E-Cigarettes, Mobile Health Clinics, and Death Studies: Faculty Member Discusses Recent Projects

As our faculty members are always doing great things, it is no surprise that one faculty member is able to connect the topics of e-cigarattes, mobile health clinics, and death studies quite seamlessly. Dr. Heather Carmack, an assistant professor in the department, recently sat down to discuss her recent projects and $50,000 grant that she received from the Center for the Study of Tobacco Products for her current research about e-cigarettes.

About three weeks ago, Dr. Carmack finished collecting data for her research about e-cigarette health messages among youth. Dr. Carmack, Dr. Georgia Polacek, Dr. Audrey Burnett, and Dr. Kathy Ott-Walter (professors in the JMU Department of Health Sciences), received a $50,000 grant and are working together to complete this research.

“We used part of the money to fund a graduate student. It’s always nice to be able to give back and help students,” said Carmack about dispersion of the funds.

The research that Dr. Carmack is conducting is to understand usage of e-cigarettes among youth and how being exposed to risk messages can or will evoke behavioral or attitudinal change. Dr. Carmack went on to explain that the first round of data collection has been completed for several months. The findings from the first part, a pre-test and post-test about intent to use and usage of e-cigarettes among youth has been presented at the Virginia Youth Tobacco Research Coalition Annual meeting.

“Part of our findings showed that risk messages produced the most change,” explained Carmack. The research findings will also be presented again this April at the D.C. Health Communication Conference, and received the Outstanding Research Presentation Award.

Dr. Carmack is also currently working with the Harvard Medical School’s Family Van, a mobile healthcare facility based in Boston.

“This van rides around the city and provides free healthcare to those who might need it. What I’m doing is analyzing interviews from patients that were conducted after receiving healthcare, including things like why did they go to the van and how was the experience,” further explained Carmack about her work with the van.

She is not working with any JMU students or faculty for this project, but she is collaborating with the Executive Director of the Family Van and the Dean of Students at Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Carmack is also currently studying Medical Errors and Patient Safety, and is one of only two communication scholars in the United States doing so. She is also currently working on Death Studies research along with faulty member Dr. Jocelyn DeGroot of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

“We aren’t morbid people or anything, we just like to talk about the things that no one else wants to talk about,” said Carmack as to why she is interested in death studies. “We look at how people communicate about death online, including grief support messages.”

Dr. Carmack hopes to receive an extension on the grant from the Center for the Study of Tobacco Products for more research. She also has a desire to use her research for a campaign against usage of e-cigarettes, as there are currently not any in the United States.  Where there are great expectations, there are great successes, and we are confident that Dr. Carmack will continue on her journey and

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work: Two students discuss working together on their graduate level research

Over the course of four undergraduate years, there is a significant amount of time spent doing undesired group work, but that group work for many people proves to be beneficial in one way or another later in life. Two graduate students in the Communication and Advocacy MA program Ethan Smith and Nicole Hudak discuss their experience of conducting research as a team and receiving a Top Student Presentation Award.

“Working as a team was great! Nicole has the critical studies background that led us to our topic and I contributed to the ‘Willingness to Communicate (WTC)’ focus. We found that we really work well together because we balance our strengths and skills in our work,” explained Smith about working as a team.

Smith and Hudak conducted research to discover students’ Willingness to Communicate about sex and sexual assault. They also studied students’ acceptance of common rape myths like “She was asking for it” or “It wasn’t really rape.” They used the Illinois Rape Myth Acceptance Scale and adapted a developed Willingness to Communicate scale into a WTC about Sex scale. Participants were JMU students who were mostly GCOM freshmen.

“If we can convince students to talk to each other more openly about sex, it would help student populations to accept fewer rape myths,” said Hudak about their research findings. Through their research, they found that students had a relatively low total Rape Myth Acceptance and were more willing to talk about sex with friends than with family. In addition to that, they found that the more willing students were to discuss sex with friends, then the less likely they were to accept rape myths.

“These findings are important because it can help us create college environments where survivors are more supported,” explained Hudak.

In April, Smith and Hudak will be presented with the Top Student Presentation Award at the D.C. Health Communication Conference.

“We were surprised and incredibly thankful to the DC Health Communication Conference. It’s nice to have your hard-work noticed and praised,” Smith continued, “Hopefully the attention will only contribute to continuing to shed light on what we’re all quickly realizing is a huge issue on college campuses.

Smith and Hudak go on to discuss the help of faculty members along their journey. They credit their success to Dr. Leigh Nelson and Dr. Heather Carmack.

“Dr. Nelson was a huge help since we did this in one of her SCOM stats classes. She helped us write up our results in an academic manner. Dr. Carmack introduced us to the conference and taught us about the process of applying to conferences. They both played a huge role,” explained Smith.

In wrapping up the discussion, Smith and Hudak both expressed their gratitude toward faculty members and their help along their graduate school journey.

“Grad school has been an incredible experience and all the JMU SCOM faculty has been so willing to invest in us, our work, and our futures. It’s really humbling how hard they work for us,” expressed Hudak. She continued to discuss how the master’s program has been beneficial.

“The program provides us with incredible opportunities to engage in our own research and advocacy. One of the best aspects has been teaching GCOM. We love getting to know the students and being a part of the start of their college experiences. Our classrooms set them up for the rest of their JMU courses, said Smith.

After graduate school Smith plans to pursue a PhD degree. He will be heading to West Virginia University to teach and continue health communication work. Hudak also plans to pursue a PhD degree at Ohio University to continue her health communication work as well. Smith and Hudak have both worked very hard to obtain the success that they have. Even though they are physically leaving JMU, they will always be Dukes at heart.

Is Graduate School Right For YOU?

Written By: Lukas Mihailovich (’15)

Edited By: Bree Riddick (’16)

Have you ever wondered if graduate school is right for you? The end of undergraduate studies can be a stressful time for college students as they decide whether to enter the workforce or pursue further education. On Oct. 15, 2014 the Graduate Program Coordinator, Dr. Pete Bsumek organized a discussion between professors and undergraduate students interested in graduate school. Along with an assortment of delicious snacks, students gained insight from professors on their experiences, and better understood what graduate school has to offer. Assistant Professors of Communications Dr. Tatjana Hocke and Dr. Dan Schill were the other participating professors.

While there are many graduate courses and degrees available to students, much of the discussion was about the general benefits of a degree, rather than on specific classes. As many college students close to graduating want to know, one major question was about the monetary benefits of going to graduate school. “For many entry level jobs, the graduate degree may not put you ahead right away,” explained Hocke, “but, as you move up in your career, a graduate degree is needed to even be considered for a lot of upper level jobs.”

While money may be the driving force behind many of our decisions, graduate school does not come without its time commitments. The workload intensifies with courses that are more specialized. “On one hand, it’s nice because the classes are much smaller and very hands on. On the other, you really have to be passionate about what you are studying,” said Bsumek. While many will take time off and return later in life for their higher education, Schill warned that this might not be the best idea. “Once you have a full-time job and mortgages to pay, the time and money may not always be there, and will make the process take much longer,” said Schill.

Students came well prepared for the two hour-long session provided, and had many questions that would help them in their decision making process. The SCOM professors’ experience-based answers were able to set students on the right track and provided useful and practical insight for undergraduate students.

Read more about the first event in 2014 at http://sites.jmu.edu/harrisonconnect/2014/02/25/is-graduate-school-right-for-you-tips-from-jmu-scom-faculty-members//.

Are you considering graduate school? If you are already in graduate school, what would you recommend to those considering?

Graduate Student Travels for Master’s Thesis

Written by: Caylor Feeley (’16)

Edited by: Bree Riddick (’16)

For ten days, graduate student Marie Eszenyi was able to research Cuban feminism in Cuba. Eszenyi sat down with Caylor Feeley, a junior in the Communications Studies program, and discussed her trip to Cuba and how the Master of Arts in Communication and Advocacy program at JMU has helped her.

During the week before the start of this school year, Eszenyi was busy working on her master’s thesis.

“My master’s thesis is on Cuban Feminism and the Cuban government,” explained Eszenyi. I was interested in interviewing women in women federations and moderates to see how they work with the government. There are no Non-governmental Organizations because all projects come from the Cuban government.”



In the midst of discussing her travel to Cuba, Eszenyi also talked about how the graduate program has helped her in her studies.

“Because the program is new, people may not think that we have the resources,” said Eszenyi, “but that is not true. I approached Dr. Bsumek and my advisor and they were both very supportive. They put me in contact with the Office of International Programs and I got full funding.”

Eszenyi went on to explain the level of support that she received throughout her journey. “I really felt supported. People in the program advocated for me and for the program, and it was a great experience. It was what advocacy is about with all the support.”

So, what is Eszenyi’s favorite part of being a graduate student in SCOM?

“Professors have a willingness to work with you on publications outside of class. I appreciate the support that they offer. I am getting lead author experience with a professor and he’s giving guidance, but I am getting a robust experience! I also like the program’s reflexivity. The cohort has a voice on the type of classes being offered, for example. We can change the nature of the course for future students and ourselves. Most students don’t get that opportunity in established programs.”

Originally planning to go to law school, Eszenyi changed her path after talking to her advisor in her senior year.

“He led me to apply to the program and everyone was so supportive in getting me to where I am now. They encouraged me to apply in the midst of freaking out!” said Eszenyi.

Eszenyi is currently continuing her journey in the program and leaves a piece of advice for those after her.

“Don’t feel like you have to make a decision on other people’s perception and what you thought you wanted to do your whole life. Even in the last minute you can change your mind. Do what you want to do.”

Applications for JMU’s Masters in Communication and Advocacy program are due February 15, 2015. For more information, follow the link http://macommstudiesjmu.com/program-information/

2014 Looking Bright

As we begin the second semester of our new MA program in Communication and Advocacy, our first cohort of Masters’ students is busy and engaged. Students attended the National Communication Association conference in November where they attended panels, listened to presentations, talked with scholars in areas related to their interests and talked with prospective MA applicants at the Graduate School Fair. Our graduate students are engaged in research projects with several of our professors including work on pregnancy issues and student health. Several are working with our winning Debate and Individual Events teams, and for those who are graduate assistants, they are meeting their new students in the Introduction to Human Communication classes this week. Our graduate faculty members are offering classes in Advanced Qualitative Methods, Health Communication Advocacy and Research, Environmental Communication Advocacy and Research, and Interpersonal Communication as Advocacy.

Apply now

If this sounds intriguing, we hope you will consider applying for the 2014-2015 academic year. Applications are now being accepted and are due by February 15, 2014 for our 36-credit hour program. The program offers a strong foundation in communication theory and research, as well as an in-depth examination of communication and advocacy that highlights practical applications and a competencies approach. Students will choose from two concentrated areas of study in Health and Environmental Communication.

Interested in learning more about our program? Explore the pages on this blog, visit our School’s website, and contact us with any questions. Thinking about applying? Subscribe to this blog, “like us” on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter for program news, updates, and events happening in and around campus. We look forward to hearing from you!

Highlights of Recent Graduate Faculty Activities


Dr. Tim Ball (Assistant Professor, Communication Studies) and Dr. Roz Leppington (Assistant Professor, Communication Studies) published “Community-building learning groups in an online course: A study of functional moves” The Northwest Journal of Communication, 41(1), 137-160.


Dr. Tim Ball (Assistant Professor, Communication Studies) presented “Developing a measure of students’ attitudes towards communication” at the 2013 Eastern Communication Association’s Basic Course Conference in Pittsburgh this April.

Dr. Alison Bodkin (Assistant Professor, Communication Studies) presented and received a top paper award for “An ethnographic study of communication center pedagogy” at the National Association for Communication Centers in Greensboro, NC in March.

Dr. Heather Carmack (Assistant Professor, Communication Studies) with co-author Dr. Sarah Heiss (University of Vermont) presented the Top-Paper in the Interpretation and Performance Studies Division “Performing with food: Relationships between food, women’s performance of “good mother”, and childhood health outcomes” at the 2013 Annual Meeting Eastern Communication Association in Pittsburg, PA in April.

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