A Letter of Intent

by Sarah on May 9, 2013 · 32 comments

As a teacher whose career path has moved in and out of the elementary school classroom, I have always loved spreading knowledge.

Yet for almost a decade, my curiosity has veered away from multiplication and Virginia history and towards health, nutrition, fitness, and the issues of obesity, diabetes, and food policy that plague our country.

The signs that a change in my desired teaching focus was destined to come were constantly revealing themselves, as signs always do. Nobody in my fifth grade classroom was entirely sure how an oceanography lesson turned into a discussion on sustainable fishing and the health benefits of the smaller fish in the sea.

I am certain the first grade parent chaperones went home from our grocery store excursion just slightly perplexed as to how a field trip about community workers became an educational forum on food science and production, once I took control of the tour.

buttercup versus kabocha: discuss.

And I also know the family I lived with in Mexico was not expecting their guest to use her Spanish language skills to help them understand their multiple diabetes diagnoses and recommend steps to take for improving their health.

Even when I was laid off from my teaching job due to massive district budget cuts, I transformed my role at a high-end market from general service representative into the go-to healthy eating expert and educational tour leader. I was always found helping customers who were adjusting to medically mandated dietary changes or leading groups of community members through the store. I taught students about the science of produce and groups of handicapped adults how to shop both healthfully and frugally.

The decision to move beyond my Masters of Teaching and pursue a PhD in Health Education and Promotion is based on my desire to bring together my natural talents for teaching, writing, and relationship-building with my strong passion for physical health.

I want the opportunity to conduct research related to my strong interest in the field through the ever-evolving social and digital media world, while also educating others—and myself—about epidemiology, wellness program structure and effectiveness, and health-related contemporary issues. I want to be so immersed in both study and communication that I come alive the way I do when I am composing posts for the healthy living blog I have written for nearly four years, teaching healthy cooking classes to lifestyle-changers at my local Whole Foods, or answering questions from my diabetes-ridden coworkers about plant-based diets and encouraging them to go to the gym after school.

Over the past four years, social media in particular has educated me, inspired me, and motivated me in my health pursuits of food and wellness writing and recipe development through participation in the extremely vibrant and active healthy living blog community.

As a result, I am intrigued by the use of media as a health education/promotion/marketing platform. I am sure it can be a successful tool in our plugged-in society, but am also aware of its limitations. Despite the current popularity of internet and social-media based health initiatives and forums, including the healthy living blog community in which I am involved, I often find myself wondering if any of the ideas and research in the fields of health, fitness, and nutrition being transmitted in this way are actually helping the widespread community health problems we are facing.

I often feel these messages are not actually reaching the people who need the information most: those who do not currently access popular forms of social media for this purpose, either because they are not able to, willing to, knowledgeable about how to, or simply lack the interest to do so.
someecards.com - I've been eating kale since before you knew quinoa didn't rhyme with a politically incorrect Girl Scout cookie.

I want to help answer the question of how to best access and utilize what could be a far-reaching and extremely valuable tool for health promotion, establishing educational programs that will serve those who actually need the information rather than simply reinforce ideas and knowledge already accepted and understood by those tapped into health-related media.

Additionally, while recognizing the media’s strength as a promotional tool for health-related news and programming in the digital age, I have simultaneously witnessed, and personally experienced, some of the potentially negative effects of a constant stream of subtly, and perhaps unknowingly, delivered wellness messages that set up bloggers—and blog readers—for an all-or-nothing ‘comparison trap.’ Promoting positive physical health changes through social media outlets might also be inversely affecting mental health.


In pursuing a PhD focused on Health Promotion and Education I will have the opportunity to begin to answer these questions, and hopefully contribute to the development of media-related wellness programs that would reach community members of all ages, technological savvy, and socioeconomic levels. From there, I hope to continue to educate others in their own pursuit of knowledge in this field, or in the development and implementation of effective health programs in the wider community.

I truly believe my passion for teaching and communication, as well as my natural curiosity and drive, would be an asset to your PhD program.