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New org to fill health comm niche

by Emily Murphy / Beacon Staff • November 8, 2012

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Founding members and executive directors Kayla Pinto and Maya Wise (far right).
Founding members and executive directors Kayla Pinto and Maya Wise (far right).

Last year, Kayla Pinto decided she wanted to add a health communication minor to her degree. As she took classes and became increasingly passionate about what she was learning, she said she started looking for a way to apply her knowledge. 

As a result, she and some of her peers created the student-run group The Health Agency in September. Pinto, executive director of the organization, said its goal is to provide a place for students to learn about and engage in the field of health communication.

“We really wanted to create a support system and a supportive environment to showcase health communication as a possible career,” said the senior, who is majoring in marketing communication with a health communication minor. 

The idea dawned on Pinto in the summer of 2010, when she realized there were no organizations relevant to the topic on campus. Though there is only a minor available at Emerson, she said having a forum was still important.

“We have no outlets for health comm minors,” she said. “You know, there’s EmComm for marketing majors, there are all these film clubs, but there’s nothing for us. After talking to a lot of kids who want to do this as a career, I just thought, ‘Wow, we should really all come together.’”

The group currently has six members, including the other founder and Executive Director Maya Wise, Pinto said. However, as the organization finalizes more of its plans, it would be happy to accept more students. 

According to Pinto, The Health Agency has established eight initiatives it will be consistently working on. These goals include starting a forum where students can talk about related issues, conducting research through surveys and focus groups to learn more about health in college, and creating a marketing plan to publicize helpful information they’ve gained. 

The rest of the group’s plans can be seen on its website, TheHealthAgency.org, which Pinto said she hopes will become a resource center for the school.

The site also hosts information for students about health topics ranging from alcohol poisoning to dating violence. 

“There’s a lot of common misconceptions,” Pinto said, “and we want to teach what’s right.” 

Ali Dokus, a sophomore writing, literature, and publishing major who is not part of The Health Agency, said she thought an organization like this would be beneficial to the school. 

“Emerson students come from all different kinds of financial and health backgrounds,” Dokus said. “The policy and services Emerson offers should cater to all that diversity. Every student should know Emerson will be there for them if they get hurt or sick, and they shouldn’t have to worry about the financial [aspects].” 

Similarly, sophomore Conor Doolin said he thought that the improving health communication at the school was a good idea.

“I’m not much of a complainer,” the visual and media arts major said, “but Emerson’s ability to properly give students decent [resources for] health needs is an issue that needs to be further addressed. Although I understand Emerson College does not have a hospital, there are some basic steps Emerson can easily take to provide students with at least some basic health needs.”

Pinto said her club has plans to bring health professionals to campus. She said the group is also thinking about taking on a similar strategy to that of the on-campus marketing agency EmComm, wherein it will help health-related nonprofits or businesses with communication efforts. 

Currently, Pinto said she and Wise are working on assisting the Center for Health and Wellness. The agency hopes the office will take its collected research and use it to examine the best way to reach students about health. Other efforts include a focus group and a survey on the website.

Christopher Chernicki, the coordinator of wellness education at Emerson, said his office is willing to work with The Health Agency on certain issues. 

“We are still in preliminary discussions with the students,” he said in an email. “We have suggested that we try to partner on smaller projects first, and as they continue to grow as a group, we can discuss working together on larger projects.”

Pinto said she hopes The Health Agency can provide an outlet for students to voice any concerns or questions about the college’s health resources. Testimonials could include feedback such as Dokus’ opinion about the Health and Wellness Center.

“I think they could improve by expanding their hours on the weekend and making clear communication on where students could go when hours are closed and they need to see a doctor,” Dokus said. 

Though the group is not currently funded by the Student Government Association, Pinto said The Health Agency will do its best to get recognized.