when everyone had limited access to and knowledge of services and resources. Access had already been limited for people returning to the community after incarceration. For the website project, the students interviewed various local leaders about ways the community supports, through agencies and services, those returning individuals.
“My students did a deep dive into what are the community resources that support people who are coming back after periods of incarceration and how we can make a one-stop online spot—where many resources are located on one website—so we can inform those people and their families about what help is available,” said Dr. Warren-Gordon.
The website also has interactive features meant to tailor results from searches. For example, a search on the site for the nearest food banks can be narrowed down by typing in a zip code.
Also on this website are job resources—including information on which agencies, organizations, or companies go out of their way to hire qualified individuals who were incarcerated but are re-entering society and seeking a second chance.
“By developing this one-stop website, my students were able to work for and with the community to address this need,” Dr. Warren-Gordon said.
“I’m a community-engagement scholar,” she added. “It’s about developing relationships and about watching my students develop relationships. I can get out of the equation, and my students are directly communicating with the community partners. Communication is an important step in making a meaningful impact together.”
Learn more about Dr. Warren-Gordon in this brief Q&A interview below:
What Were Your Thoughts When You Learned That You Won the Bepko Award?
“I was shocked. I’m not a big person for awards. I’m more focused on the community partners and the students. I appreciate it. And if it weren’t for Whitely Community Council and Immersive Learning at Ball State, I wouldn’t have a platform from which to do the work.”
You inspire people. Who inspires you?
“My best friend, Angela Jackson-Brown, a professor at Indiana University-Bloomington, inspires me because she’s always challenging me to think about my work differently. Also, my kids and my husband, Richard Gordon, inspire me. They are the ones who light the fire in me to get up every day and get things done.”
What Do You Like About Ball State?
“I enjoy the generational connection that my family has with Ball State. I graduated from Ball State (BA in Criminology, ’95). My daughter will be a freshman at Ball State in Fall 2023. My sister also went to Ball State. I have two nieces that are at Ball State now. And my parents earned their master’s degrees here.
As a student, I enjoyed the smaller classes, having your professors know you by name. I felt a sense of community here. As a professor, I tell my students, ‘This class is a community.’ We establish rules and expectations in the context of how we can work together and provide constructive feedback to each other. We work together.”