Racial, Economic, & Environmental Justice Research Cluster

The Racial, Economic, and 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.

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.

Current Research Topics

Early Literacy for Families and Communities

Flint Kids Read
Funded by the Community Foundation of Greater Flint (2017), the Flint Kids Read (PI: Chad Waldron) aims to strengthen the language and literacy skills of Flint families. This has been accomplished through community partnerships and collaboration using a multifaceted two generation approach providing high quality literacy experiences for families with children birth to five years old. The Flint Kids Read program is coordinated with the internationally recognized Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and offers a comprehensive family literacy component. Flint Kids Read supports families and children through coordination of services, provision of training and language/literacy tools, family engagement activities, and with classroom and family support to ensure that Flint children are ready to succeed in school.

Genesee Intermediate School District
Community Foundation of Greater Flint
Flint Public Library
Flint Genesee Literacy Network

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 toshio@umich.edu.

E. Shirl Donaldson, PhD
Academia is the second career for E. Shirl Donaldson. Dr. Donaldson worked as a partner in a family-owned manufacturing firm resulting in exceptional insight into entrepreneurship, manufacturing, operations management, project management, quality systems, technology management and STEM education. Donaldson joined the College of Innovation and Technology as inaugural faculty at University of Michigan Flint. Dr. Donaldson has taught operations management, project management and quality systems at The University of Texas and Purdue University. Professor 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 inclusionary practices in education and business, Dr. Donaldson encourages students to work to their strengths while constantly expanding their skill sets and perspective of life. Her research agenda and commitment to intellectual growth is driven by her life experience. E. Shirl Donaldson is a native of Detroit, Michigan. She enjoys baseball, car shows, cooking, and reading mystery novels.

​​Katherine E. Eaton, PhD
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
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 Chair of the Department of Art & Art History and 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
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.

Nathaniel B. McClain, EdD

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.

Pamela Ross McClain, PhD
Dr. Pamela Ross McClain is currently an Associate Professor of Education at the University of Michigan-Flint in the School of Education and Human Services where she directs the Educational Leadership graduate programs. She has enjoyed being a professional educator in urban communities for over three decades where she has served as a middle school teacher, youth program director, central office administrator, and university faculty member. She earned her Ph.D. from Michigan State University in Curriculum, Instruction and Educational Policy with a cognate in Teacher and Staff Development. Dr. Ross McClain is a community-engaged researcher and enjoys collaborating with various public school stakeholders including administrative and teaching professionals, ancillary staff, parents, students, public service agencies, faith-based and other community-based organizations to devise innovative measures that enhance the quality of teaching and learning for under-served/under-performing African American youth. She is a qualitative researcher interested in community-engaged research that centers issues of race, culture, diversity, and inequality in educational systems. Dr. Ross McClain characterizes herself as a community servant and public scholar who is committed to improving the quality of educational leadership, teaching, and learning in urban school systems.

Chad Waldron, PhD
Dr. Chad H. Waldron is an Assistant Professor of Education, Literacy, with the School of Education and Human Services at UM-Flint. Dr. Waldron’s research work centers upon literacy educator preparation, community literacy, and family literacy practices within early childhood settings and elementary school contexts. His most recent research focused on the Flint Kids Read project, how Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and targeted early care literacy experiences improved literacy outcomes for children and families.



  • Nienhusser, H. K. & Oshio, T. (2020). Postsecondary education access (im)possibilities for undocu/DACAmented youth living with the potential elimination of DACA. Educational Studies, 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. 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
  • Waldron, C.H. (Accepted). More than contaminated water: Flint, Michigan’s community-wide efforts for literacy. In N. Stahl and L. Henry (Eds.), A Field Guide to Community Literacy: Case Studies and Tools for Praxis, Evaluation, and Research. Taylor and Francis. To be published in early 2022.
  • Waldron, C.H. & McQueen, M. (2020). Arriving at school ready: Integrating Michigan’s Literacy Essentials into prekindergarten contexts. Michigan Reading Journal, 52(2), pp. 41-48. https://michiganreading.org/resources/michigan-reading-journal/

Policy Briefs