Two projects aimed at helping educate first responders and communicating the importance of vaccinations to new parents have been named winners of the 2020 Pabst Steinmetz Foundation Arts and Wellness Innovation Awards.

The awards, which each receive a $25,000 grant, were founded in 2018 by Orlando’s Pabst Steinmetz Foundation to recognize cross-disciplinary teams building sustainable models for arts and wellness innovation. The teams, comprising UCF personnel and community organizations, must involve the College of Arts and Humanities and at least one other college, unit or center from the university, as well as a community organization.

“Most societal issues can’t be resolved with a single idea. In order to accomplish this, we need collaboration between disciplines, and between scholars and community,” says Margery Pabst Steinmetz, co-founder of the foundation and a member of the College of Arts and Humanities Dean’s Advisory Council. “When we work together, it’s a secret sauce for success.”

In 2020, 21 teams submitted proposals for the two awards. Winners were chosen for being interdisciplinary, sustainable and community focused.

Fables versus Urban Legends: Storytelling about Vaccines at the Intersection of Ethnography and Epidemiology

This timely initiative aims to build directly on the ongoing success of the 2018 Pabst Steinmetz Foundation award-winning project, “Positive Parenting Fables.” As an extension of the seven original, research-informed, multilingual, animated fables designed to give advice to new parents, this installment will focus on the importance of timely infant vaccinations. Researchers will explore parents’ perceptions of infant vaccinations across ethno-linguistic communities to create culturally relevant fables in English, Spanish and Haitian Creole.

“Current circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 virus and large-scale vaccination provisions have heightened public awareness about concepts of contagion, vaccines and herd immunity,” says Tyler Fisher, primary investigator for the “Fables versus Urban Legends” project. “Misinformation and outright disinformation also accompany this awareness. It is more important than ever that we understand what varied communities, across languages, are saying about vaccines, because those conversations fundamentally shape perceptions.”

Zeynep Elshaer ’20 completed her honors undergraduate thesis as an extension of the Positive Parenting Fables project. She discovered that different ethnolinguistic groups express starkly different fears regarding vaccines. Some tie vaccines explicitly to stories of the apocalypse or genocide.

“In light of Zeynep’s findings, we are confident that alternative stories can counter misapprehensions and promote improved understanding in public health,” Fisher says.

Researchers from the College of Arts and Humanities, College of Nursing and College of Sciences include:

  • Tyler Fisher, associate professor of modern languages and literatures
  • Dawn M. Turnage, site coordinator and College of Nursing lecturer
  • Kimberly Renk, associate professor of psychology who oversees the Understanding Children and Families Lab
  • Cheryl Briggs, associate professor for UCF’s School of Visual Arts and Design
  • Nick-Myrca Gauthier, instructor of modern languages and literatures
  • Barry Mauer, associate professor of English
  • Kevin Meehan, professor of English
Advocating for Aphasia: Using the Performing Arts to Create a Conscious Community

“Advocating for Aphasia” brings together a multidisciplinary team and community partners to empower people with aphasia (PWA). Aphasia, which is characterized by a reduced ability to speak, understand, read and write, is not well understood by first responders. This initiative aims to develop self-advocacy for PWA through story sharing of previous experiences they had with first responders. These stories will be used to create an educational video to better educate first responders.

“My work is rooted in finding the medicine in our stories and in using theatre to cultivate our capacity to become agents for powerful and positive social change,” says Sybil St. Claire, primary investigator of the “Advocating for Aphasia” project. “We begin with the idea that we all have the capacity to act in the theatre of our own lives. This grant supports this ideology, igniting a partnership between UCF’s School of Performing Arts, the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders and the Department of Psychology.”

Researchers and community partners include:

  • Sybil St. Claire, associate lecturer of theatre
  • Lauren Bislick, assistant professor of communication sciences and disorders and research specialist of Aphasia House
  • Megan Sherod, associate chair for academic programming and clinical associate director
  • Amy Engelhoven, clinical lecturer and director of Aphasia House
  • Sage Tokach, theatre graduate student,
  • Avi Golden, EMS provider and person with Aphasia
  • Seva Reilly, vice president of Aphasia Family

Since its inception in 2018, four projects have received funding for the Pabst Steinmetz Arts and Wellness Innovation Awards.

Winning initiatives in 2018 were “The Arts and Aging: An Interdisciplinary and Intergenerational Initiative” and “Positive Parenting Fables.” Last year’s winners were “Creative Approaches to Combat HIV Stigma and Discrimination from Health Providers” and “Project Xavier Hands-free Training Game.”