Public Health Summer Fellowship Gives College Student a Close-Up Look at Public Health Campaigns and Messaging

Aug 30, 2013, 11:30 AM

Mina Radman, 2013 Karel Fellow Mina Radman, 2013 Karel Fellow

Mina Radman was one of seven college students who spent their summer in Washington, D.C. as part of the Frank Karel Fellowship Program in Public Interest Communications. The program, coordinated by the Nonprofit Roundtable, an alliance of 300 nonprofits and community partners, places high-potential undergraduate students in hands-on summer fellowships with leading nonprofit organizations that promote the public interest.

The Karel Fellowship honors and advances the legacy of Frank Karel, who established, led and nurtured the field of strategic communications during his 30 years as chief communications officer for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation. Among Karel’s strong beliefs was that racial and ethnic minorities were underrepresented in the public interest communications field, and so foundations and public interest organizations must be proactive in recruiting and nurturing broader participation and leadership in public interest communications and advocacy.

NewPublicHealth spoke with Mina Radman, a 2013 Karel fellow, about her summer spent working and learning at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

NewPublicHealth: Did you learn about Frank Karel’s professional history and legacy as part of the fellowship?

Mina Radman: Yes, we did. People who had known Mr. Karel, such as Andy Burness of Burness Communications, spoke about him at the opening dinner for the fellowship program, and his name came up many times during the summer whenever we would speak with people who knew Mr. Karel and his work. We also have sessions as a group at the conference room at Burness in Bethesda, Maryland, and that room is named for Frank Karel. And Mr. Karel’s wife, Betsy, came by to say hello at a recent fellowship session.

NPH: You’re journalism major. What do you hope to do once you graduate?

Radman: That's the “million dollar” question. I’m still figuring that out and that was part of my reason for applying for and accepting the Karel fellowship—in order to explore potential fields of interest. I definitely want to work in communication, but what avenue I’ll take is something I’m still discovering.

NPH: And what did you get to do at Tobacc0-Free Kids?

Radman: My work included a lot of learning about the strategic communications behind producing advocacy campaigns. Now, after my time there, I’m trying not to use jargon in my own writing. Another interesting part of the fellowship was monitoring tobacco advertising in magazines that cater to young readers. Tobacco-Free Kids has a subscription to just about every major magazine you can think of, from Glamour to Sports Illustrated to Car and Driver. One of my jobs was to read through them and track and record each tobacco advertisement that appeared. As someone with a background in journalism, I hadn’t thought about the advertising aspect of magazine work. It was interesting to realize, for example, that the ads are often geared toward young girls and are in magazines that I read growing up.

Other assignments included writing a blog post and helping with a youth symposium that the campaign holds every summer that bring together youth advocates from across the country. They have a five-day learning spree and spend time on Capitol Hill meeting with members of Congress, and I was able to be a part of that.

NPH: What kind of impact on your future do you think the fellowship will have?

Radman: What led to my applying for the Karel fellowship was that I wanted to work in health. Working at Tobacco-Free Kids taught me a lot about public health that I didn’t know before, such as the strategy behind communications and messaging that organizations use when they use social media. I’m an avid fan of social media, and I never really thought about it in these strategic ways before. And so now, I think that even when I post something on my own Facebook page or Twitter feed, I’ll be thinking about what message it is I want to put out there.

And the fellowship has been a growing experience as a young adult. Being on my own in a big city, a thousand miles away from family and friends, has helped me continue figuring out who I’m going to be.

>>Bonus Link: Meet the seven 2013 Karel Fellows.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.