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As the recipient of the Penn State Scholarship of Engagement Award, the Northern Appalachia Cancer Network will now become Penn State's nominee for the Northeast region's W.K. Kellogg Foundation/C. Peter Magrath University Community Engagement Award, sponsored by the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges. Regional recipients of this award go on to compete for the national C. Peter Magrath award. Penn State and Dr. Lakshman Yapa, geography professor, received both the regional and national C. Peter Magrath awards in 2008 for the Philadelphia Field Project, a course in which students are challenged to work with community members in West Philadelphia to rethink existing resources to solve problems (see Snapshots from West Philadelphia).
Rural Pennsylvania and New York are beleaguered by persistent poverty; residents in this area, known as northern Appalachia, are considered by the National Institutes of Health to be medically underserved. This reduced access to health care has led to increased rates of cancer incidence and death.
Enter the Northern Appalachia Cancer Network (NACN)—a community-academic partnership that aims to reduce the cancer burden in Appalachian Pennsylvania and New York. Established in 1992, the NACN is one of the longest running and most successful networks of community cancer coalitions in the country. It is the recipient of the 2009 Penn State Scholarship of Engagement Award.
Twelve community cancer coalitions—representing 17 different counties with a population of 1 million people—and numerous local rural health care providers and clinics join in a partnership with the Penn State Colleges of Medicine and Agricultural Sciences and the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center to develop and deliver best practices for cancer reduction to their communities.
“There are more than 100 active members of these coalitions; they understand their communities,” explained Dr. Eugene Lengerich, professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences at the Penn State College of Medicine and leader of the NACN. “They know where people congregate, what interests people, how to motivate people, where need may be greatest. They are passionate to reduce cancer risk in their neighborhood.”
The NACN has many success stories. For example, the partnership has increased mammography screening, developed methods to enhance survivorship from colorectal cancer, vaccinated girls and women against the human papillomavirus (the cause of 70 percent of all cervical cancer) and helped users of smokeless tobacco to quit.
The Penn State Scholarship of Engagement Award recognizes a project that best exemplifies an “engaged institution” as defined by a Kellogg Commission report on the future of state and land-grant universities: an institution that has redesigned teaching, research, and extension and service functions to become even more sympathetically and productively involved with its communities.
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