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Creighton Continues Community Commitment Through Highlander Partnership

May 23, 2022
2 min Read
Cindy Costanzo, PhD, RN, FNAP and LaShaune Johnson, PhD
Creighton University continues to focus on its commitment to providing the community opportunities to share knowledge and resources and offer programs for health and well-being.

Studies show that more than 80 percent of the factors that determine health come from social and economic circumstances, personal health behaviors and the physical environment in which a person lives. Creighton’s wellness and educational initiatives at the Highlander Accelerator focus on this 80 percent and connect with graduate degree programs in Integrative Health and Wellness and Public Health.
In 2018, Creighton officially became a tenant in the Highlander Accelerator. The Accelerator is located in the heart of the Highlander neighborhood to activate an unrealized community. They offer a variety of online education for community members, focusing on nutrition, emotional and mental wellness, meditation, yoga, cancer awareness, and community engagement.

Creighton University at Highlander (CUAH) has become a high-profile incubator of unique community engagement in North Omaha. By working in cooperation with the Highlander community and local healthcare facilities, the health of the whole person can be addressed.

Cindy Costanzo, PhD, RN, FNAP, Department Chair for Interdisciplinary Studies, is the acting director of CUAH, inheriting the early work of Tom Lenz, PharmD, Professor of Family and Community Medicine, who formed a relationship with Seventy Five North. They are the community “quarterback” leading the redevelopment of the Highlander neighborhood and have adopted the Purpose-Built Communities model that seeks to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty.

“There isn’t one place on campus that hasn’t been touched by a Highlander collaboration,” Dr. Costanzo said. “And, our student involvement is tremendous!”

LaShaune Johnson, PhD, Associate Professor, Clinical Research and Public Health, is the
assistant director of Highlander. She is a champion and vocal advocate for the work at Highlander.

“It’s mission-based activism and advocacy. It’s not a place. It’s a movement.”
— LaShaune Johnson, PhD, Associate Professor

Recently, the team of Dr. Johnson, Kathryn Onorato, MS, and Elizabeth Kiscaden, MLIS, launched an educational project, “Sick and Tired: Healing Conversations for North Omaha,” and shared their findings with the community to address the mental healthcare gap. It’s an example of what Dr. Johnson refers to as community-engaged scholarship – a strategy for strengthening the quality and impact of academic research. “It’s partnering with relevant groups or communities—and listening to the community about their own needs. Community members need to be co-creators in the model,” says Dr. Johnson.

This commitment to engagement reflects Creighton’s academics, student body, partnerships, and institutional framework, designing programs and participating in community engagement from healthcare to racial equity. Highlander is an example of a community committed to transforming higher education and communities, heavily influenced by the Place-Based Justice Network, from Seattle University’s campus-wide commitment to local partnerships. Jesuit education means more than acquiring knowledge. The Jesuits believe what you do with that knowledge is just as important.

Dr. Johnson sees Creighton’s role to help create and develop a cadre of students and professionals trained in the theories and practice of community engagement, social justice and cultural responsivity.

These efforts at the Highlander Accelerator represent a bold vision for the health sciences. An image inspired by that bedrock belief on which all of Creighton is built — cura personalis.

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