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Two new UTA School of Social Work professors win international award

August 08, 2018

Two professors joining The University of Texas at Arlington this fall were announced as the winners of the Best Human Services App Idea Award at the Education and Social Development Conference in Dublin, Ireland, in July.

Kathy Lee and Rebecca Mauldin, who will start in the fall semester as assistant professors in the School of Social Work, began developing the SageServe app for aging-related services in April.

SageServe aims to provide older adults with opportunities to strengthen existing social roles and develop new ones by connecting them to online-based volunteer opportunities.

"To help vulnerable and frail older adults stay engaged to the community, we started talking about volunteerism they can do in their communities from home," Lee said. According to Lee, 10 percent to 43 percent of older adults in communities across the country are socially isolated with very limited social networks or activities in which to interact and engage. That lack of social networking can lead to higher levels of depression, worsened physical health, poor cognitive functioning and higher risks of mortality.

Lee says volunteering enhances social integration and is associated with higher levels of health and well-being. However, she noted that approximately 35 percent of Americans live with a disability and 12 percent live with cognitive impairment, both of which create difficulty for older adults to travel to volunteer locations according to Lee.

SageServe aims to connect older adults to volunteer opportunities they can participate in from within their own homes. The app will provide access to an array of offerings tailored to older adults who have any physical disabilities or cognitive impairments.

"The app intends to help older adults build community and reduce social isolation," Mauldin said. "We expect they will experience an increased sense of purpose, meaning of life and self-esteem."

The new assistant professors, who won first place in the contest, plan to work with community-based organizations in Arlington and the North Texas area.

"For our pilot study, we expect to recruit about 20 older adults who are willing to test the app and share their experiences with us," Lee said. "Through this study we believe we will learn more about the community needs and how we can develop this app for more adults. We are also expecting to apply for bigger grants."

Since the concept of the app is focused on virtual volunteerism, the need for transportation will be reduced greatly. SageServe's design also will make it easily accessible for older adults who have difficulties with vision, dexterity or memory, Mauldin said.

She believes the benefits of SageServe will be seen from both ends of computer screen.

"Community organizations will benefit from having a diverse pool of volunteers," Mauldin said. "SageServe will connect older adults with unique skills and distinctive experiences to volunteer locations that may have otherwise not been considered due to the missing link."

SageServe brings about an exciting development in the adaptation of technology in the field of social work. Scott Ryan, dean of the School of Social Work, looks forward to seeing the results of this new approach.

"When you combine technology and human services together, there is no estimating how impactful the research can become," Ryan said. "As technology continues to evolve how we approach creating community solutions, Kathy Lee and Rebecca Mauldin highlight how social workers are utilizing innovative technology to build sustainable urban communities."

Lee and Mauldin are excited to join the University because of its interdisciplinary research approach to building sustainable urban communities and improving the health and the human condition, two of the tenets of UTA's Strategic Plan 2020: Bold Solutions | Global Impact.

"As soon as we show up, we are going to start looking for people to help us design the app, particularly with computer science and engineering," Mauldin said.

University of Texas at Arlington

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