Spotlight on Engaged Faculty: Dr. Jason Ware

From formerly working as a community banker, to becoming a Clinical Associate Professor at Purdue with a focus on community well-being, to collaborating with organizations such as Mount Hope Church, The Faith Community Development Corporation, and Habitat for Humanity in service-learning projects, Dr. Jason Ware champions “translating research to create tools and resources that impact the human condition.”

A Lafayette native, Ware believes that working to understand the needs of communities, community partners, and industry partners through reciprocally beneficial collaboration should be at the core of land-grant university scholars’ definition of engagement.

Ware strives to uncover priorities related to increasing the quality of life for residents and works to understand what it means to be a person of color in the Lafayette community. By not focusing on negative data and narratives created externally, he instead works directly with folks within the community to hear from them in terms of their perspectives and what their needs and priorities are socially, financially, economically, physically, and mentally.

“I think about community well-being from a perspective of folks liking where they live, feeling safer where they live, wanting to connect with others who also live where they live, and wanting to make where we live a better place,”

Dr. Jason Ware

Ware believes that students should be a part of efforts like this as they develop into scholars and acknowledges that there are seldom formalized pathways for undergrads to do this kind of work. In light of this, Ware endeavors to help undergraduates engage with the community as a training ground for making real impact; together, they have worked on addressing local needs in neighborhood revitalization, affordable housing, and more.

The impact has been remarkable. According to Adam Murphy of the City of Lafayette Mayor’s Office, “Dr. Ware and his students have been great partners in mining the data to illustrate the need for eviction resources and support for long-term tenancy, especially in the near downtown neighborhoods. Their work in capturing the community experiences in the Northend has also been important. It helps us tell the story of a strong, working-class neighborhood that has a rich history. As potential homebuyers and renters hear about families thriving on the Northend, they are more likely to choose that same area to raise their own family. Dr. Ware’s interest and leadership in focusing on neighborhoods has been an important part of telling the story of the Northend.”

The Faith Community Development Corporation (CDC), which serves the residents of the Greater Lafayette area through neighborhood revitalization, affordable housing, and resources, echoed Murphy’s thoughts about the impact of Dr. Ware’s work. “He has helped us make connections with people in the neighborhoods we serve, and his team has provided us with vital information for serving the community,” said Ross Reeder of Faith CDC. “He and his students have done a variety of studies on neighborhoods such as Lincoln, Monon, Vinton, and others. This data helps us to know how best to serve a neighborhood and identify the greatest needs. Purdue engagement and service-learning has given the Faith CDC information that would be hard for us to retrieve on our own.”

Ware also serves as an active board member for Habitat for Humanity. In addition to regularly providing students with research opportunities with the organization, Ware also led the efforts for a build project. “The project will impact student research, the community, and a very special family. The research will impact our organization for years to come along with many families in our community,” said Bob Anderson of Habitat for Humanity.

Compassion and enthusiasm have been common threads through all of Ware’s work, which has accelerated the impact of Purdue service-learning in the community. “The research that Purdue has provided has been eye opening as we work to do our best in providing affordable housing,” said Anderson. “I have personally attended a class of Dr. Ware’s where the students have shared their research of Habitat for Humanity. I was impressed with their findings and appreciate the shared outcomes. Dr. Ware’s leadership and passion for helping those in need of affordable housing and neighborhood revitalization is greatly appreciated. His impact is contagious, and his selfless spirit is refreshing as he cares for those in need.”

Reeder added, “Those who work with Dr. Ware know he cares about people in the community and wants to use his gift to serve others. He is truly a blessing to the Greater Lafayette area, and we are thankful for his work at Purdue.”

Rev. Tiffany Courtney at Mount Hope Church captured the essence of the reciprocal benefits of collaborations ignited through Purdue service-learning work when she described Ware’s work on the Mount Hope Church Monon Livability Project as impacting change for the community and becoming stronger together.

Courtney and her husband started a Neighborhood Coalition to bring neighbors together to make a difference. Courtney knew right away that it was important to truly understand the area and what the neighbors need. This is where they began the collaboration with Ware and his students.

“They the project by interviewing several in this area, with my husband and I included. They asked many questions and listened to our concerns and documented our observations. Upon gathering all this information, they concluded a report with their findings. I was impressed when Dr. Jason Ware pulled up to our location with a handful of printed flyers that we were able to distribute,” Courtney said.

Ware said that faculty and students considering starting a service-learning project with a community partner should first find an organization that they share a mission with, and then make sure to co-develop the project with the community partner.

“Let the partner be involved in the creation of your research plan. Let them help ask the research questions, and be a part of the data collection process, and how you make sense of your data, because then, whatever resources or tools or products that you would create, they would be a part of that development, and it would be helping address a need that they’ve articulated…and getting students involved in this kind of work and supporting their sort of completion of the research cycle. Service-learning should be mutual. Communities should gain, faculty should gain. Students should gain in real ways that are measurable. I think that’s one of the most important parts of the process,” Ware said.