Promoting Social Change Through Public Engagement
Kevin Tan is working with multiple communities to promote social-emotional learning and diversity, equity, and inclusion in K-12 schools. Recently, he was rewarded for his efforts.
In May, Kevin Tan, associate professor in the School of Social Work, received a plaque and an honorarium for his Campus Excellence in Public Engagement Faculty & Staff Distinguished Award from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign.
“Dr. Tan’s commitment to and work in public engagement goes far beyond what is expected of faculty members,” says former dean Steve Anderson. “He has created a strong synergy to bring students, faculty, staff, and community members together to further collaborative projects that are mutually beneficial and that make a difference in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
Focus on Public Engagement
Since coming on faculty in 2016, Tan has spent seven years working with K-12 schools to address inequitable outcomes, working with marginalized students of color and witnessing firsthand their social and emotional struggles.
“I’m humbled and honored to receive this award,” he says. “Public engagement is an integral aspect of my research, teaching, and commitment to the land grant mission of our university. In my work, I strive to bring attention to issues of racial justice, furthering our university’s commitment to anti-racism, diversity, equity, and inclusion. I also believe in preparing our students to be socially engaged citizens who will work towards the betterment of our society.”
Two prominent projects that highlight Tan’s public engagement efforts are his work with the Mahomet-Seymour School District and the Danville School District. In Mahomet, Tan undertook a two-year project to enhance the mental health and social-emotional well-being of children, caregivers/parents, and school staff in the Mahomet-Seymour School District. In Danville, Tan had students take photographs that reflected their sense of identity, agency, and belonging, and hosted exhibitions that included students, the Danville mayor, community members, and the school superintendent to view and discuss the photos, with the aim of finding ways to bring about social change.
Tan also received a grant from the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority to hire two full-time therapists for the Danville School District. He has headed numerous other projects with schools and community organizations, all aimed at promoting social-emotional learning (SEL) and addressing racial disparities.
Promoting SEL and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
“Dr. Tan has devoted his research, teaching, mentoring, and service to promoting social-emotional learning and greater diversity, equity, and inclusion in the K-12 schools,” Anderson says. “Being publicly engaged is a core of who Dr. Tan is. His work emphasizes that issues of anti-racism, diversity, equity, and inclusion must be at the forefront of all public engagement work, and also must embrace reciprocal and mutually beneficial partnerships between the university and the community while simultaneously preparing students to become socially engaged citizens who will work towards improving our society.”
Tan says he engages the public by bringing the community into his classrooms—for guest lectures, for example—and by bringing his students into the community.
“Bringing students to visit agencies such as the Juvenile Detention Center in Urbana provides further depth to their understanding of the community and injects an element of realism to my teaching,” he says.
Tan plans to continually bring attention to the lived experience of the most vulnerable populations in the community through his research, teaching, and service, and to continue to highlight the significance of public engagement.
“While the greatest reward for my public engagement work is the sense of making a difference, this award will enhance my ability to promote social change as well as the confidence that my efforts align with the core mission of our university,” he says.