Sometimes it takes a detour to discover how to get to where you want to go. Former pre-med student and current Communication senior Donald Shell knows first-hand that the path you choose doesn’t always lead where you might expect.
“Originally when I came to MSU I wanted to be a pharmacist, but I realized that wasn’t really a track I wanted to go, so I took a year off,” said Shell. “I worked at CVS as a pharmacy technician. I learned I didn’t want to be in the medical field, but that I do love connecting with people and helping them with their problems. So I thought when I went back to school that I would want to get into communications.”
After changing his major, Shell worked as an office assistant for two ComArtSci departments where he got to know Jim Dearing, a professor and chair for the Department of Communication. Dearing was working on a research proposal to study the diffusion of health innovations from other countries to the U.S. Learning of Shell’s medical background, Dearing invited him to join the MSU Diffusion Research Team. Shell joined the team, excited about the opportunity to help people through the combined disciplines of health and communication.
Building a Framework
Since December 2017, the team has been working with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, an organization that focuses on improving health and well-being in the U.S. The goal of the collaboration is to develop a system for finding health innovations from other countries and successfully bringing them to the U.S. To do this, the researchers found numerous international medicines and technologies and then used special criteria to narrow down the list to five innovations that they used for in-depth case studies. Then they constructed a conceptual model for the possible spread and resilience of these innovations and their potential for improving health in the U.S.
“I was fascinated by the research topic and the people I was going to work with,” said Soo Shin, a postdoctoral research associate and project manager. “The topic is so relevant and important for resolving many health-related problems in the U.S. We need to look for good solutions, regardless of their origins.”
Sharing Ideas to Find Solutions
Shell was selected to present the MSU Diffusion Research Team’s research methods on the international sharing of medicine and health technology to improve U.S. health systems at Mid-Michigan Symposium for Undergraduate Research Experiences (Mid-SURE) 2018. Mid-SURE is a chance for undergraduate students from different universities to share their research and creative work. After months of research, Shell was enthusiastic about moving forward and sharing the team’s initial findings.
“I feel like a lot of communication is being able to solve a problem. You’re giving a solution to someone,” said Shell. “A lot of the time people see you graduated with a degree in communication and think it’s just communication, but it’s actually bigger than that. I’m helping people in a way that I’d never even thought of before, and it gives me joy.”
Preparing for the Future
Department of Communication Professor Maria Lapinski is also a member of the MSU Diffusion Research Team. She expressed her thoughts on the importance of research, and on the benefits it offers undergraduate students like Shell.
“Many students will go into careers where they are asked to read and produce research, and we want to prepare them for this,” said Lapinksi. “Mid-SURE is a great venue to highlight top students and their work.”
Having experienced the journey himself, Shell has a few words of advice for fellow undergraduates who may be thinking about pursuing research.
“I want to let other students know that if there’s an opportunity for them to get in on a project like this, don’t shy away from it,” Shell said. “Just take a leap of faith.”
By Kristina Pierson