Exhale. On the tail end of a whirlwind of activity for the Center for Health Communication (CHC), the 2017-2018 year is coming to a close. With a moment to pause and reflect, I wanted to take some time to recognize our big successes in the last year and preview what is coming next.
Building the CHC Team: Since this time last year, the CHC added five new full-time staff members: Assistant Director Jessica Hughes Wagner, Postdoctoral Fellow Laura Brown, Director of Special Projects Susan Kirtz, Senior Graphic Designer Kendra Lewellyn, and Center Administrator Lindsay Murphy. They joined Senior Program Coordinator Marie Guadagno and Project Coordinator Lorin Garabedian, as well as a talented group of undergraduate students. The CHC’s success begins with this dedicated, creative, and fun team. We would not be where we are without each and every one of them, and I’m grateful this is the crew I get to work with. I also want to acknowledge the contributions of Wendy Stuessy; Wendy was the CHC’s first staff member and center administrator, and she was instrumental in supporting the CHC’s growth before her transition off our team this spring.
Steering Committee: This year we expanded our steering committee to include more members from the Moody College of Communication (Dailey, Donovan, Greenwell, Love, McGlone, Stephens), Dell Medical School (Ring, Rodriguez, Salazar, Webb), and the VP for Research Office (Lyon Gardner). Their thoughtful input on the direction of the CHC helped ensure we continue to grow and make decisions with a broad perspective on how we can pursue our mission and align with work in the Moody College of Communication, Dell Medical School, and the rest of campus. Next year our Steering Committee will include student representation from DMS as well.
Funded Work: The CHC launched a variety of funded projects in the last year, with work supported by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, the University of Texas System, and MD Anderson. The projects span a range of health issues – from opioids to tobacco control to issues related to alcohol and consent – and demonstrate the ability of the CHC to build teams to conduct research and practice building on the expertise of affiliates, staff, and students from across campus.
CHER Launch: This CHC launched a pilot grant program this year – Communication for Health, Empathy, and Resilience (CHER) – designed to facilitate interdisciplinary research between faculty and students from the Moody College of Communication and Dell Medical School. Three teams were funded in this first cycle of the CHER program, and I was particularly excited about the new connections that CHER made possible.
Educational Efforts: The educational mission of the CHC took some important steps forward this year. Two main highlights included the launches of the Pharmacy Communication Initiative (for students in the College of Pharmacy) and the undergraduate health communication minor. Both are opportunities for the CHC to advance training in evidence-based health communication.
Fortifying Joint Center Status: We work hard to bridge the physical divide (1.5 miles to be exact) between and merge the organizational cultures of our two home bases on campus. We continue to look for ways to strengthen our partnership with the Center for Place-Based Initiatives in the Department of Population Health, such as hosting their Idea Originators at our summer Health Communication Leadership Institute. We seek mutually beneficial connections with other DMS departments and leaders to further imagine a growing integration with our second campus home.
Mental Health and Health Communication Theme: Next year the CHC will launch a 2-year theme in mental health and health communication. Planning for the theme will begin in earnest over the summer, but the primary goal for the theme is to generate new interest in mental health as a context for health communication research and inspire new projects and collaborations. We look forward to seeing how our work and affiliates will center around a theme as we pilot this new effort.
Think Tank: For most of the last year the Think Tank operated as an online forum for discussing a variety of health communication issues related to Dell Medical School clinical operations. As we head into next fall, we will now be supporting the Think Tank with staff support. The goal will be to convert active discussions into actionable research projects, both to improve the research and practice of Dell Medical School and to disseminate new health communication research more broadly.
The successes of the last year have come on the foundation laid by founding director Jay Bernhardt and more people than I could possibly name. I’m thankful for the time, energy, and dedication of all those who have become involved with the CHC over our 4 years and counting as a Center.
As we move forward, I’m incredibly optimistic about where we’re going. We’re pursuing important work, and we have remarkable colleagues across campus interested in being part of what we’re building. I am heartened by the sheer enthusiasm and fun that defines the CHC culture. If you haven’t been to a CHC all-hands meeting, you’re missing the most fun you can have at an academic meeting on campus.
I always welcome thoughts on what the CHC is doing and suggestions for where it might go next – stop by the CHC (CMB 3.120) to meet our team or drop me an e-mail. It’s been a great year, and next year is looking even better. Hook ‘em!