Alumna's communication skills aid state health agency | Communication Studies

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May 3, 2018

Alumna's communication skills aid state health agency

by Jessica Frey & Kristina Overton

Melanie Williams PhD (B.A. 1991; M.A. 1993), UNT Communication Studies alumna, has spent the past two decades applying health communication principles to her work with the Texas Department of State Health Services, previously known as the Texas Department of Health.

Williams has found great success within the Texas Department of State Health Services, and through her work she embraced the value of a background in communication studies and its benefit for those chasing a traditional or a nontraditional career. Indeed, communication studies served as the foundation for which she was able to build a rewarding and influential career.

Williams' focus in communication studies actually began with organizational communication but shifted to health communication her first year of graduate school when her mother was diagnosed with cancer. The digression of her mother's health became a turning point in her academic career, pointing her away from moving into the workforce and towards pursuing her PhD from the University of Georgia.

There, she concentrated her studies on persuasive health communication campaigns and evaluations, while also working with the Georgia Cancer Control Program and the CDC in Atlanta. After completing her coursework for her PhD in 1998, Williams decided to move back to Texas and began her career with the Department of State Health Services.

In her first position as a field representative for the Texas Department of Health, William's team was responsible for training county clerks, justices' of the peace and funeral instructors. At the time, this training included generic "one size fits all" manuals, but it was her academic background in communication studies that gave her the "momentum needed to alter these practices and give way to a far more efficient method of communication and training."

Moving into a more critical role, for seven years she worked as an epidemiologist where she played a crucial role in helping cancer control efforts, observing disparities within populations as well as studying treatment effectiveness and survivorship. Epidemiologists, according to Williams, are essentially "glorified statisticians", where communication stems from statistics and technical information. Her background in communication studies and public address enabled her to "convey different aspects of cancer and statistics to a wide array of audiences" serving as a bridge between the statistical evidence and the ability to take action.

As the Branch Manager for the Cancer, Epidemiology and Surveillance branch, Williams now manages the state cancer registry while simultaneously supporting data requests, research studies and providing general information to the public. Whether she's presenting to a legislative body or communicating this information publicly, she understands the unique methods that are imperative to efficient communication and is able to compose the data so that it is consumable to required parties. Williams has continued to contribute through research, and co-authored a number of publications including the "2006 Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer, and Cancer Incidence in US Hispanic/Latinos" and the "Embryo Banking Among Women Diagnosed with Cancer: A Pilot Population-Based Study in New York, Texas, and Illinois."

Melanie Williams knows the impact that an unexpected turn in a student's life can play on their academic future as well as the value of being able to communicate well. Allowing the loss of her mother while in graduate school to be the catalyst that drives her motivation and her background in communication studies to be the foundation that empowered her, Melanie Williams turned loss into ambition. According to Williams, "there are so many transferable skills a person can learn or expand on with a background in communication studies. Do not limit yourself to traditional fields if you have a passion, and rely on that background to take you into whatever direction you want."