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Mentoring Students for Success in Public Health: A Shining Track-Record for Communication Studies

By John C. Pollock

Over almost two decades, the Department of Communication Studies has launched students into the nation’s top-ranked professional and graduate schools in public health and health communication, as well as into shining career paths. Carefully mentoring students through a combination of courses, internships, dozens of scholarly papers presented at state, national, and international professional conferences, and multiple co-authored book chapters and articles, committed faculty have engaged students in Communication Studies to collectively transform an undergraduate program at TCNJ into one of the most accomplished “feeders” or “pipelines” to public health success in the nation.

Courses in such topics as “health and risk communication campaigns,” “international communication,” “global communication and social change,” “new media and health communication,” and “lifespan communication” taught by professors Keli Steuber Fazio, Yifeng Hu, and John Pollock have inspired students to seek internships in pharmaceutical, health care, and health non-profit organizations, including two summer internships in South Africa studying the way that country uses art, drama, song and dance to fight gender-based violence and HIV/AIDS, supervised by Dr. John Pollock. The same courses have motivated students to write multiple drafts of scholarly papers winning acceptance and awards at state, national, and international scholarly conferences. Indeed, TCNJ communication studies students hold the national record for largest number of papers winning the annual Stephen A. Smith award for “best student paper in the nation” from the national communication student honor society (Lambda Pi Eta) of the National Communication Association. In addition, TCNJ faculty scholarly reputations and collegial friendships at national and international levels, generating multiple campus presentations by some of the nation’s foremost public health scholars and practitioners, have helped student accomplishments sparkle.

Marc Trotochaud (’17)

Those activities and adventures, in turn, generate admirable achievements in admission to leading professional and graduate schools, as well as exciting career opportunities. TCNJ communication studies students have gained admission to master’s in public health programs at UPenn, Columbia, George Washington, Rutgers, and Johns Hopkins. After completing a master’s in public affairs at George Washington, Stefanie Gratale (’06) is pursuing a PhD in health communication at the Annenberg School at the University of Pennsylvania. An alumnus currently completing his master’s in public health at Columbia, James Etheridge (’15), also holds a full-time position in an innovative Global Health Unit of McCann, one of the largest advertising firms in the world. Among alumni who studied at Rutgers, Daniel Giovenco (’10), completed a doctorate in public health there and is now an Assistant Professor at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. The seventh TCNJ communication studies student to gain admission to the public health program at Johns Hopkins, Marc Trotochaud (’17), presented scholarly papers at two different national professional conferences and was a vibrant president of TCNJ’s interdisciplinary Public Health Communication Club, founded by students from the Department of Communication Studies several years ago. Marc commented: “The many opportunities for interdisciplinary learning about public health and health communication, whether through the formal Health Communication interdisciplinary concentration, informal activities with peers from different majors in clubs, or student paper presentations at conferences of the National Communication Association or the biannual George Mason DC Health Communication event – all illustrate the rich array of learning and career-related activities available at TCNJ, and I am immensely grateful for those opportunities to learn from highly engaged faculty and fellow students.”

Tom Hipper (’07)

Among TCNJ alumni who have earned master’s in public health degrees from Johns Hopkins, the career trajectories have been impressive. Yvonne Lachmann Sprow (’03) earned her Master of Science in Public Health (MSPH) at Johns Hopkins. Upon graduation, Yvonne joined Burson-Marsteller, one of the leading public relations firms in the world, where for many years she was Director of the Health Practice division. Tom Hipper (’07) earned his MSPH at Johns Hopkins and Master’s Degree in Health Communication at Penn State, and is now Program Manager of the Center for Public Health Readiness and Communication at Drexel University. Tom also teaches courses as an adjunct professor at TCNJ and Drexel. Katie Ward (’12) earned a MSPH at Johns Hopkins and was hired by Hopkins itself after she graduated. Jordan Kohn (’14) was accepted at Johns Hopkins after a stellar undergraduate career in which she conducted research, presented at conferences world-wide, interned in South Africa, and published an article and book chapter. Jordan earned her MSPH in spring, 2016. Lauren Longo (’16) is studying for a Hopkins MPH (2016-2018) exploring ways to improve physician-patient interaction, focusing specifically on focus groups and recommendations for an intervention to reduce “physician burnout”. Going back even further, Dr. John Pollock, co-chair of the campus wide Public Health Major Task Force, which launched a Public Health major at TCNJ in fall, 2016, fondly remembers Spiro Yulis (’99), Senior Vice President and Managing Partner, Phoenix Marketing Solutions, a full-service healthcare communications company, the first TCNJ Communication Studies student to attend Johns Hopkins to study public health.

Similarly, highly motivated communication studies alumni have pursued master’s and PhD degrees in “health communication”, a subfield taught by half of the faculty in the Dept. of Communication Studies. Four students have been sent to the Annenberg School at the University of Pennsylvania, the top-ranked graduate program in health communication in the nation, as well as Penn State, and others have earned graduate degrees at Ohio State, Kentucky, Rutgers, Delaware, and Maryland. One UPenn/Annenberg PhD and TCNJ alumna, Dr. Jean Lutkenhouse Brechman (’05), now teaches in the marketing department at TCNJ, while a Maryland PhD Dr. Rowena Briones (’08) has been hired to teach at Maryland itself, and Rutgers PhD Dr. Danielle Catona (’08) teaches at Seton Hall University. Penn State PhD Dr. Keli Steuber Fazio (’03) has taught for several years in TCNJ’s own Dept. of Communication Studies, leading the interpersonal-organizational track.

Maidel De La Cruz (’14) and Senator Cory Booker

Whether they earned graduate/professional degrees or not, several alumni of the TCNJ Department of Communication Studies have pursued careers connected to public health. In advertising, Kyle Bauer (’15) is in a branch of McCann advertising, Echo Torre Lazur, that specializes in health communication, and Cara Esposito (’14) is with Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide. Jenna Bjellquist (’15) is finishing a master’s specialization in health communication at Delaware, where she completed work promoting suicide prevention/help seeking education in schools. Two master’s of public administration graduates of the nation’s top-ranked graduate school in public affairs and public administration, the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse, have worked in health communication: Amanda Burd (’09) as Special Assistant at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in Maryland, and Maidel De La Cruz (’14) as Program Coordinator for the Clinton Foundation. After earning master’s degrees in health communication at George Mason, including internships at the National Cancer Institute, Brian Keefe (’08) is a manager with ICF, a global consulting and technology and services provider, working on smoking cessation programs; and Alissa D’Amelio Beers (’06) has worked at the Greater New York Hospital Association. With a master’s in health communication from the University of Kentucky, Kristen Kiernicki Lavery (’09) is a Senior Medical Writer for Precision for Value, a Precision for Medicine company. A master’s in health communication from Ohio State University helped Dana Eisenberg Chomenko (’07) acquire an internship at the National Cancer Institute, and then a Project Director position at BLH Technologies, where she manages projects for the National Institutes of Health.

For its national leadership in student-faculty engagement, the Department of Communication Studies was recognized in 2013 as “best undergraduate communication studies department in the nation” with the Rex Mix Program of Excellence Award from the National Communication Association. Commenting on faculty associations with students who have achieved so much in public health and health communication, Dr. Hu said: “With an increased interest in the use of information technology for health and health care delivery, our students have learned to navigate the ever-changing world of internet-based health communication thorough immersive applications of various digital media platforms in the class, intensive collaborations with on-campus and local healthcare organizations on developing innovative communication tools and strategies, and active interactions with guest speakers all over the world online or face-to-face (e.g., Regina Holliday, national patient rights arts advocate). In keeping with TCNJ’s emphasis on hands-on, solutions-focused scholarship, our students approach new media as eager problem solvers, looking for the newest in medical training, disaster simulation modeling, and communications-enhancing programs for people with speech and other disorders.” Dr. Steuber explained: “The intersection of interpersonal communication and health considers the variant ways that health and well-being are managed within our personal and familial relationships. Recognizing the role that individual communication plays in alleviating or exacerbating the stressors associated with health transitions is exceedingly important, and TCNJ acknowledged this trend with the hire of John Leustek, Rutgers Ph.D. candidate. His work will continue to bridge these disciplines by exploring how families relationally navigate autism, and how uncertainty is often a chronic and prevalent condition that coincides with health.” Dr. Pollock added: “The collaborative, faculty-student engagement in public health and health communication the Department of Communication Studies fosters inspired me for several years to lay the groundwork for a public health major at TCNJ”. Overall, muscular student-faculty endeavors in health communication and public health have played a robust role in generating vibrant student success in health-related graduate/professional schools and careers.”