SIUE researcher honored with Vaughnie Lindsay Award

The Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Graduate School has recognized Deborah Sellnow-Richmond, PhD, with the 2021-22 Vaughnie Lindsay New Investigator Award for her exemplary scholarship and commitment to conducting outstanding and timely research.

Sellnow-Richmond is an assistant professor in the College of Arts and Sciences’ (CAS) Department of Applied Communication Studies (ACS). Her research focuses on the efficacy and unforeseen effects of public relations messages in health and organizational crisis contexts, as well as the emerging role of social media in creating and resolving organizational crises.

“I’m enthused and grateful to be awarded the Vaughnie Lindsay New Investigator Award,” said Sellnow-Richmond (shown). “It is an honor to have the University committee determine my research worthy of this support, which will help move my research forward.”

Sellnow-Richmond will receive a combined $12,500 from the SIUE Graduate School and CAS to be used in a one year period. The funding will support her research project entitled, “Strategic Messaging to Address the Consequences of the COVID-19 Pandemic among Health Disparities and Vulnerable Populations,” which aims to address health disparities within vulnerable populations and uncover issues of organizational trust following consequences from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Dr. Sellnow-Richmond came to SIUE recently and has hit the ground running,” said Duff Wrobbel, PhD, chair of the Department of ACS. “She has proven not only to be a capable educator and positive colleague, but also a strong scholar. This is the kind of work that public institutions such as ours were created to support, and Dr. Sellnow-Richmond is the kind of scholar that this award was created to encourage.”

Sellnow-Richmond will gather data from vulnerable groups in the St. Louis region to inform strategic communication messages and instructional risk design. Instructional risk communication messages will be designed and tested among a sample from the same St. Louis region population to inform organizational, governmental and community risk mitigation messaging.

“My research broadly looks at effective strategic communication, specifically aimed at typically underrepresented, often missed groups,” explained Sellnow-Richmond. “The pandemic has highlighted health disparities among low-income populations of color, and the St. Louis area was hit hard early on. The messaging about how to mitigate COVID-19 risk has been quite inconsistent, which can hurt public trust.

“We also know there is a great deal of mistrust in health and government policy among marginalized groups, for good reason. As we try to move out of the pandemic, we have to first understand which mitigation strategies will be effective while also trying to understand the perspective of those who’ve been hit the hardest.”

“Dr. Sellnow-Richmond has already been engaged in scholarship and has excellent scholarly potential,” said CAS Dean Kevin Leonard, PhD. “This work will advance knowledge not only on a specific timely issue, but also has broader implications for communication studies in understanding the role of culture, identity, messaging and organizational systems.”

“Overall, we have done a good job of understanding effective strategic communication to the population as a whole,” said Sellnow-Richmond. “Unfortunately, in that process, underrepresented groups are often missed. This is a huge problem as it further marginalizes people who are already at the margins of our society. Learning to reframe our approach to overcome this is paramount to my research agenda.”

Stephen Hansen, PhD, faculty emeritus, established the Lindsay Research Professorship Endowment that funds the award in honor of Lindsay, who served as graduate dean from 1973-1986. Lindsay was responsible for creating much of the infrastructure that supports faculty research and scholarly activity at SIUE. Faculty and emeriti faculty at the time of the award’s conception donated the funds to endow the award.

Those wishing to help support new investigators through the award may donate to the Graduate School section of the endowment at siue.edu/give/.

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