SHERCom Initiative2019-01-16T15:58:52+00:00

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SHERCom Initiative

Science, Health, Environment and Risk Communication Initiative

School of Communication & Journalism

       Led by: Juliet Pinto and Maria Elena Villar


The SCJ has strong faculty expertise in science and health communication, and community journalism. Increasingly, our students are involved in faculty-led projects reflecting these areas. For example, we have faculty working on environmental communication, particularly with sea level rise through our Eyes on the Rise project, and a veriety of health communication research and intervention activities funded through federal agencies and conducted in partnership with other scholars and the community.


Our SHERCom Initiative is in line with the university’s mission and strategic plan, and contribute to several goals. Under the first focus area of Carnegie Very High Research Designation, the first strategy is to develop strong interdisciplinary research through Organized Research Units (ORUs) that facilitate:

 Interdisciplinary collaboration across departments and fields of research

 Engagement of faculty across humanities and STEM fields

 Engagement of faculty from non-Ph.D. departments in Ph.D. education and training.


SCJ contributes to this strategy through our SHERCom initiative.



SHER Comm Activities and Achievements


1) Public Understanding of Environment and Health Issues

“South Florida Rising Seas” Documentary: MacMillin and Pinto produced the award-winning documentary that aired on South Florida’s PBS station, WPBT2, in January 2014 and became the most watched online program for the station that year. It was picked up by PBS NewsHour for their nightly newscast, as well as the Miami Herald, Sun Sentinel, and other regional, national and international media.  In 2015, MacMillin led her multimedia production students on a project that culminated in a nine-part web series furthering the work on sea level rise. It became the most watched web series in WPBT2’s history, and from it, MacMillin produced a second documentary, “South Florida’s Rising Seas: Impact,” which Pinto co-wrote.

Eyes App: Prof. Susan Jacobson was project manager for the development of this app, developed in collaboration with the FIU GIS Department and the Fusion interactive team. Available at, it allows users to put in their address and see their neighborhoods at different levels of sea level rise. It additionally allows for a citizen science component, as people can engage in crowd hydrology and contribute to an interactive database by uploading photos and videos of flooding, as well as various measurements to allow for broader understandings of how water moves on and off of South Florida’s landscapes. The Eyes team has produced many events centered around the app, bringing citizen science and crowd hydrology to South Florida residents.

Mobile Virtual Reality Lab, led by Prof. Ted Gutsche, allows students and faculty to apply new technologies in visual storytelling, journalism, and advertising. The science communicaiton applications of this effort can be viewed at and has a strong connection to expressing meanings of environmental change in South Florida during a time of rising seas.

Public Deliberation and Everglades Restoration. Prof. Blaeuer’s work on Everglades restoration and climate change attempts to address a collective impact problem in southern Florida’s response to climate change. Through a grant from the Kettering Foundation’s initiative on Public Deliberation on local issues, his work fosters civic and student engagement through a local issue guides on Everglades Restoration in partnership with the National Parks Conversation Association, the National Parks, and the Everglades Foundation.


2) Teaching and Training

Healthcare journalism course for Latin American journalists developed by Profs. Villar and Marino.  A collaboration with Novartis, this course was designed to help journalists understand the technical aspects of cutting edge medical technology and patient issues, such as clinical trials, presicion medicine, and patient advocacy in different countries, to assist them in covering these issues in the hemisphere.

SHER Comm Course developed by Prof. Wang, where students explore how how communication plays a significant role in the framing and discussion of environment and health issues and solutions and how representations of nature, environment, health, and risk are politically, socially and economically constructed. Students acquire a critical understanding of theories, models and assumptions about the effects of the mass, social and participatory media in SHER Com, and learn to think strategically  about the use of communication to advance a public organization’s goals and objectives in ComSHER.

Crisis Response Communication: Professors Brown and Villar from the Department of Communication are both called on as experts in managing communication in disasters.  Prof. Brown teaches the crisis communication course FIU’s Academy for International Disaster Preparedness.  Villar served as the communication expert in a bioterrerism excercise  in Collaboration with Prof. Sherri Porcelain and the Universoty of Miami’s Office of Emergency Management in Spring 2016.


3) Health Communication Interventions

Mental Health Stigma reduction campaign: In partnership with Federation of Families members from the Haitian and Hispanic communities, we developed graphic novels and mini audio dramas (“radionovela”) addressing challenges youth and families dealing with mental health and substance abuse face to help them understand and accept new ideas about mental health and substance abuse services.  These campaigns received national awards from SAMHSA for Excellence in Communicating and Community Outreach (Project leads: Villar & Bauduy).

Ministers Health Project (MHP), a part of Minority Men’s Health Initiative, was created in 2014 as an initiative to bring awareness and health information to African Americans and other minority ministers, in partnership with Hampton University’s Ministers’ Conference.  (Investigators: Villar & Wendorf)

Padres Activos (Active Fathers) brings together a transdisciplinary collaborative research team of researchers from the fields of health communication, public health, pediatrics, biomedical engineering, and sociocultural studies in order to engage Hispanic/Latino fathers in experiential learning opportunities centered on obesity reduction. (Investigators: Villar & Wendorf)


4) Research and Publications

Profs. Gutsche, Jacobson, and Pinto have published various articles relating to environmental communication, including several co-authored books.

Profs. Pinto and Villar, together with former gaduate student Rodrigo Zamith, have published articles on the public understanding of Climate Change

Prof Segev regularly pubished research on green advertising and persuasive assocaited with green and environment-related consumption behaviors.

Prof. Wang has published in top tier journals on new technology use in arenas of health information seeking, healthb stigma communication, health related social marketing, and the effects of cultural factors on health attitudes and behaviors.

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