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WVU students working to raise breast cancer awareness in South America

Students at the WVU Reed College of Media are developing strategic communications campaigns to reduce breast cancer death rates in Brazil.

The students are enrolled in a strategic communications/public relations study abroad capstone course that focuses on real-world health care clients. This spring, the class, led by Senior Lecturer Chuck Harman, will be working with FEMAMA, the Brazilian Federation of Philanthropic Breast Health Institutions, which is a non-profit, Non-Governmental Organization. They will travel to FEMAMA’s headquarters in Porto Alegre during spring break later this month to meet with the founder and make formal presentations.

At the beginning of the semester, the group of 20 students was divided into four agencies. Each agency has one account manger, one research director and two to three creative directors. To prepare for their campaigns, students used Skype video conferencing to communicate with the founder of FEMAMA, Dr. Maira Caleffi, and her staff. They also received a request for proposal from the organization outlining their challenges, mission and vision. Harman says that FEMAMA hopes to utilize many of the strategies that the students produce.

“We modeled this class very closely after the real world. Students are learning how a client would approach an agency and how to develop that official relationship,” said Harman. “I think it opens their eyes to what they will experience very quickly in their careers.

The student agencies also are receiving important advice and mentoring from Porter Novelli, one of the world’s top public relations agencies, Chad Hyett, Senior Vice President in the New York office, is one of Harman’s former students who has worked with global clients throughout his career. The students will visit Porter Novelli’s Manhattan office in the new World Trade Center on April 10.

Harman says students especially benefit from his class because they are working as part of a global community.

“Not only do my students have to learn about health care in general,” said Harman, “they have to take what they’ve learned and apply it in a different country, with clients who speak a different language and have a different health care system than we have here in the U.S.”

Once they arrive in Porto Alegre, students will meet with the FEMAMA staff, learn more about health care communications in Brazil and interact with health care professionals. Each agency will also officially present its campaign to the FEMAMA leadership. In addition, Harman and a couple of his students will present a grand rounds lecture, “Global Trends in Patient Advocacy,” to the medical staff at Hospital Moinhos De Vento. The hospital, one of the leading medical centers in Brazil, has a strong affiliation with Johns Hopkins University.

“FEMAMA has spent a lot of time thinking about their strategic needs,” said Harman. “They are asking our students for help in overcoming some real-life challenges as well as help with positioning themselves for greater visibility and growth.”

Since its foundation in 2006, FEMAMA’s focus has been to increase access to information, guarantee access to mammograms, fight for mammogram quality, reduce the waiting time between diagnosis and treatment and pool resources aiming to unify federal breast cancer policies.

View the official release at WVU Today.