Leveraging Community Education Experience to Inform Communications Strategies

Written by: Nicole Hunt

Today, in our “Teammate Spotlight” series, we’re happy to introduce Van Do. Van is a Senior Communications Manager at Urban Emu. Van’s experience in community nutrition education and public health research gives her a unique perspective when developing communications strategies for our clients.

Q. Your title is Senior Communications Manager, but how would you describe your role here at Urban Emu?

A. I joined Urban Emu to lead a new contract to launch a MyPlate awareness campaign and support efforts to help MyPlate reflect the cultural diversity of Americans today. With my prior experience working in SNAP-ed using MyPlate, this role was an exciting opportunity to share what I’ve learned and experienced to build a strong and effective campaign. I can see the big picture of how important our work is and its potential impact on consumers.

My day-to-day role involves leading strategy planning, guiding our client discussions, and managing workflows, tasks, and timelines. I keep a birds-eye view on all of the many workstreams for our U.S. Department of Agriculture MyPlate client. I’m a problem solver and keep my eye out for emerging challenges and find solutions before problems arise.

Q. Can you tell me about your previous experience working with MyPlate and the SNAP-Ed programs?

A. Sure! I started my career as a summer intern at Virginia Cooperative Extension and joined my supervisor for a series of classes she taught in the community. The most memorable moment was teaching at a lower-income apartment building in Arlington. Arlington is one of the wealthiest counties in Virginia, but even in areas like this, some residents are struggling to afford basic needs and healthcare. You can really see significant disparities and how social determinants of health – the conditions in which people are born, grow, live, and age – play out.

We taught a series of six nutrition education classes to a group of primarily Spanish-speaking mothers. In the first half of our class, we walked through interactive lessons on MyPlate, reading the nutrition facts labels, and making a meal plan. In the second half of classes, we gathered in a kitchen and cooked a healthy meal based on our lesson together. My favorite memories were seeing the women unite and joyfully bond over learning and cooking. At the end of class, we gave each participant a bag of groceries to make the meal at home with their families. After college, I accepted a job with Cooperative Extension. I trained teachers and after-school staff on MyPlate and nutrition education and led a large Master Food Volunteer program throughout Northern Virginia.

Q. In addition to working with community educators, you’ve also worked in public health research. How does health research work differ from your community education work?

A. Yes, I supported a research collaborative that brought together the leading funders of childhood obesity research to work together to accelerate progress in reducing childhood obesity in America. In my role, I managed research workgroups to help our clients move from idea to research to publication to dissemination.

As a community educator, I was able to connect with people directly and educate them on healthy eating, but working on health research, I was able to not only support research that eventually led to toolkits and resources for community educators and practitioners in the field, but also learn and focus on other factors that lead to childhood obesity, such as the impact of social and physical environments. These factors are often driven by issues of race and class and are linked with many other health challenges children and families face.

Q. What lessons do you take from your efforts in community education and your research experience as you work to build effective communications strategies surrounding nutrition education?

A. My previous experiences give me a strong understanding of the audiences we are trying to reach with MyPlate, including consumers, other community educators, and researchers, and what strategies and tactics would work well. I leverage my familiarity with key partners and organizations who are doing similar work so we can identify trusted messengers to help support our campaign. I also share my experience working with SNAP-ed, which is a USDA program, with my team so we can craft messages that align with what our USDA client needs. It can be tricky to translate dietitians’ language into consumer messages!

Q. You’ve had a diverse career in health communication, social marketing, strategic planning, and research – what drew you to this work in the first place, and what keeps you in this field?

A. It’s exciting to see how each new role I’ve taken has built on my previous experience. I’ve always been driven to do work that has a positive impact, and I have a special interest in public health and nutrition. I’m drawn to roles that give me a strong sense of purpose. What excites me the most about the work we’re doing with our USDA client is using digital media for the public good. What I also love about working in the public health field is there are so many opportunities to approach the work from other viewpoints like education, research, communications, and policy.

Q. What do you think are the biggest challenges educators face when attempting to combat health disparities in America?

A. The biggest challenge educators face when attempting to combat health disparities is that education alone is not enough to solve any issues. Health disparities in America are driven by factors that are much larger than the individual, and it requires a concerted effort to actually make change. Educators are also limited in the resources they have to teach. The work we do with MyPlate can help make a big difference for educators.

Q. What is your favorite part of your job and the work you do at Urban Emu?

A. My favorite part of my job is that I get to problem-solve, strategize, and collaborate with an amazing, talented team. We work hard, and we have fun doing it. I’m a self-proclaimed foodie and love exploring cultural cuisines, so it’s the best when I get to talk about food at work, and it has a purpose!

We’re so grateful to have Van on our team. Her insights and perspective are integral to our communications efforts. Stay tuned for more teammate spotlights.

Contact Us

Urban Emu is an experience agency proudly driven by a singular mission: to transform the way humans live. We achieve this through a powerful fusion of design, technology, and communications, creating unparalleled online and offline experiences.

We love to hear about ideas big or small. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us regarding your project.

Email: hello@urbanemu.com