Last week was a big one for the Lister Hill Center (hence, the delayed blog post). We sent one member of the team to Washington, DC while the rest stayed in Birmingham for the long-awaited seminar/workshop from the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science. On top of all this, we teamed up with Undergraduate Student Government Association and the Graduate School to host a voter registration drive! Use the tabs below to navigate between the different undertakings of LHC staff last week:

  • Sara Harper, Student Intern


    This week we hosted over 6 hours of voter registration drives! I took this project on in early January in preparation for the impending primary election, which Alabama will hold on March 3 (AKA Super Tuesday). We registered over 50 voters this week with the help of the UAB Graduate School and USGA. While tabling, I was satisfied to hear how many of my peers were already registered to vote and impressed by the amount of unsure people who took the time to do an online check. We also provided an election guide to Health Policy for Democratic presidential candidates as educational materials for voters. One barrier to registering to vote in Alabama that I was faced with is a new law passed in 2019 that mandates that a photo ID be submitted with your request for an absentee ballot. This new law means that what once was a 5 minute online ordering process to get your absentee ballot now requires a trip to the court house. When I mentioned that to a student, it was clear that absentee voting would be more difficult for them than they originally thought. With voting being one of our most basic rights as Americans, so many biases and misinformation keep those who are eligible to vote from doing so. We’ll be combatting all these barriers again in the fall to prepare for the general election!

    Voter Registration
  • Sean McMahon, Outreach Coordinator


    A few weeks ago, I was on Senator Doug Jones’s website for a class assignment. Part of this assignment entailed collecting the Senator’s contact information. The first thing I noticed on the “Contact” page was the phrase “Donuts with Doug.” I’m a big fan of alliteration, so I was immediately intrigued. It turns out that the Senator’s office is open every Tuesday (while Congress is in session) for Alabamians to meet the Senator and his staff. I knew I would be in town anyway, so I signed myself up.

    I made it to the Senator’s office early on Tuesday morning at met the former chair of UAB’s Health Administration program, Dr. Glandon. Other guests included an attorney for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a sheriff from Lowndes County, a group of advocates for the blind and vision-impaired, and several others I didn’t get a chance to talk to.

    The Senator was there as well, and while he was very busy trying to engage with all his visitors, I did get to chat with some of his staff. I found out that some of them receive our newsletter and read this blog (Hey, folks!), and they might even be interested in writing an article for our blog sometime! We discussed future LHC initiatives as well as the RURAL Study, which will be kicking off in the Black Belt of Alabama this fall.

  • Ariann Nassel, Director of Geospatial Data Visualization


    What does the TV show M*A*S*H, a comedy about the Korean War, have to do with communicating science? Most of us would answer that question with “What are you even talking about?” I watched MASH for its 11-year run while growing up and now work with visual science communication, using GIS mapping for public health science.

    Well, here’s the connection: M*A*S*H made the actor Alan Alda a household name. Alda’s unforgettable role in the sitcom as Army Doctor Hawkeye Pierce combined his great acting skills with his personal warmth, empathy, and curiosity. This led to many other impactful roles, including my favorite, host of the 14-year long PBS documentary series called Scientific American Frontiers, in which he explored the incredible world of science and technology. His infectious passion for everything and anything under the sun and his ability to facilitate unscripted personal conversations with Scientists made the complexity of science entertaining for home audiences.

    Because of this work, he realized that scientists and those working in cutting-edge technology often (usually) need guidance to communicate effectively with the general public. Let’s face it: while our society has made tremendous advancements in our understanding of the world around us, scientific findings don’t always translate well to those who don’t live and breathe that type of work. This inspired him to found the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, which brings us to this past Wednesday’s 3.5 hour workshop for UAB faculty, staff, and students.

    Without giving away any tricks of the Alda Method I’ll just say: I loved it! The workshop was energizing, empowering, and even fun. As an introvert, I was pushed out of my comfort zone by exercises that involved group participation, but each exercise led to greater understanding of communicating with peers and audiences. I left feeling optimistic and more than happy to have an addition to my communications toolkit. The workshop relied on the method of bringing out the communication skills we already have by thrusting participants into roleplaying situations or playing funky games that focus you in on your partner. These were all methods used to encourage us to focus less on being fluent in presentation but instead on how you can harness your awareness of good communication skills and know how to flex them in the future.

  • Sean McMahon, Outreach Coordinator


    The main reason I went to Washington was for the American Public Health Association’s annual Policy Action Institute. This was an all-day event held at the Marriott Marquis near Mount Vernon Square. We started the day at 8:00am with a networking breakfast then dove right in with an opening plenary with Mick Cornett, the former mayor of Oklahoma City who fostered the city’s growth and revitalization in recent decades. Then Abdul El-Sayed, author of Healing Politics, shared his take on health policy issues in the 2020 election, followed by a panel on the same topic. We discussed the social determinants of health, as well as the shifts that need to happen in the way that we address these determinants through funding and policy efforts. We moved next into addiction treatment policy, then to investigating the intersection of business with public health. This featured the unique perspective of Kansas City, where the Chamber of Commerce and the Health Department have formed a close working relationship. After an address from Senator Sherrod Brown, Dr. Reed Tuckson delivered an inspiring and energizing closing keynote.

    The over-arching theme that kept coming up: Creating policy change starts with individual relationships and coalition building. One speaker noted, “We can’t change issues that we don’t talk about,” calling for public health professionals to be bold and not shy away from political arguments. Another furthered this point by explaining, “Health is a scarce resource. Politics is how we allocate scarce resources. Health is political.” Public health is not an individual sport, but rather a team effort. Dr. Tuckson reinforced that public health is not centered in contempt. In the rampant tribalism of today’s political discourse, we must continue to find ways to come together and build relationships with one another. Dr. Tuckson encouraged everyone to meet people where they are. If we work together on one issue, we can pave the way to continue working together on more complicated issues together.

    Of course, several more topics came up from this event, but those deserve their own blog posts. For now, though, I’d like to thank APHA for hosting such a wonderful event. I really hope that I can attend next year’s meeting as well!