Health Communication Scholars Program Gives Graduate Students Experience Designing and Funding Research

AUSTIN, Texas — March 24, 2014 — When he received his Ph.D. and became a faculty member in 2006, Michael Mackert said one thing especially helped him to hit the ground running: past experience working with faculty to design a research project and compete for funding.

To help more graduate students have this advantage, Mackert – now an associate professor in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations – created the Health Communication Scholars Program. It is funded by a $25,000 Provost's Teaching Fellowship that he received in October of 2013.

In the Health Communication Scholars Program, graduate students form interdisciplinary teams, participate in a grant-writing workshop and submit proposals for their planned research.

"Students had to create a 'light' version of a grant proposal that faculty submit to the National Institutes of Health," Mackert said. "The idea was to give students experience designing a project and competing for research funding, since that's something they'll have to do in the future as junior faculty. I was amazed at what the student teams – unfunded and funded – produced."

Eight student teams, comprised of graduate students from Moody College and across campus, competed for funding. An interdisciplinary faculty panel reviewed the proposals, and selected four teams that would receive funding. Moody College of Communication graduate students lead each team, and collaborators come from the School of Social Work, College of Pharmacy and the School of Public Health.

Following are the funded projects:

  • "Exploring Health Insurance Counselors as Information Providers: A Step toward Understanding the Context for Health Literacy" – Sara Champlin and Ming-Ching Liang, doctoral students in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations and Sarah Seidel, a doctoral student at the School of Public Health, will work to define strategies for improving health literacy in the U.S. They will investigate how government and community health employees and volunteers help people understand the Affordable Care Act.
  • "Factors Influencing Disclosure of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Healthcare Settings: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning (LGBTQ) Patient Perspectives" – Laura Brown, a doctoral student in the Department of Communication Studies and Jelena Todic, doctoral student in the School of Social Work, will investigate how to best deliver health services to LGBTQ people, reducing health disparities and stigma. They will draw from the expertise of advocates nationwide to create and distribute a survey to LGBTQ people and then conduct focus groups to further investigate the themes that emerge from their survey results.
  • "From the Drawing Board to the Kitchen Table: An Analysis of Perceptions, Attitudes, and the Information Process Between Health Messages, Parents, and Children" – Emily Scheinfeld and Erin Nelson, doctoral students in the Department of Communication Studies and Meredith Craft, doctoral student in the School of Public Health, will explore how parents receive and relay messages about nutritional and physical activity for their children. From data collected through questionnaires and interviews, the team hopes to provide a foundation for future research on childhood obesity prevention campaigns.
  • "Using Visual Metaphors to Decrease Mental Health Stigma in College Students" – Allison Lazard, a doctoral student in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations and Benita Bamgbade, doctoral student in the College of Pharmacy, will test whether visual metaphors – communication devices that visually link two concepts to create a metaphor – can decrease mental illness stigma among college students. From data collected through interviews, design tests and surveys, the team hopes to develop new strategies to remove mental health treatment-seeking barriers for college students.

Mackert's research focuses on health literacy, with a particular interest in the best ways to design health messages to reach low health literate populations. This work applies to both new digital media and traditional media. Other research interests include the stigma associated with health issues, provider-patient communication and e-health interventions.

Most recently his research has appeared in the Health Communication, the Journal of Health Communication, the American Journal of Infection Control, Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication and Patient Education and Counseling.

The Health Communication Scholars Program is one of several health communication-focused initiatives at Moody College. In July, Jay M. Bernhardt – former director of the National Center for Health Marketing at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – will build upon these initiatives as director of Moody College’s Center for Health Communication.

Contacts: Laura Byerley, (512) 471-2182; Michael Mackert, (512) 471-8558.

Laura Byerley
Public Affairs Representative