Spencer thrives as MIYO project manager

Faculty; Public Health; Students

Make It Your Own, a tool developed by the Brown School’s Health Communication Research Laboratory, enables users to customize health messages.

In just two years, Nikki Spencer, MSW/MPH ’16 candidate, has made the project her own.

Spencer joined the HCRL in 2013 as a research assistant working on MIYO; she became the project manager in 2014. Her experience working at community health centers in her native Boston showed her the need.

“I realized that the flyers for the health center weren’t representative of the people they served,” she said. “When I heard about MIYO, it immediately clicked.”

MIYO is a web-based tool with menus of health messages, photographs and design elements that can be selected to customize posters, flyers, postcards or other communication products for diverse audiences. Each MIYO module is aimed at encouraging a particular behavior, such as cancer screening or HPV vaccination. Hundreds of organizations across the nation use MIYO to create high-quality materials that are more effective because they reflect the communities they serve.

“The wonderful thing about working on MIYO is that it’s a concrete tool people can use today,” said Spencer, whose focus is nonprofit management and community health.

“It’s been a big opportunity for growth,” she said, noting that she works with writers, designers and programmers. “I coordinate diverse skill sets that have to come together to make a product. It’s been interesting getting to know the members of the team and their different backgrounds.”

“That prepared me for the reality of public health,” she added, because she also must connect with service providers, state and local health departments, and community agencies that can use MIYO.

Spencer’s MSW specialization is management, and MIYO has given her an opportunity to put what she’s learning in the classroom into practice.

“It’s been wonderful management training,” she said. “Trying to understand the various interests of a team, as well as coordinating the planning, timelines and tasks to make sure the work gets done.”

An added benefit, she said is the one-to-one working relationship with team members who come from diverse backgrounds and career paths. “It’s been great to work with experts in their fields, and with senior faculty,” she said.

One of those experts is Matthew Kreuter, Kahn Family Professor of Public Health, Associate Dean for Public Health, and Senior Scientist at the HCRL.

“I’ve worked with hundreds of MPH students on scores of projects in the last 25 years, but I can’t recall any who’ve singlehandedly advanced a project like Nikki has with MIYO,” Kreuter said. “She rises to every challenge and has built a remarkable tool for public health.”