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FEATURED ARTICLE

It’s YOUR Community, It’s Your Message: A Teacher’s Reflection

By KATE MAGSAMEN-CONRAD

Kate Magsamen-Conrad, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication at Bowling Green State University. Her work is in health and interpersonal communication with a special focus in community-based applied projects. Kate's work also includes a broad concentration on how communication affects personal, relational, and health outcomes -e.g., examination of how dyadic/family communication facilitates health, disease management, adherence, and the experience of burden.

Even when I was a college student, I am not sure I ever really understood “typical” college students. When I was in graduate school, I worked on a media literacy grant funded by the national institute of drug abuse. During part of that grant, we taught high schoolers about persuasion and production “tricks of the trade” then had them use that knowledge to create anti-alcohol messages for kids their own age.

As I studied community based participatory research and action research frameworks, I kept thinking about how health campaigns and interventions, those designed for college students in particular, are generally the brainchild of a researcher who, just possibly, like myself had never really understood typical college students. Sure, we have our deep understanding of theory, the ability to use and analyze data, we run focus groups, we pretest our messages…but WE still developed those campaigns.

These ideas lead me to the development of the “It’s YOUR Community” Project (IYCP). The IYCP equitably involves college students in the research process through course-based service learning, recognizing their unique strengths to improve health outcomes on campus through campaigns and interventions. I introduced IYCP to my health communication class in Spring 2014. As students learned about health communication research broadly, they worked in groups to apply that knowledge in the service of their own community, other college students.

The projects that stemmed from the inaugural IYCP focused on sleep and sexual health. One group facilitated policy changes in regards to availability of female condoms on campus. They were the first participant from an organizational location to successfully complete the FC2 Online Training post-test and received 100 FC2 Female Condoms to support initiating a FC2 outreach program. I still remember their elation during each step of the process: negotiating with the student health center, (finally) passing the testing involved with the online training program, receiving their materials.

The sleep resources (print, media, web) that other groups generated based on the Health Belief Model and Ideation Theory are being integrated into campus-wide programming through our university office of Recreation and Wellness. The final group developed a compelling and timely anti-sexual assault campaign. This campaign, StandUp4YourBody, has been particularly relevant, resonating with the student body and generating continued interest from student developers. Several students have continued with the project, even past graduation!

The IYCP design continues to incorporate students in meaningful ways even after the inaugural set of projects. For example, I utilized the research methods class I taught in the Fall 2014 semester to collect data that will inform the Spring 2015 health communication class as they build on previously created campaigns and design new ones. About 50% of the students enrolled in this semester’s health communication class (an elective) were students in the methods class. I overheard the students involved in the 2014 health communication class exclaim to their peers "this is the first time I've ever been excited about a class project," and “I think we’re making a difference.”

The students and I have together accomplished so much more than I could have alone with my theory and data, and than they could have without that theory and data. Further, the students are empowered to learn that they can change the culture on their campus, they are passionate about their community, and they gain a respect for theory and research.


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