Sarah Bauerle Bass, associate professor in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, has been named the 2021 winner of the American Public Health Association’s Everett M. Rogers Award, a national honor for outstanding contribution to public health communication.
Bass directs the College of Public Health’s Risk Communication Laboratory, which has been instrumental in the college’s external communications around COVID-19. She has been a spokesperson in the media and designed research projects and educational messaging aimed at reaching vaccine-hesitant populations and individuals.
The award, presented by the APHA’s Public Health Education and Health Promotion Section, recognizes professionals who advance public health communication practice, theory and research, mentor students, and advance the field of public health communication. It is named for Everett M. Rogers, a pioneer in Diffusion of Innovation Theory, which explores how some people embrace novel innovations more quickly than others.
“That’s very humbling and exciting for me, because his theory has been very influential in my work, even thinking about vaccination. It really does explain so much,” Bass says.
Bass’s more than 25 years of experience has focused on how health messages are crafted for diverse audiences. She has conducted research on public health topics including cancer, infectious diseases (HIV/AIDS, HCV, smallpox, SARS-CoV-2), and emergency preparedness. She has provided training in risk and crisis communication and is widely published in the area of health and risk communication.
Public health crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, and the divided public reaction to it, highlight the essential nature of effective communication to go along with advances in medicine.
“Communication is an integral part of any kind of public health that's done,” Bass says. “Whether it's explaining epidemiology or statistics to the public in a way that they understand, or persuading them to change behavior, communication is vital.”
In Bass’s Risk Communication Lab, faculty and students explore advanced consumer research and marketing methods and align those with health messages. The Lab explores techniques such as consumer segmentation, multidimensional scaling and perceptual maps to analyze and visualize public attitudes and create messages, as well as biophysiological measures including eye-tracking to measure individuals’ responses to messages.
“These are the kinds of things that marketers use to market products to different people. We can apply these same methods to health decisions. The more science we can bring effectively to public health communications, the better,” she says.
Bass will receive her award virtually during the APHA Annual Meeting in October.