Longtime Director of SWEHSC Community Engagement Core, Marti Lindsey, PhD, Prepares for Retirement

For more than 20 years, Marti Lindsey, PhD, has served the College of Pharmacy, the University of Arizona and her community with a contagious enthusiasm. Her strong appetite for knowledge and kind demeanor laid the foundation for a successful career as the director of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center (SWEHSC) Community Engagement Core, a position she has held since 2003.

“Everything about health literacy is just fascinating to me,” she explains. A self-proclaimed “nerd” Dr. Lindsey has been with SWEHSC through several iterations, skillfully guiding the center towards its current role in the community as a non-biased source of scientific information to the public on environmental health educational issues. Through research, outreach and education, SWEHSC has played an important part in stimulating discussions and collaborative interactions among researchers and the broader community.

Dr. Lindsey, who lived and worked on the Navajo Nation for several years, has a unique perspective with which she approaches community partnerships. “I think of it like a Venn diagram. There's what I will I need to get done and what they need to get done and in the middle there's a place where we have similar goals that could complement each other,” describes Dr. Lindsey. “I'm always looking for that Venn where we can work with another group to meet both sets of needs.”

The Community Engagement Core bases each lesson off of a list of SWEHSC research themes. The practice has proven to be a successful way to connect dense scientific work with more broadly understood concepts. The Core has developed numerous strategies for spreading awareness including supplying materials in plain language, presenting research at local schools, and Science Cafes where researchers share their work directly with the community. Under Dr. Lindsey’s leadership the Core has also concentrated their efforts on building trusted relationships with tribal communities as well as medically underserved populations across the state. These relationships help to increase the accessibility of the research being conducted at the center. 

The researcher is a human being, not somebody in an ivory tower and the community gets their questions addressed, and then it becomes something that’s not scary,” explains Dr. Lindsey. “All of our research into risk communication has really taught us the value of providing hope. You can't just talk about the problem, you have to talk about the hope of drug discovery, the hope of preventing environmental exposure, what you can do to take care of your family and so that perspective then becomes inherent in how we talk about science.”

At the heart of each strategy is an eagerness to make science more fun admits Dr. Lindsey, “We do it with fun almost exclusively.”

The KEYS to success

In 2007, Dr. Lindsey helped to establish the KEYS Research Internship Program. The program – Keep Engaging Youth in Science – is a unique summer opportunity for Arizona high school students with a strong interest in bioscience, engineering, environmental health, data science and biostatistics to work with UArizona faculty on research projects.

As a tool for community engagement, KEYS brings the ivory tower down to the ground floor opening pathways for developing science interest and skills in pre-college students.  

"Once you get into the lab and you understand that science is actually very dynamic and about discovering the unknown rather than the known, the idea that, 'I might want to be a scientist' takes hold," explained Dr. Lindsey about the philosophy behind the program.

As the co-director, Dr. Lindsey helped to build the program from a small class of 9 to now serving almost 50 high school students each year. Over the last 14 years the program has cultivated scientific interest in more than 500 Arizona high school students.

Leaving her legacy

Dr. Lindsey has received both state and national recognition for her prowess as a communicator and mentor. In 2013, she was awarded the Society of Toxicology Public Communications Award, and in 2019 she received both the Maria Teresa Velez Outstanding Appointed Professional Mentor Award followed by the Bioscience Educator of the Year Award.

“Dr. Marti Lindsey is a great example of an educator who is making a difference here in Arizona and across the Southwest region,” noted president and CEO of AZBio Joan Koerber-Walker at the Bioscience award ceremony. 

Dr. Lindsey has led hundreds of projects throughout her time with the College of Pharmacy, but the interaction with her mentees, students, and colleagues has meant the most to her. In describing a conversation she had with a fellow colleague, she noted:

“She said, ‘You know Marti, your legacy is not necessarily the programs it's all the people that you've reached through your programs.’ There have been 500 kids in KEYS, and another over 200 kids in our other summer programs, and 300 people at tribal forums and we're going into our fifth edition of the magazine that has gone all over the country, and we would regularly see 1000 people every year at Earth Day events. And then there's the 60 some odd people who've worked for me, and all the graduate students that I’ve connected with. I think that is what I cherish most, all those people who have cared about what we did, and who have been there for me so that we could do it.”

As this chapter of her life comes to a close, Dr. Lindsey can now set her focus on a new project: Retirement. 

“I kind of live in the moment. I do have some ideas, but I have no idea whether that's what I'll do.” For the woman who laughingly confessed to pursuing her PhD as a hobby, we are confident she’ll make good use of her well-deserved free time.