Community Engagement Core

On this page:

Community Engagement Core staff (L-R: CEC Director Elizabeth Shapiro-Garza, MEM student assistant Kelsey Rowland, CEC/RTC Program Coordinator Catherine Kastleman, and RTC/CEC Senior Program Coordinator Bryan Luukinen at the North Carolina Environmental Justice Summit in October 2017.

What do we do?

The Community Engagement Core works with communities across North Carolina affected by environmental contaminants, especially those related to early life exposures to chemicals that may have later-life impacts. Communities can contact us with short-term requests for information related to environmental contamination or with proposals for longer term engagement through participatory research projects and/or education and outreach activities. By “community engagement,” we mean working in an ongoing way with a community, listening closely to their needs and learning from their experiences.


Specific Aims

Our current projects include:

1) Partnering with Community Gardeners to Reduce Exposure to Soil Contaminants

In 2016, the RTC initiated a community-based participatory research project to understand and reduce exposures to soil contaminants, including pesticides, in garden soils. We are partnering with North Carolina Community Garden Partners, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, among others. In addition to creating an exposure map tool for gardeners, the project involves qualitative research through site visits, interviews, and focus groups that will eventually inform a social marketing campaign to positively influence gardener behavior and management choices that reduce contaminant exposure. See more about the project at our community gardens project page (

Students from the Nicholas School of the Environment’s Master of Environmental Management (MEM) program (L-R) Reilly Henson, Sofia Tenorio Fenton, and Elissa Tikalsky take soil samples from the Nicholas School’s rooftop garden.

2) Partnership on an EPA Environmental Justice Grant to Explore and Reduce Exposures Due to Subsistence Fish Consumption in Southeastern North Carolina

The Duke Superfund Center’s CEC is an academic partner and project coordinator for an EPA Environmental Justice grant awarded to the Cape Fear River Watch in Wilmington, North Carolina, to explore subsistence fish consumption in three neighborhoods in the Cape Fear River Basin. Other partners in the project include the Wake Forest School of Medicine, the New Hanover County Department of Public Health, and the Duke Environmental Law and Policy Clinic. Read more about the project on the Cape Fear River Watch website. For resources related to choosing safer fish, please visit the following link: “Should I Eat the Fish I Catch?”

3) Working With Communities Near Former Industrial Sites to Explore, Analyze, and Reduce or Prevent Exposures to Contaminants

The CEC is partnering with communities in close proximity to former industrial sites to investigate potential exposure to industrial contaminants and to build community capacity for preventing and reducing exposure. We are helping communities to gather information and conduct research to inform decision-making, and connecting them with expert networks and resources. 

Short-Term Community Engagement Requests

In addition to these projects, we are interested in hearing from communities about any other topics of concern to communities who want to learn more about environmental contamination. We are often able to provide short-term assistance and community engagement support. Please feel free to contact us at SuperfundCEC[at]


Who are we?

  • Elizabeth Shapiro-Garza, Ph.D., Director, Community Engagement Core
  • Catherine Kastleman, Program Coordinator, Community Engagement Core and Research Translation Core
  • Bryan Luukinen, Senior Program Coordinator, Research Translation Core and Community Engagement Core
  • Sam Cohen, Science Communications Specialist, Research Translation Core and Community Engagement Core

For more information about our community engagement efforts, contact SuperfundCEC[at]




Oral/poster presentations:

  • Kastleman C., Shapiro-Garza E. Choosing Safer Fish from the Northeast Cape Fear River. Oral presentation, Meeting at Cape Fear River Watch with US EPA, NC DEQ, community members, and local health officials, 11, 2017, Cape Fear River Watch office, Wilmington, NC.
  • Kastleman C. Using Participatory Approaches to Engage Communities. Oral presentation to Community-Based Environmental Management graduate students, Nicholas School of the Environment, October 27, 2017, Duke University, Durham, NC.
  • Kastleman C., Luukinen B., Tikalsky E. “Understanding Gardeners’ Exposure to Soil Contaminants and Pesticides in NC.” Oral presentation, North Carolina Community Garden Partners’ Annual Board Meeting, February 2017. North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC.
  • Luukinen B., Kastleman C. Engaging North Carolinians to Protect Environmental Health. Oral presentation to North Carolina Congressional Staffers during Duke Office of Government Relations tour, November 1, 2017, Duke University, Durham, NC.
  • Shapiro-Garza E., Kastleman C., Luukinen B., Rowland K. Engaging Communities in the Development of a Mapping Tool for Environmental Justice Projects in North Carolina. Poster presentation, North Carolina Environmental Justice Network Summit, October 20, 2017, Whitakers, North Carolina.
  • Shapiro-Garza E., Kastleman C., Luukinen B., Tenorio Fenton S., Tikalsky E., Henson R. Community Engagement to Support Community Gardeners in North Carolina with Reducing Exposure to Soil Contaminants and Pesticides. Poster presentation, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Superfund Research Program Annual Meeting, Dec 6-8, 2017, Philadelphia, PA.

Other publications of interest: