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Kizzmekia Corbett Wins 2022 AAAS Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science

Kizzmekia Corbett, Assistant Professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, has been awarded the 2022 Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

The AAAS Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science recognizes early-career scientists who demonstrate excellence in their public engagement with science activities.

Corbett is a model for how scientists, whose research touches upon important and timely social issues, can engage the public in effective and impactful ways.

As a postdoctoral researcher at the National Institutes of Health, Corbett was instrumental in developing the lifesaving Moderna mRNA vaccine against SARS-CoV-2, the infection that leads to COVID-19. She also played a central role in the effort to address vaccine inquisitiveness in communities of color.

Corbett’s public engagement began long before the pandemic. As an undergraduate student, she took part in conversations with Girl Scout troops, church congregations, and on social media, efforts that continued and grew throughout her training and early career.

These experiences prepared her well. Once her research was thrust into the public eye, she was able to engage with the public in responsive and culturally thoughtful ways.

In a letter supporting Corbett’s nomination, former NIH Director Francis Collins highlighted her “marvelous ability to connect with audiences and explain science to the public.” Another nominator, Kafui Dzirasa of Duke University, said Corbett “has likely saved tens of thousands of lives in the last year. When people are asked why they decided to take the vaccine, they say ‘because of Dr. Kizzy.’”

Corbett utilized a multi-pronged approach to public engagement, combining traditional and new media approaches. Her strategy was guided by a central idea: to be the most effective, one must meet the people where they are assembled and target one’s efforts around those communities most adversely impacted by the crisis.

"Dr. Corbett sees her research and public engagement as inextricably linked -- recognizing that dialogue with people about their questions and concerns is essential to transforming a vaccine on the shelf into a vaccination in someone's arm, where it can protect them and their community from COVID-19,” said Emily Therese Cloyd, Director, AAAS Center for Public Engagement.

She engaged with the public in churches, town halls, community meetings, on social media platforms, via national figures like former First Lady Michelle Obama, and in traditional news outlets, connecting with audiences around a shared identity, and using a bi-directional mode of engagement that was both respectful and thoughtful.

Corbett also partnered with trusted community allies like the National Urban League, the NAACP, and the Black Coalition Against COVID-19 to focus on marginalized communities that were disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

[Associated image: Kent Dayton]