UTIA professor receives early career community development excellence award



PICTURE: Sreedhar Upendram (center), assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of Tennessee’s Institute of Agriculture, has been honored as this year’s 2021 recipient … view After

Credit: Image courtesy of UTIA.

KNOXVILLE, Tennessee – Sreedhar Upendram, Assistant Professor in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture, received the 2021 Bonnie Teater Community Development Early Career Achievement Award from Southern Rural Development Center. In particular, Upendram has developed a payment capacity index that has enabled unprecedented sharing of data and resources between federal and state agencies. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has recognized the index as a new model for identifying and assessing disadvantaged communities, a priority under the Biden administration.

Joining the UT Institute of Agriculture in 2017, Upendram’s community development program quickly gained momentum. Her use of applied research combined with UT Extension’s outreach has enabled her to strategically identify and assist the most troubled rural communities in the state. Assessing the most urgent needs of the community, he focused on rural water supply infrastructure, broadband access and digital literacy.

Meeting these needs requires substantial funding, and Upendram has successfully attracted over 20 grants totaling $ 8.6 million to support these efforts. The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) and EPA Region 4 provided grants that Upendram used to develop a decision tool to help state and federal agencies, local governments, and communities to assess their capacity to improve water infrastructure. Applying this tool to Tennessee, he produced an ability to pay index covering all 95 counties and 347 cities, towns and municipalities in the state. This index is currently used by TDEC to prioritize $ 115 million in drinking water and $ 94 million in funding for drinking water and by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development (ECD) to allocate $ 24 million in grants. comprehensive community development initiatives.

Since Upendram implemented its targeted education program, the TDEC State Revolving Fund program has seen a 60% increase in the number of small, disadvantaged communities applying for loans. The increased demand has led to the creation of new grants and new pilot project opportunities to help meet water infrastructure needs through TDEC, EDC and USDA-Rural Development. The indexing tool has been the foundation of these efforts, and Upendram continues to serve as a full partner.

“Dr. Upendram’s dedication and selfless service to this project has fundamentally changed the way the State of Tennessee identifies and addresses small, disadvantaged communities that need critical water infrastructure assistance,” Leslie said. Gillespie-Marthaler, former director of the TDEC State Revolving Fund. “These programs have integrated the ability to pay index into their formal processes, and the tool is now directing the allocation of resources to these communities in an unprecedented way. His contributions have launched a new way of doing business with Tennessee communities that need help the most. “

To bridge the digital divide and improve broadband access for rural residents, Upendram conducted a highly successful pilot study on mobile hotspot lending that was extended to six rural counties and 11 elementary schools. Participating counties have taken advantage of the program to secure additional resources, while non-participating counties have requested to be included in future efforts. He’s also working on a downtown Wi-Fi program funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission to improve tourism, entrepreneurship, and economic development in a rural Tennessee county. He also worked with Purdue University to develop digital divide profiles for all 95 counties in Tennessee. These profiles inform local and state decision makers about the state of broadband infrastructure and how it varies based on socioeconomic and other conditions in Tennessee communities.


Through its mission of research, education and land extension, the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture touches lives and delivers Real. Life. Solutions. utia.tennessee.edu.

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