Before the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in West Virginia, Geah Pressgrove pondered two questions: “What is the perception of the vaccine? How can we use these perceptions to ensure all residents get vaccinated?”
It's . . . giving us an opportunity to build collaborations between units on campus that had not historically existed . . .
Through analyzing each specific county in the state, Pressgrove, associate professor, advertising and public relations chair in the Reed College of Media, helped provide West Virginia leaders with all the information they needed regarding how residents felt about the vaccine and how to get them vaccinated.
Pressgrove partnered with Julia Fraustino, also of the Reed College, and Dan Totzkay, of the Department of Communication Studies, as part of the Joint Information Center within the West Virginia Joint Interagency Task Force for COVID-19 Vaccine. Since their initial research, they have been monitoring current trends in perceptions surrounding the vaccine and adapting their approach to rollouts, accordingly.
Pressgrove, specifically, has been involved in social justice work since her professional career and has made it her prerogative to help those in need through her research.
Her professional background includes agency work with non-profit organizations, brands like BMW, local hospitals, entertainment programs like Bravo, and festivals. Even though Pressgrove got to work with multiple industries, she loved working with non-profits the most.
Since joining the faculty here at WVU, her research has mainly focused on public relations, digital communications and public interest communication. Pressgrove was also a founding member of the public interest communication research lab.
She takes great pride in the part that the public interest communications research lab has played in the vaccine roll-out research because it has been a way for multiple different departments to come together and do work that hasn’t been done before. The lab itself has 10-11 interns that are from Reed College, Public Health, and Pharmacy.
“It's social science, but it's also giving students an opportunity to be part of the risk, the pandemic response, and also giving us an opportunity to build collaborations between units on campus that had not historically existed, which is pretty exciting,” said Pressgrove.
The connections made through the research lab has created opportunities to showcase everyone’s unique expertise in the vaccine and COVID-19 studies being done.
Pressgrove stresses the importance of social justice work because it is work that could potentially help save lives, even from a communications standpoint.
“It's why I love my work,” Pressgrove said. “I mean we'll say this vaccine has taken me down a health communications crisis path that is not really what I typically did but I think there's a lot of intersection with my work. The issue that's happening right now, talking about access and equity for folks wanting vaccines and making sure there is equitable vaccine distribution, those things are really passion points for me.”
Pressgrove will return to work focused on nonprofits and other social justice issues after completing her work with the COVID-19 vaccine.
“My aim as a scholar is to do work that makes the world a better place.”