Racial, Economic, & Environmental Justice Research Cluster

The Racial, Economic, & Environmental Justice (REEJ) Research Cluster will work with the newly established Urban Institute for Racial, Economic, and Environmental Justice to examine racial, economic, and environmental inequalities, engage in transformative research, mobilize community-based efforts and encourage the design of practical social and economic solutions. REEJ’s central aim is coalition building, to remove barriers to success and uncover the ways in which the construct of race (and intersections of other identities with race) has led to cultural and structural disadvantage for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. Those with questions or with interest in joining this research cluster should contact group leader Toko Oshio.

Through local, state, national, and international partnerships, the REEJ Research Cluster and UIREEJ will address some of the Flint community’s key economic, environmental, and health challenges. We together will help support, expand, and focus UM-Flint’s public service initiatives, while centering its work on community-based, participatory research.

The work of the REEJ Research Cluster and the UIREEJ includes:

  • Examining the intersections of racial, economic, and environmental systems.  
  • Engaging in translational research to design practical solutions. 
  • Supporting community-led efforts to achieve a common vision.
  • Pursuing broad coalitions to identify and foster social determinants of success. 
  • Advancing public education, public-private partnerships, and civic engagement. 
  • Mitigating the manner in which the construct of race (and intersections of other identities with race) has impacted Black, Indigenous and People of Color.

Research Topics

Child Care

Provider Empowerment Program (PEP)
Provider Empowerment Program (PEP, PI: Toko Oshio), thanks to the generous funding from W.K.Kellogg Foundation, uses Human Centered Design, has made substantial efforts in supporting child care providers in Flint and in addressing the challenges and unmet needs that we have uncovered since 2018. PEP is providing both direct and indirect support such as PEP Texts — which include links to learning activities, healthy recipes, and other useful information for providers — are sent to 140 subscribers three times a week. We have an active social media presence including PEP website, Facebook page, and PEP YouTube Channel. As part of our work to help license-exempt and “Family, Friend and Neighbor” (FFN) child care providers gain access to systems that can provide support, PEP has identified state and federal policies that inhibit the participation of license-exempt providers in the child care subsidy system.

Child Care Network
Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan
Michigan’s Children
Michigan Department of Education


Toko Oshio, PhD
Toko Oshio studies child development, from infancy through youth, taking an ecological perspective which emphasizes interactions with people and environments. Her primary research interest is in the area of socio-emotional development of children and youth, and how development is shaped in contexts where crucial interactions happen, such as families, schools, and communities. She is originally from Japan, and has lived in the US as an immigrant for more than 20 years. Through her recent work leading the Provider Empowerment Program (PEP), she and her team have uncovered various unmet needs among Family, Friend, and Neighbor (FFN) child care providers in Flint and have examined the gaps in policies affecting FFN child care providers. Prior to PEP, she completed a study on undocumented and DACA recipient youth and their families in Michigan. She earned a Ph.D in Child Development at Michigan State University.

Toko is the leader of REEJ Research Cluster. If you have any questions or are interested in joining the cluster, please contact her at [email protected].

Karen Widger Caldwell, EdD
[email protected]
Dr. Caldwell is an Assistant Professor of Secondary Education. Her research focuses on critical literacy, multicultural education, civic education, and teacher preparation and development. She is particularly interested in community memory/history and the teaching of contested history. Her primary teaching responsibilities include social foundations of education, social studies methods, and critical perspectives in the undergraduate program and secondary teaching methods in the alternative teacher certification program.

E. Shirl Donaldson, PhD
[email protected]
Higher education is a second career for Dr. Donaldson, who worked as a partner in a family-owned manufacturing before pursuing an academic career.  She brings a wealth of real world experience to practices of entrepreneurship, manufacturing, operations management, project management, quality systems, and technology management to her role as a STEM educator. Among the inaugural faculty in the new College of Innovation and Technology, Donaldson has taught operations management, project management and quality systems at The University of Texas and Purdue University. Dr. Donaldson is a certified project management professional (PMP) and an active member of Project Management International (PMI). She has conducted research and published in technical and management disciplines including a focus on targeted populations such as underrepresented minority students, first generation college students, non-traditional students, and veterans. A strong advocate of inclusive practices in education and business, Dr. Donaldson encourages students to work to their strengths while constantly expanding their skill sets and perspective of life.  Since joining the University of Michigan-Flint, Donaldson has developed several community and corporate relationships and continues to promote social mobility in underserved communities.   Her  current research emphasizes the connection of STEM education to motorsports and the development of culturally relevant STEM pedagogies. 

Sasha R. Drummond-Lewis, PhD
[email protected]
Dr. Sasha R. Drummond-Lewis is an Associate Professor of Sociology. Her research interests include intersections of race/ethnicity, gender, culture, health, and migration.  Her current research examines the health and well-being of Caribbean people while accounting for cross-national and international variations through (1) explorations of health disparities among Black and Afro-Caribbean adults, with an emphasis on Afro-Caribbean women and girls, and (2) examinations of broad issues of well-being for underrepresented groups of adolescent immigrants, with the expressed goal of highlighting their unique health-related concerns and socio-cultural contributions. Her publications on Caribbean children and adults include topics of migration patterns, health disparities, childhood obesity, and media consumption trends.  Dr. Drummond-Lewis teaches courses in General Statistics, Social Research, Race and Ethnicity, The Black Family and Senior Seminar in the Department of Behavioral Sciences.

​​Katherine E. Eaton, PhD
[email protected]
Dr. Eaton is an Assistant Professor of Science Education. Her research focuses on communities of practice and the impact of teacher education programs on teacher identity development. Her passion for investigating professional identity development began with her journey as a K-12 Instructional Coach and her work with post-baccalaureate teacher candidates. Her primary teaching responsibilities include: K-12 science methods, student teaching supervision and seminar, graduate courses in the alternative certification program and a variety of professional courses for undergraduate students who are pursuing a path to teaching.

Ben Gaydos
[email protected]
Benjamin Gaydos is a Detroit-based designer and educator. Ben has conducted research in design and Benjamin Gaydos is a Detroit-based designer and educator. Ben has conducted research in design and anthropology at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he received an MFA in Visual Communication/Design. He has presented his work at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Harvard University, and MIT’s Media Lab, among other institutions. Ben is co-founder and principal of goodgood, a social impact design studio with offices in Boston and Detroit. He is founding editor and creative director at Flint Magazine; a producer and designer for Sensate Journal at Harvard University; and the director of the Community Design Studio in Flint. Ben is Associate Professor of Design at The University of Michigan – Flint, where he is faculty fellow at the Urban Institute for Racial, Economic, & Environmental Justice.

Sheryl R. Groden, MSW, PhD
[email protected]
Dr. Groden is an assistant professor of Social Work in the School of Education and Human Services at UM-Flint. Her social work practice is in geriatric and medical social work. Dr. Groden is currently involved in research on the digital divide for older adults in Genesee County, food insecurity for older adults in Genesee county, as well as intergenerational learning with a new project called SPICE: Senior Program Intergenerational College Experience. Dr. Groden’s past research has explored the prevalence of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) for pain management and stress reduction in older adults, the use of meditation for older adults for stress reduction, as well as social worker-client communication regarding CAM. Many older adults refuse to seek out mental health treatment because of a cultural stigma to mental illness or a different understanding of mental illness and they seek treatment from non-traditional providers. Her research highlights the importance for social workers to better understand medical pluralism and the role CAM plays in our clients’ lives.

Woojong Kim, PhD
[email protected]
Dr. Kim is an assistant professor of Social Work in the School of Education and Human Services at UM-Flint. Her research interest is to understand how individuals’ life experiences are associated with their health status, influenced by the socioeconomic status and environments, which will help develop the tailored but comprehensive intervention for specific populations by reflecting their cultures and perspectives. This includes the impacts of intimate partner violence (IPV) on survivors’ health, considering sociocultural factors using the nationally representative data. Her recent work has been expanded to community based research, such as health status among Flint residents with limited mobility and financial resources. Based on the collaboration with community agencies, she is working with the community agencies to help them assess their services and activities as well.

She has been involved in the comprehensive procedure which includes designing the assessment tool, collecting data, creating the analysis plan, and writing research papers and reports for community agencies. Her skills include both quantitative and qualitative research, such as secondary data analysis, data collection from the local setting, and the focus group research.

Suzanne Knezek, PhD
[email protected]
Dr. Knezek is an associate professor of literacy education in the Department of Education at the University of Michigan-Flint.  Her scholarship focuses on representations of diversity in children’s and adolescent literature, as well as on the preparation and professional development of preservice and practicing literacy teachers in field settings.  Along with two colleagues, she recently edited a book entitled Reading and Teaching with Diverse Nonfiction Children’s Books: Representations and Possibilities.  The text brings together ongoing professional conversations about diverse children’s books and the role and function of nonfiction and informational text in K–8 classrooms.  Dr. Knezek is also interested in investigating how sharing diverse children’s literature might enrich community-based educational efforts.  She served as the Director of the UM-Flint SEHS Reading Center for over ten years and teaches courses that primarily focus on children’s literature and literacy methods.  She taught elementary school in rural Texas before earning her Ph.D. at Michigan State University.

Nathaniel B. McClain, EdD

[email protected]
Dr. Nathaniel B. McClain is an Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership within the School of Education and Human Services. He brings a wealth of experience to the Urban Institute for Racial, Economic & Environmental Justice with over twenty-four years as a public school educator serving in the following capacities: Superintendent of Schools, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, various middle and high school principalships, and classroom experience as a high school English Language Arts teacher. His research interests involve promoting social justice and equity to ensure that underserved populations of students receive access to services and resources that promote student achievement and social impact. He considers himself to be a servant-leader devoted to implementing successful educational programs and experiences for students and staff by cultivating trusting relationships with all stakeholders.



  • Cho, H., Kim, W., Nelson, A., & Allen. J. (2023). Intimate partner violence polyvictimization and health outcomes. Violence Against Women. https://doi.org/10.1177/10778012231192585
  • Gardner, R., Knezek, S.M., and Crisp, T. (2021).   Introduction: Selective traditions, K-8 classrooms, and teachers’ choice of literature.  NCTE.
  • Knezek, S.M., Gardner, R., and Shaw, L. (Spring 2019).  Diverse children’s poetry in the university classroom: Exploring voice, culture, and identity.  Journal of Children’s Literature (Online). e1-e6.  
  • Knezek, S.M., Gardner, R.P., and Crisp, T. (April/May/June 2022).  Whose voices are missing?: The ongoing need for nuanced, accurate, and diverse representations in nonfiction literature.  Literacy Today. (39)4, 46-47.
  • Kim, W., & Groden, S. R. (2022). Stress and health status among members of a disadvantaged community in Flint, Michigan in the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of community health, 1–8. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10900-022-01120-5
  • Kim, W., Cho, H., Hong, S., Nelson, A., & Allen. J. (2022). Concurrent intimate partner violence, survivors’ health and help-seeking. Violence Against Women. https://doi.org/10.1177/10778012221132307
  • Krim, L.,  Jeremiah, R. D., Cummings, L O., & Drummond-Lewis, S. R. (2021). The self-perceived health of Caribbean within and outside the region: Examining the influence of social factors, sources of stress, and health-related conditions. International Journal of Sociology and Anthropology Research 7(1), 1-21.
  • Krim, L. K., Sears, K. P., Crawford, T. V., Cummings, L. O., Drummond-Lewis, S. R., Jeremiah, R. D., & Jackson. J. S. (2021). Prevalence of correlates of physical health conditions in Jamaica and Guyana. Journal of Public Health and Epidemiology 13(2), 129-140.
  • Nienhusser, H. K. & Oshio, T. (2020). Postsecondary education access (im)possibilities for undocu/DACAmented youth living with the potential elimination of DACA. Educational Studies, 56(4), 366-388, http://doi: 10.1080/00131946.2020.1757448
  • Nienhusser, H. K. & Oshio, T. (2019). Awakened hatred and heightened fears: “The Trump Effect” on the everyday lives of mixed-status families. Cultural Studies ↔ Critical Methodologies: Special Issue, 19(3), 173-183. https://doi.10.1177/1532708618817872
  • Oshio, T., & Kupperman, J. The Problem Behind the Problem: Applying Human-Centered Design to Child Care in Flint. Early Childhood Educ J (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10643-021-01263-5

Policy Briefs