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September 01, 2014

I’m in My Fourth Year… and Just Getting Started!

This month ushered in the start of my fourth year of graduate school. For the first time while in my Ph.D. program, I no longer felt like a young doe -- no tremor in my legs -- as I walked on campus to embark upon another school year. The confidence I now feel and clarity with which I view my objectives are undoubtedly attributable to the experience and knowledge I acquired over the summer. I was afforded the opportunity to work with executives at the Black Entertainment Television (BET) Networks on their youth initiatives during the BET Experience and BET Awards show weekend in Los Angeles. I also launched two web usability studies for the Graduate School at my university. Finally, I put the finishing touches on a thesis and am now shifting my focus to my comprehensive paper and dissertation.

These are exciting times now. Until recently, keeping up with coursework, dealing with a health issues (breast cancer survivor!), managing work/family/life balance, and conducting supervised research have all encompassed my graduate school experience. Now, I am able to craft and develop my own scholarly identity. My research interests focus on youth engagement with new media and digital technologies, the ways it impacts their health, and more specifically their sexual health, behaviors, and development. My incoming interest in the topic solidified through my work with the Pathways to African American Success (PAAS) project, a family-based intervention designed to reduce risk behaviors of rural African American youth.


Through my classes, I was able to explore the issue of HIV/STI infection and transmission among youth in the United States, and particularly among African American youth. HIV/ STI among American youth is a major public health problem. In 2010, youth ages 13 to 24 years old constituted one-fourth of all new HIV infections in the United States (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2014). Further, the CDC estimates that nearly 60% of HIV-infected youth are not aware of their HIV-status. Similarly, youth ages 15 to 24 years old, who make up 27% of the nation’s population, account for 50% of the 20 million new STIs in the U.S. each year (CDC, 2013). My research and dissertation will consider the ways that youth are formally and traditionally socialized regarding sexual health and risk, and the challenges, threats, and opportunities introduced by the recent rise in digital technology access, utilization, and digital media consumption. Congruent with these foci are the aims of MyHealthImpactNetwork, which involves leveraging technology to promote sexual, mental, and physical health. I look forward to engaging with @drfayonline and the #myHealthImpact organization (@myhealthimpact on Twitter), designed for – and by - college students interested in improving health and reducing health disparities. Fun times ahead… and I’m just getting started!

Magaela Bethune is a Ph.D. student at Vanderbilt University in the Community Research & Action program. Her website ( features curated content related to youth, technology, and health. Upon graduation, she plans to continue research informing the development of health interventions that leverage digital technology and media for youth.



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In Partnership with: Poole College of Management, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, National Science Foundation, Penn State

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.
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