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Research center finds new home in UGA’s Grady College

Athens, Ga. – The University of Georgia Center for Health and Risk Communication will now call the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication home.

A number of groups around campus had been vying to house and direct the “think-tank of scholars,” which originally functioned as its own independent unit on campus. Grady’s critical mass of scholars interested in health and risk/crisis communication was a determining factor in the placement of the center, according to Jeff Springston, Grady professor of public relations and associate dean for research and graduate studies.

Springston, along with Tom Reichert, professor and head of the department of advertising and public relations, drafted Grady’s proposal and made a pitch UGA Vice President of Research David Lee to be the CHRC’s new home.

After a thorough review by the Office of the Vice President of Research, it was determined last fall that Grady was indeed the best fit for the center.

“One thing that made Grady attractive was that Dean Cully Clark was very interested in and passionate about raising private money for the center,” Springston said. “Typically, it’s the researchers you see going after public money, but private money is really where a dean and the development office can cultivate philanthropy funding. Not being part of any specific college, there really wasn’t anyone chiefly charged to raise those private funds for the center.”

The CHRC was created at UGA six years ago. Not housed under any particular college, it instead reported to the Office of the Vice President of Research. After a routine fifth-year review, it was determined that the center had the potential to expand and run more efficiently if housed under a bigger entity, such as the Grady College.

Springston said, “After the review, there was the question about the future of the center and where the best home for the center would be to maximize its full potential.”

The CHRC is a research body or “think-tank,” according to Springston. It investigates topics such as how target audiences make health-related decisions and then uses these findings to create messaging that will capture an audience’s attention and produce results.

The center has a particular commitment to research on reducing health disparities by adapting communications to diverse populations. Researchers also are working to improve communication practices that address health and risk conditions ranging from such issues as breast cancer and diabetes, to sickle cell anemia and drinking water contamination from terrorist attacks.

“The center is a place where people across different disciplines, with overlapping interests, can come together. That’s what’s exciting because when you begin to try and answer a question from different perspectives and expertise levels, you can come up with much more creative and novel solutions. This, in turn, promises to make center researchers more competitive when trying to seek funding, which is the fundamental promise of the center,” Springston said.

A search is underway to find a director for the center. Professor Vicki Freimuth, who held a joint appointment in Grady and the department of speech communication, has served as center director since its inception. She officially retired last fall; however, she is on a reduced one-year contract as CHRC director and will leave the position in May.

Freimuth said that the new director should be someone who can “…provide the vision and leadership for the center. He or she should be a respected researcher in the health and risk communications discipline, have excellent networking and collaboration skills, and have experience building an interdisciplinary team of researchers and practitioners who will address some of the pressing health problems in the region.”

Two finalists for the position were interviewed in mid-February and a decision on the new director will be announced soon.

In addition to Springston and Freimuth, Grady College faculty who are involved with the CHRC include Jeong-Yeob Han, assistant professor of telecommunications; Karen King, professor of advertising; Dean Krugman, emeritus professor of advertising; Ruth Ann Lariscy, professor of advertising; Bryan Reber, associate professor of public relations; and Patricia Thomas, professor and Knight Chair in Health and Medical Journalism.

Springston said, “I’m excited that Vice President Lee decided to house the Center at Grady. With our critical mass of scholars, strong and collegial ties to researchers in other units, and the attention that the college will give to private fundraising, I believe this will be a winning combination.”

Established in 1915, the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication offers undergraduate majors in advertising, digital and broadcast journalism, magazines, newspapers, public relations, publication management and mass media arts. The college offers two graduate degrees, and is home to the Knight Chair in Health and Medical Journalism and the Peabody Awards, internationally recognized as one of the most prestigious prizes for excellence in electronic media. For more information, see or follow @UGAGrady on Twitter.