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Columbia University Hosts Research Translation Workshop

By Rebecca Wilson
March 2009

Rita Colwell, Ph.D.
Telfer, center, joined meeting participants Martha Keating, from the Community Outreach Core at Duke University, left, and Kathleen Gray, from the Community Outreach Core at UNC-Chapel Hill, in the on-line discussion following a keynote presentation. (Photo courtesy of Beth Anderson)

Four years after the addition of a research translation component to the NIEHS Superfund Basic Research Program (SBRP) in 2005, the leaders of the SBRP research translation cores gathered at a workshop on February 11-13 to assess their progress. Columbia University SBRP hosted the workshop, "Translating SBRP Triumphs into Public Health Progress: Understanding and Implementing Effective Research Translation," which was held at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

An estimated fifty participants from across the country gathered to discuss the different approaches their programs are taking to fulfill their research translation mission, share best practices and build on networking opportunities. In addition to members of the research translation cores, community stakeholders and members of the regulatory community were also in attendance. According to Beth Anderson, NIEHS-SBRP program analyst, the workshop "provided the participants with many opportunities to learn about each other's activities, to identify opportunities to collaborate, and to set the stage for ongoing interactions among the group."

After introductory remarks by Columbia University SBRP grantee Joseph Graziano, Ph.D., and Anderson, the workshop explored four themes. In each session, the theme was introduced by a keynote speaker and was followed by an interactive, facilitated on-line discussion. The keynote sessions and group discussions were followed by break-out sessions.

The first session, "Partnerships," opened with a presentation by Mark Maddaloni, Ph.D., a risk assessor from EPA Region 2, which is responsible for environmental protection in New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, the United States Virgin Islands and seven tribal nations. Maddaloni discussed his approach to partnering with different populations and his experiences working with local school systems to address the potential problems of lead contaminants present in Astroturf and other man-made turfs.

The discussion of the second topic, "Two-Way Communication," began with a presentation by Jana Telfer, from the Center for Disease Control's Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) Office of Communications, on ways to foster communication in times of crisis. She advised that truth, openness and empathy are necessary for establishing rapport with the public and that a speaker should clarify what is known as well as what is unknown in a situation.

Theresa Pardo, Ph.D., of the Center for Technology in Government (CTG) at the University of Albany, opened the discussion for the third theme, "Building Technical Capacity." She talked about how knowledge networks are formed and operate. Pardo then outlined a multi-pronged approach to find solutions to communication gaps that are often present between groups of stakeholders.

The final theme, "Science-to-Action," was addressed in a presentation by Elizabeth Yeampierre, who talked about a federated network of environmental justice organizations across the country. Yeampierre also shared her experiences in working with communities to utilize science in their advocacy of decision-making processes and mobilize communities to effect change.

The workshop provided participants with many opportunities to learn about each other's activities, to identify opportunities for collaboration and to lay the foundation for ongoing interactions among the group.

(Rebecca Wilson is an environmental health information specialist for MDB, Inc., a contractor for the NIEHS Superfund Basic Research Program and Workers' Education and Training Program.)

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