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Hands-On Health Communication Experience

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What makes health communication stand out at Northern Kentucky University?

“Health communication is an exciting, hands-on and versatile degree,” says Dr. Whittney Darnell, assistant professor of communication studies at NKU. “Our students learn to ask questions about how people experience and make decisions about their health.”

Part of the health communication curriculum involves the implementation of targeted health campaigns. The Campbell County Drug-Free Alliance (CCDFA) hosts a yearly Mental Health Youth Summit, which was unfortunately canceled due to COVID-19 this year. However, the alliance wanted to continue to bring awareness to a report released by Kentucky's Department of Education: "Suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth and young adults in Kentucky." 

The CCDFA director reached out to Dr. Darnell about a potential information postcard sent in place of the summit. In turn, she suggested that this would be a great project for NKU’s health communication students. She handed the idea over to one of the program’s professors, Dr. Crystal Daugherty. 

“The CCDFA wants students in Campbell County to feel empowered to be the one to start a conversation about mental health and to know where to find the resources they need for themselves or someone they know who may be showing signs of distress,” Dr. Darnell says.

“This project allowed students to see the various steps of developing an operational campaign—it is not only what we communicate but also how we communicate it."

Dr. Daughtery was joined by Natalie Eller and Madie Berter, two health communication students, and Skylar Philips, an aspiring visual communication design student, to work on the partnership.

"Knowing that our target population was middle and high schoolers allowed us to craft a message that was age-appropriate and accessible,” Dr. Daughtery says. “This project allowed students to see the various steps of developing an operational campaign—it is not only what we communicate but also how we communicate it."

Natalie and Madie were responsible for looking at current mental health information, researching the demographic (middle-high school students in the region), and then proposing ideas. Once the CCDFA approved a concept, the project shifted to Skylar to implement and design the postcard. 

Dr. Daughtery only worked as the liaison between CCDFA and the university, so all three students were allowed to complete every aspect of the project independently. The postcard, along with a pair of earbuds, will be distributed to 5,000 students across the Campbell County area to continue to raise mental health awareness in middle school and high school students.

This real-time experience is vitally important to the success of health communication students.

"All three students will be able to put this on their resume as an example that they not only have the theoretical knowledge, but they also are fully capable of translating that into an operational health campaign," Dr. Daughtery says. 

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