Humphrey School Professor Greta Friedemann-Sánchez Honored for Community Engagement

November 8, 2023
Portrait of Greta Friedemann-Sanchez
Professor Greta Friedemann-Sánchez researches gender inequities caused by family dynamics, policy, and cultural norms. Photo: Bruce Silcox

Described as an innovative researcher focusing on problems of direct relevance to public policy,  Humphrey School Professor Greta Friedemann-Sánchez has received the 2023 University of Minnesota President's Community-Engaged Scholar Award.

It is the highest honor the University gives annually to one faculty or staff member for exemplary community-engaged scholarship that embodies the University's definition of public engagement. Friedemann-Sánchez was chosen from five finalists by a committee of peers from throughout the University and was honored at a November 7 ceremony.

Friedemann-Sánchez works in the Humphrey School’s global policy area, and her research focuses on gender inequities caused by family dynamics, policy, and cultural norms. 

Her most recent work centered on the high rates of intimate partner violence in her native Colombia, which led to significant law changes to address the problem. 

Several faculty colleagues of Friedemann-Sánchez nominated her for the award, praising her commitment to in-depth research methods that foster connections with the subjects of her work, leading to "a level of impact that few scholars achieve."

"Rather than concluding her research with publication of peer-reviewed papers or technical reports, she then engages in the policy process, collaborating with victims, advocates, administrators, and policy-makers to achieve legislative and institutional change. The fruits of her work are outcomes that improve the lives of everyday people in the United States and abroad."

Her philosophy: academic work should be accessible

Friedemann-Sánchez says her approach to research comes from her roots in Latin America, which she says has a long tradition of engaged research that directly informs policy and practice. 

"This tradition involves engaging stakeholders on timely and relevant topics, communicating with them in accessible, familiar language, repatriating—returning to the community—research results, and if possible, helping communities implement changes." 

Tadd Johnson, Nisha Botchwey and Deborah Levison pose with an awards plaque at a ceremony
L-R: UMN Regent Tadd Johnson, Dean Nisha Botchwey, and Professor Deborah Levison, who accepted the award on behalf of Friedemann-Sánchez at the November 7 ceremony. 

"Peer-reviewed research publications are an absolute necessity because they drive theory, but they’re insufficient when you need [change] to happen now," she adds. With engaged scholarship, "you’re doing both at the same time, and you are … affecting change immediately. It’s a way to flatten the pyramid of academia and have academic work be more accessible."

Nowhere has that approach been more evident than in her research and advocacy campaign to address intimate partner violence in Colombia, which she began working on in 2015. 

Friedemann-Sánchez and her research partner found that the implementation and enforcement of Colombia's laws addressing domestic violence were irregular throughout the country. Those conclusions led them to campaign for changes to the system—through international pressure and advocacy within Colombia. After six years, their efforts were successful; Colombia enacted a new law in 2021 that incorporates many of the changes they recommended.

That work, which she considers "the pinnacle of my immersion in engaged scholarship," was also recognized in 2022 with an Honorable Mention from the University’s Innovation Impact Case Awards, which honor University research that has led to significant impact outside of academia. 

"Greta is so deserving of this recognition," said Dean Nisha Botchwey. "She exemplifies what it means to be a community-engaged scholar, not only through her research but also her teaching. She illustrates to her students how careful design of qualitative research studies can empower the voices of the marginalized and build evidence for social change."

"I am proud to have taken a road that has made theoretical, actual, and important impacts on women in different countries and contexts," says Friedemann-Sánchez. "I am so very humbled and grateful to be receiving this prestigious award, knowing that my efforts are being recognized by my alma mater and the workplace I am so proud to be a part of, the University of Minnesota."  

Friedemann-Sánchez will receive a cash award, and her name has been added to the UMN Scholars Walk.

Humphrey School Professor Greg Lindsey received this award in 2019.  

Watch a video profile of Friedemann-Sánchez