By Allison Campbell-Jensen
In fall 2020, food insecurity was the topic for public health graduate students in a class on maternal and child nutrition. They would be creating public service announcements. Cassandra Twiggs and her group wanted to focus on promoting an app created by Hunger Impact Partners that helps people find locations for free meals for students.
“Back then TikTok was super-big,” Twiggs says. “TikTok used vertical screens and we wanted to have trifold frames.”
Yet when it comes to creating video, she was a novice. Fortunately, Media Outreach Librarian Scott Spicer and Charlie Heinz, Multimedia Specialist, had previously come to class to present on video editing and the media resources the Libraries provides.
Twiggs’ group got in touch with them.
“They really took us under their wing: This is how you are going to have to do it. They didn’t do it for us; they walked us through it, as we were editing.” The resulting PSA was “lovely,” she says.
Facilitating reaching audiences with audio-visual media is one of the lesser-known resources that the Libraries provides to students — and Jamie Stang, Associate Professor in Public Health, is glad to introduce her students to it.
“I don’t believe in exams,” Stang says. “I think in grad school you should develop skills and you should be able to demonstrate those skills and I don’t know that exams really do that.”
About 14 years ago, she asked her Research Assistant (who was a former student) what project she would like to see in the maternal and child nutrition course. “It would be really cool to do something audio-visual instead of just print,” Stang remembers her saying.
Initially skeptical because of the amount of work that might be required, Stang’s meeting with Spicer helped persuade her that video PSAs would be feasible.
“He was really great at figuring out the extent of the project: What’s reasonable for students and what’s not. If the majority of them, like 95%, have never done this kind of work before, what can you expect in a single semester? What can the Libraries provide that would make this possible?”
Not only did the students love the projects, but just a few years later, they were linking to their PSAs in job applications.
“That was giving them a leg up for some of the jobs,” she says.
In addition, student feedback suggests that for current public health practitioners this experience helps make them more conscious of media messaging, both in terms of when they are communicating information to their audiences and how they interpret information in the field.
In the last eight years or so, Stang has connected to the Minnesota Department of Health. “What’s a priority issue that you really need your clients to know more about? Once we decide on an issue, they come into class and give a guest lecture on that topic. Their media person comes in and tells students what needs to go into a public service announcement that’s usable, in terms of ADA compliance,” Stang says.
The PSAs have become service-learning projects that the Department of Health uses.
The relationship with Spicer and Heinz has been fundamental, she says.
“How do you take a very complex medical concept and make it into something that a lay person can understand in 90 seconds or less?” Stang says. “Without them, I don’t think it would work. It’s a full-on partnership.”
Stretching to meet students’ requests
The PSAs have become service-learning projects that the Department of Health uses. “Without [Spicer and Heinz], I don’t think it would work. It’s a full-on partnership.”
—Jamie Stang, School of Public Health
Stang points out that Heinz and Spicer may sometimes have to stretch to address students’ requests.
“I usually try to give them a sense of the work that it’s going to take up front, since special effects can take up an inordinate amount of their time with the project,” Heinz says. “Cassie’s group chose the TikTok style as a way to appeal to their intended younger age demographic. If I can help them learn how to create a more effective message through the use of a special effect, I’d say ‘stretching’ is a good thing.”
For Habso Sharif, also a student in Stang’s class last fall, Heinz provided essential help. Her group was promoting community gardens on American Indian reservations and her role was to put together the video and animated resources into a PSA.
“He really did go through each step with me, and showed me tricks and hacks,” Sharif says.
As they proceeded, she could count on Heinz to give helpful feedback.
“He would watch my PSA and look at it with a fresh lens,” she says. “He would guide me on what we could do to improve it … from making the storyboard to the final project.” She now is using these editing skills she learned from Heinz in a graduate assistantship.
Spicer and Heinz already have presented to Stang’s class this fall. Twiggs, who is the Research Assistant for the class, emphasizes to current students that they keep Spicer and Heinz in mind.
“When I write my announcements every week, I say, remember to use them because they are super helpful.”
A lot of the students already have made appointments with Spicer and Heinz to figure out what’s feasible — all in the service of helping students succeed in communicating about public health.
“When you’re in graduate school in a university setting, you have so many resources,” Twiggs says. “You should use all of them.”