MJ-school awards $20,000 in seed grants to four faculty members for research projects

Four UNC School of Media and Journalism faculty members were awarded a total of $20,000 in seed grants for promising research projects.

Assistant professors Lucinda Austin, Tori Ekstrand, Allison Lazard and Adam Saffer are the recipients of the 2017 school-sponsored grants to help faculty conduct formative, exploratory or innovative research projects that match with the funding priorities of external funding agencies and programs.

Grantees are selected by a faculty and staff committee — appointed by Dean Susan King and chaired by Daniel Riffe, Richard Cole Eminent Professor. Rachel Lillis, Barbara Friedman, Spencer Barnes and Heidi Hennink-Kaminski are the committee members.


The seed grant recipients and their projects are below:

Lucinda Austin

Coping with Outbreaks: Toward an Infectious Disease Threat Appraisal Model for Risk Communication

Austin, who joined the school in July 2016, will survey adult residents in the United States to help develop a model of threat appraisal for infectious disease outbreaks. Such outbreaks pose a health, social and economic threat to communities. Effective communication is critical for mitigating the surrounding uncertainty. Austin’s study seeks to understand how to better inform infectious disease threat communication, prepare health organizations and inform publics about important infectious disease situations. Austin wants to help health communication professionals know where to communicate with the public, what messages to focus on and how individual differences in people affect their responses to infectious disease threat situations.


Tori Ekstrand

Engaged Scholarship in Web Accessibility for Persons with Disabilities: A Fundamental Right Protected by the First Amendment

Ekstrand will further her research around web accessibility as a First Amendment issue and the impact of poor web accessibility for persons with disabilities. She will interview lawyers, activists and leading scholars in the web accessibility movement in order to more fully understand and report the policy struggles and delays associated with classifying the Internet as a “place of public accommodation” under the Americans with Disabilities Act. She will also survey the UNC campus community to assess persons with disabilities’ experiences with web accessibility.


Allison Lazard and Adam Saffer

Instapeer: A Platform for Social Support for Young Adult Cancer Patients

Lazard and Saffer will collaborate with Stupid Cancer — a nonprofit organization that addresses young adult cancer — to assess user data from its Instapeer app. Instapeer is an instant, anonymous peer matching support network that allows cancer patients, survivors and caregivers access to networks for information and support. They will analyze the Instapeer data to establish a baseline of how users are interacting with the app, the landscape of users’ social networks and self-reported in-app health data. They will also conduct a pilot study around Instapeer’s young adult cancer patients and their social support networks. The study will provide evidence to inform strategies to effectively design and foster a support community for young adult cancer patients.