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Robertson School researchers team up to preserve James River

Feb 28, 2019

Posted in: News

By Taylor Burress, Communications Intern

Dr. Jeanine Guidry (left), Professor Jay Adams and Dr. Nicole O’Donnell received research funding from the Virginia Chesapeake Bay Watershed Roundtable Grant Program to help preserve the James River.

Robertson School professors Dr. Nicole O’Donnell, Dr. Jeanine Guidry and Jay Adams recently secured funding for a new research project from the Virginia Chesapeake Bay Watershed Roundtable Grant Program. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) awarded the research team a grant of $11,420 to research and develop the #ProtectYourRiver communication campaign, which will try to raise awareness of the ways the public can help to preserve the James River.

“Our Robertson team specializes in researching campaign message design strategies,” said O’Donnell, the principal investigator on the grant. She continued, “We hope to figure out how to create effective messages that promote environmentally friendly behaviors for this campaign. Behaviors that benefit the James River, like reducing the use of lawn fertilizers and pesticides.”

In 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA), created the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load plan, which is aimed at reducing pollution in the Bay and connected watersheds by 2025. To help with this initiative the EPA tasked the Bay states Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia as well as Washington, D.C. to develop Watershed Implementation Plans (WIP).

Virginia has been steadily making progress on reaching their WIP pollution reduction goals. The #ProtectYourRiver campaign will promote these goals and alert citizens to how they can contribute to the process.

O’Donnell and Guidry’s research often tries to understand how campaigns can communicate complex science and health information to the public. Adams, the campaign’s advertising and creative director, will create the campaign messages, and O’Donnell and Guidry will test their effectiveness through focus groups and a survey.

“When you look at message design, the question you really ask is: What do effective messages look like if we want to reach specific groups of people?” said Guidry.

The team also recently received an Emerging Scholars grant from the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) to explore a similar topic. That grant research, led by Guidry, will look at how to use social media to promote environmentally friendly behaviors.

“I think often we as a society look at an issue like the environment right now like it seems to be something that we as individuals don’t have much influence over, but there really are things individuals can do that can make a difference,” said Guidry. “In addition, water is such a basic necessity, not just for society but for everybody's health; we saw with the Flint water crisis that if there is an issue with water, it can be absolutely devastating on many levels”.

Adams added, “I live near the James River and my in-laws live on the James River. In contrast to its natural beauty, we constantly see polution. This a really good cause”.

The team’s ultimate campaign goal is to raise awareness to all the ways the public can contribute to the health of the river. To involve the public in the campaign planning process, the Robertson School team is holding a series of watershed roundtables (i.e. public meetings) with interested community members. The first roundtable will take place on March 15 at 2:30 p.m. in room 2207 of the Temple Building at 901 W. Main St. in Richmond. Please contact Nicole O’Donnell at for more details.