Visualizing my Research Stream (and how it got me a job!)

As a communication scholar, of course I understand the importance of making sure folks are “getting” my message. I also believe that communicators need to be as clear and concise as possible, in order to avoid any sort of confusion.

With that said, when I was on the job market as a grad student at UMD, I thought the best way to describe my research stream was to show it visually. And so, I created this venn diagram:

Rowena Briones Research Stream Visual

To me, this was a clear representation of how my two areas of research (PR and Health Communication) tie together into my dissertation project, which in turn was how I talked about the work I hoped to accomplish in the future. I actually opened my job talk with this visual, and then went into further detail about the different areas on each side of the venn and the various projects in these areas. I even paid out of pocket (a tough thing to do as a broke grad student, trust me!) to print this diagram out in color in order to give it to those who came to my job talk.

Now as a junior faculty member, when I give advice to grad students, I suggest creating something similar to this in order to visually show where your research is coming from, how it leads to your diss, and where you see it going. For me, this was a great conversation-starter piece about my work, and it seemed to go well for me in the end, as I was soon after offered my job here at VCU.

PS – In terms of elevator speeches, we have our PR students practice this all the time, so it is definitely something engrained in my field. However, another variation of this that I found to be interesting and fun was to ask my fiance what he tells people when they ask about what I do/what I research. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised at his answer! 😉

Visualizing Methodology in CEnR

So I’m not exactly answering this blog post prompt correctly because I am not developing a PowerPoint presentation, but I did want to share a poster that my amazingly gifted grad student Candace Parrish (hire her folks!) designed for us as part of the VCU Institute for Women’s Health annual event: Women’s Health Research Day.

As someone who pretty much dreads making posters, I really appreciate Candace’s wonderful attention to detail and how she makes the research we’ve conducted stand out and pop. I love how her poster designs stray from the boring, usual academic poster presentation  – and I think it helped us a bit in our case, as the work presented in this very poster won the Building Interdisciplinary Bridges in Women’s Health Research Award (that came with a snazzy $1000 prize for conference travel might I add!).

Another awesome thing about this poster was that I was able to give it to our community partner, the Action Alliance, so that they could display it in their office/share it with staff, etc. It was a nice token of our appreciation for being so willing to work with us!

IWH_RedFlag Poster

My Journey Building a Relationship with the Action Alliance

Red Flag Campaign

I’ve been having fun lurking and participating in #CuriousCoLab when I can. I’ve enjoyed reading about everyone’s research agendas and what they hope to accomplish with CEnR. With that said, I would like to share this post to give y’all a sense of what drives my community-engaged work and what led me to work with my amazing community partner, The Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance (or just Action Alliance for short!).

Ever since I was an undergrad I have always been an activist when it came to sexual assault and violence against women. I participated in The Vagina Monologues for many years (I’d argue that performing “The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy” my senior year was a main highlight of my collegiate career, haha) and was even a director of TVM as a grad student at UMD. The bonds I have made with the amazing women I have performed and worked with is certainly life changing for sure, and my unfortunate realization throughout this process was that many of us were survivors and experienced terrible things that quite frankly shouldn’t be happening. This realization just fueled my passion even more to do something a bout it.

Fast forward to May 2013, where I am exploring RVA looking for a place to live in the Fall as a brand spankin’ new Assistant Professor. The *one* person I knew in Richmond was a PhD student in VCU’s Department of Social and Behavioral Health and he introduced me to Kellie Carlyle to have a *second* friend in the area. What happened next was an amazing twist of fate: Kellie and I found out that we had similar research interests, and she invited me to check out the Intimate Partner Violence/Sexual Assault Research Development Workgroup that is affiliated with the VCU Institute for Women’s Health.

Fast forward again, and the group discovers that the Action Alliance is in need of researchers to evaluate the Red Flag Campaign, a public awareness campaign designed to address dating violence and promote the prevention of dating violence on college campuses. Based on the increasing awareness of how victims of violence are being treated on college campuses, this need could not be more timely, and within the past two years we have managed to obtain funds from the Avon Foundation for Women ($5000) as well as a more recent $15k+ grant from our very own VCU Council for Community Engagement. As I stated in an article posted on my School’s website, I am so happy that VCU recognizes the importance of the work my team and I have been doing and continue to do with the help of our awesome community partner.

As with many of the partners discussed in #CuriousCoLab, a number of characteristics have definitely impacted the dynamics of my relationship with my own community partner. A huge one is resources, and this just doesn’t pertain to money (though that is certainly a big one!) – Action Alliance has minimal staff who can be stretched thin as is. My team and I have been very careful to make use of the time we need with our partner wisely. With this said, we are still fairly informal when it comes to meeting – in fact next week we plan to have a morning coffee at a local Starbucks to discuss how we plan on moving forward with the CE funds. Other ways my team and I have made ourselves known to our partner’s stakeholders is by attending Action Alliance sponsored events such as their leadership council meetings, where we tell folks about the research we have been doing.

So all in all, other than telling y’all about how I developed a relationship with the Action Alliance, I also wanted to share this post to encourage other junior faculty and grad students about CEnR, and to say this:

  1. Yes it can be done!
  2. Yes it can be done with an awesome community partner!; and
  3. *YES* it can be done with something you are personally passionate about!

Good luck! 🙂

Live Art Soul: Community Engagement at its BEST

If you were to imagine a dance, a song, a musical, a band, or live performance art to represent community-engaged research, what would it look and sound like?


This past Sunday my fiance and I attended a performance hosted by the School of the Performing Arts in the Richmond Community (SPARC). This Live Art performance focused on SOUL, and through song, dance, monologues, art, and comedy, about 200 students shared with us what soul meant to them. According to SPARC’s website:

LIVE ART is a groundbreaking, inclusive arts education program for students of all abilities.

Having witnessed the powerful benefits of performing arts education in both typically developing students and students with special needs, SPARC allows students of ALL abilities to have performance training that is designed to build performing arts skills, deepen the ability to connect with peers and strengthen the personal foundation of each individual and unique child – just as they are – all at the same time.

All I can say is wow. This show was truly inspirational and transformative. As a fellow performer, engaging in the arts while I was in school certainly impacted my entire schooling experience, and has made me who I am today. I will never forget what the arts taught me in terms of relationship building, leadership, and open expression. For that, I am so happy and grateful.

Let me make a case as to why this all ties into community-engaged research. Like the Live Art Soul performance, it takes a lot of players to create a beautiful masterpiece. Sometimes you need key influencers to help spread the word. Sometimes you need to use a variety of methods to get your point across. Sometimes you may even feel limited, whether that be in the form of resources, man power, or skills and abilities. However, watching this performance, watching students of all abilities perform with amazing guest artists, made me realize that anyone and everyone can become involved in their own special way.

…and that, my friends, is what makes the end product all the more meaningful and powerful.

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 1.45.29 PM

My Love/Hate Relationship with Open Scholarship: A Reflection

As I’ve mentioned many times before to colleagues I’ve met at conferences and the like, I want my research to make a difference. I would joke how I’d prefer my work to be read outside of the white dudes in their ivory tower, and for it to make an applied, lasting impact.

After the #CuriousCoLab readings and discussions on open scholarship, however, I am feeling a little bit more like a hypocrite.

As a communication scholar that studies social media, of course I am all for promoting my research via these channels (it’s a big reason why I am so happy to follow this online course for no credit!). I’ve always enjoyed blogging and sharing my passions online – I mean #letsbehonest, my job is to teach my students how to create and promote their online brand, so of course I’m a proponent of this method. In fact, one of my summer projects is to work with my computer programmer fiance to build me a personal website where I can brag about myself to the masses even more. 😛

Where then, is my hypocrisy, you ask? Well, it is the other side of open scholarship – the open access journals – that is plaguing me a bit. Coming from a Research 1 institution (Go Terps!), I have been trained to shoot for high impact journals. The kind that institutions need a subscription to gain access to. Yes, *gulp* the same ones that probably only those white dudes in the ivory tower are able to read and critique. I’ve become a bit of a publishing snob in this sense that whenever I get open access invitations in my inbox I scoff and immediately click delete.

Now do you see why I’m torn, why I have this complicated love/hate relationship with open scholarship? On the one hand, sharing your research (especially community-engaged research!) by all means necessary is a great way to get you and your community partners out there. Social media is a fantastic way to get scholarship out to those who wouldn’t have come across it in the first place. On the other hand, I have been trained to believe that publishing the OA route limits my chances of being taken seriously in academia, and that it may hurt my chances of tenure and promotion in the future (and after all the hard work, there is no way I’d risk jeopardizing that).

So what now then? I have always been one to weigh my options (to the chagrin of my significant other when he asks me what I want for dinner). I’ve come to the conclusion that I will just go by “it depends.” Depending on the scope and focus of my work, I can look at my publishing options (both in social media and open access form, high impact journals and other dissemination means) and determine what would be the best fit, both for the research itself and for me as a junior scholar hoping to grow and make a difference in my community. And for me, that’s about the best I can do, though as always, I am always open for suggestions from those who have been successful.

Working Toward Shared Power: Easier Said Than Done

As a Filipino American, I never really experienced racism. Tucked away in my mostly white NJ suburbia with my mostly white friends, I only really used my minority status if I needed it for a scholarship opportunity, award, etc. I pretty much took for granted the privilege I had by being educated with a steady income.

Fast forward to last August 2014. This was when I had a rude, yet humbling, awakening.

I was fortunate enough to travel to South Africa as part of the VCU’s Global Education Office faculty development seminar trip, which was in partnership with the Division of Community Engagement specifically that year. The goal was for us to meet with different universities and community organizations to establish potential future collaborations. The days were long, but productive, and I met some amazing folks (both from within VCU and in SA) all throughout the way.

My time of Johannesburg, however, was the part of the trip that flipped my world upside down.

Now I always knew about Nelson Mandela. But I didn’t realize the extent of the apartheid, or how children were gunned down in Soweto, or how Mandela managed to forgive his captors and essentially bring hope to a torn nation. No, it wasn’t until I was forced to enter the Apartheid Museum with a ticket that marked me as “coloured,” which meant that I couldn’t see certain parts of the opening exhibit that “whites” got to see, it wasn’t until I walked through a church that still had bullet holes from when a place of worship and refuge was taken over by soldiers, it wasn’t until I came back to our B&B after learning about all this and reading on my iPhone that there were similar sort of things happening in Ferguson – it wasn’t until these events transpired that I truly realized that we still had so much work left to do. This is the moment when I realized that sharing power never came easy, and that fighting to give equal rights and opportunities to everyone will continue to be a struggle for the unforeseeable future.

So coming back to what I opened this post with, no, I never experienced racism in my life personally, but because of that life changing trip to SA, I’m now more aware of what folks with darker skin like mine may have to deal with on a daily basis. I now try to become more perceptive to what it means to be privileged, and what I can do to help those who aren’t so lucky.

With this said, I’ve decided that my visualization of shared power needs to be something from that trip. After careful deliberation, I chose to share a photo of this quote posted at Nelson Mandela’s house. Because you see, as I mentioned shared power does not come easy. But perhaps the first step in getting there is to stop judging each other on our external factors, but looking more internally. Looking past our status, money, or possessions and really delving deep in order to make us all believe that deep down we are all the same and that we are obligated to respect and serve one another.


Ballroom at Maryland: The community that kept me sane (and got me a husband!)

As we’ve discussed as part of #CuriousCoLab, community takes a variety of different forms. I’ve been very fortunate to consider myself a member of many different communities, including my academic homes of VCU (as faculty), UMD (as grad student), and TCNJ (as undergrad student). However, something I’ve discovered over the years is that non-academic/non-work-related communities are just as important, and can sometimes teach you more about life than you could have possibly imagined, or even find in the more traditional classroom setting.

For me, that community is the lovely Ballroom at Maryland dance team at UMD (AKA BAM). I joined this community in Fall 2011 as a way to find an outlet to release stress while writing my dissertation. Little did I know that I would meet the most amazing people, including my wonderful fiance Derek. I sometimes wonder what my life would have been like if I had never decided to try that free ballroom dancing class BAM offered at the UMD School of Public Health gym almost four years ago.

With all of that said, this is exactly what is so interesting/fascinating about community – sometimes you fall into them without knowing what to expect, and you find your life completely changed because of it.