The ways communication can enhance the use of research evidence in policy making is the broad research focus of Calandra Lindstadt, Ph.D., who has joined SC&I as a postdoctoral associate on Project ASPEN (Active Surveillance of Policy Ecosystems and Networks (ASPEN) to Enhance Brokering of Research Evidence into State Policymaking), a collaboration between a team of researchers from Rutgers University and the National Alliance on Mental Illness New Jersey (NAMI NJ).
ASPEN is a three-year project that will develop and implement an intervention to facilitate policymakers’ access to and use of research evidence that is relevant to adolescent mental health policy, specifically implementation of universal adolescent mental health screening in New Jersey public schools. ASPEN is funded by a grant from the William T. Grant Foundation.
“I am looking forward to working closely with the CO-PIs on this team,” Lindstadt said. “Each of them is a powerhouse in their respective fields and I expect to learn a lot from them about methods, acquiring funding, and conducting highly complex interdisciplinary research.”
Lindstadt earned her doctorate in Persuasive Health Communication from the University of Texas at Austin. Through her dissertation research, she sought to better understand media effects by examining the characteristics of meaningful messages (i.e., what distinguishes influential messages from noise), particularly in the context of sexual health communication and sexual health behavior.
As part of the ASPEN team, Lindstadt will serve as project manager and design research which supports the best strategies for implementing targeted communication related to public health interventions.
“We are very pleased to have Calandra join our research team and the SC&I community at-large as a PostDoctoral Associate,” said Professor Itzhak Yanovitzky, an ASPEN co-principal investigator. “Project ASPEN is a complex endeavor, with many moving parts, and is evolving even faster to adopt to the new reality imposed by the COVID-19 epidemic. Calandra jumped right in, taking the lead on the management and coordination of the project’s daily activities, which ensure the continuity of all research activities. She is already making significant intellectual and research contributions to the project while at the same time getting introduced to the emerging field of use of research evidence (URE) and the significant potential of communication, media, and information sciences to improving use of research evidence in policy and practice settings. Her time on the project and at SC&I will prepare her well to assume a leadership role in this field as a health communication scholar.”
Explaining the the key findings of her doctoral research, Lindstadt said, “My dissertation examined college students’ most memorable messages of sexual consent, uncovering rich details about the messages students retain in the context of sexual consent. Cataloguing the existing messages in a target population offered public health officials important information to create more effective and tailored campaigns.
“My research found that college students are receiving messages that emphasize recognizing consent (what is/is not consent); negotiating consent (the importance of getting/giving consent); and normalizing consent (it is ok to enact consent communication). However, most of these messages lacked depth or specific strategies for enacting consent communication and tended toward black-and-white phrasing (e.g., ‘Just say no’ or ‘No means no’) for what is in reality a highly complicated, frequently gray zone. My dissertation partially informed a larger, campus-wide initiative to address the intersection of alcohol use and sexual consent.”
There are multiple ways Lindstadt’s research can benefit the scholarly community and the general public, through the ASPEN project and many other applications. “I have come to believe that the implementation of evidence-based public policy is one of the most effective ways to impact the world for good,” Lindstadt said. “Until we address the systemic inequality inherent in our current society, we cannot put all of the responsibility for enacting healthy behaviors on individuals. The goal of my research is to ultimately help produce a more equitable system that supports healthy, happy, whole lives for everyone.”
Lindstadt said her interest in her research began in college, and as a result she obtained a bachelors in Kinesiology with an emphasis on personal training and holistic life coaching. From there, she said she became interested in more systemic health issues at the community level, so she moved on to public health for her Master’s degree. For her Ph.D, she said, “I was interested in persuasive health communication on an even larger scale and settled in the Advertising Department at UT. Now I am looking at behavior modification from the policy perspective and very excited to see where it takes me.”
In addition to taking on her first role as a post doc, this will also be the first time Lindstadt has lived in New Jersey. In fact, she said, this is the first time she has her lived further East than Austin, Texas. “I am a woman of the West,” Lindstadt said. “I have always wanted to experience time in the Northeast, and I am so excited to move to the area. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, I have not yet been able to visit New Brunswick or the Rutgers campus. I am very much looking forward to the opportunity to explore the area and the campus (which looks so beautiful from photos!). So far everyone whom I have met virtually seems wonderful, though, and I am thrilled to be a part of the SC&I community.”