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Rachel A. Smith

Rachel A. Smith

Associate Professor in Communication Arts and Sciences & Human Development and Family Studies

Methodology Center; Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics

On sabbatical in Spring, 2015
200 Sparks Bldg

University Park , PA 16802
Office Phone: (814) 865-1736

Office Hours:

  • On sabbatical in Spring, 2015

Curriculum Vitae

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  1. Ph.D. Communication, Michigan State University, 2003.
  2. M.S. Communication, University of Arizona, 1999.
  3. B.A. CLA, Psychology; B.S. COC, TV/Film, Boston University, 1994.


Research Activities and Interests

My research focuses on developing and testing theories of social influences (e.g., stigma, social networks, and social cognition) in health communication (e.g., compliance, message sharing and network circulation, disclosure, and behavioral adoption) in domestic and international contexts. My research has addressed a variety of health and wellness topics, with particular attention to infectious disease, genomics, and antibiotic resistance (particularly social topics). Specific interests include:

  • Developing theories of how communication choices trigger stigma-related processes, how stigmas shape communication, and how people use communication to manage stigmas and stigmatization  (currently funded in R21HG007111)
  • Developing theories, techniques, and decision-making to optimize health interventions by identifying critical message features and critical people within social networks that facilitate and inhibit compliance, diffusion, and behavioral adoption in managing health ailments
  • Applying mathematical modeling, person-centered and network-based approaches to inform theory testing and campaign evaluation


  • CAS 202: Communication Theory  (next offered as CAS 202H, Fall 2015)
  • CAS 453: Health Communication
  • CAS 561: Quantitative Research Methods
  • CAS 563: Pairs & Pairings (dyadic and social network analysis)
  • CAS 567: Health Campaigns (next offered, Fall 2015)

Research Areas

  • Social influence: compliance dynamics, stigma, message sharing and network circulation
  • Health campaign design & evaluation
  • Quantitative methods: system sciences, mathematical models, person-centered methods,
  • Health contexts: infectious disease, genomics, antibiotic resistance

Examples of Recent Publications

  • Smith, R. A., Quesnell, M., Glick, L., Hackman, N., & M’ikanatha, N. M. (in press). Preparing for antibiotic resistance campaigns: A person-centered approach to audience segmentation. Journal of Health Communication.
  • Smith, R. A., Parrott, R. L., & Wienke, S. E. (in press). Keeping secrets or educating others: A dyadic analysis of group entitativity’s influence on spouses’ label management connected to AATD. Health Communication.
  • Greenberg, M., & Smith, R. A. (in press). Support seeking or familial obligation: An investigation of motives for disclosing genetic test results. Health Communication.
  • Fink, E., High, A., & Smith, R. (online first, 2014). Compliance dynamics within a friendship network II: Structural positions used to garner social support. Human Communication Research. DOI: 10.1111/hcre.12038
  • Smith, R. A., M’ikanatha, N. M., & Read, A. F. (online first, 2014). Antibiotic resistance: A primer and call to action. Health Communication. Doi: 10.1080/10410236.2014.943634
  • Smith, R. A. (2014). Testing the model of stigma communication with a factorial experiment in an interpersonal context. Communication Studies, 65, Special Issue on Stigma, 154-173. Doi: 10.1080/10510974.2013.851095
  • Smith, R. A., & Hughes, D. (2014). Infectious disease stigmas: Maladaptive in modern society. Communication Studies, 65, Special Issue on Stigma, 132-138. Doi: 10.1080/10510974.2013.851096
  • Smith, R. A., Wienke, S. E., & Coffman, D. L. (2014). Alpha-1 couples: Interpersonal and intrapersonal predictors of spousal communication and stress. Journal of Genetic Counseling, 23, 212-220. Doi: 10.1007/s10897-013-9639-6


  • Teaching Excellence Award, Texas Exes at the University of Texas at Austin, 2007. Nominee for Distinction in Teaching, Phi Beta Kappa, Texas Chapter, 2006.
  • Top Paper Awards, International Communication Association, Mass Communication Division (2006), Information Systems Division (2004).

Current Advisees

Lydia Glick (Schreyer Honors, 2015). Maddie Quesnell (MA, 2015). Xun "Joe" Zhu (PhD, 2018)

Past Student Advisees

Postdoctoral: Michelle Baker (2013). PhD: Hye Jeong Choi (2013); MA: Marisa Greenberg (2014), Danielle Catona (2010), Alleen Carmen (2007), Kimberly Schaeffer (2007), & Amber Reimer (2006); Honors: Katharine Pecorino (2014), Caitlin Mingey (2011), & Carey Bell (2011)

Speaker Biography

Rachel Smith, PhD is an Associate Professor of Communication Arts & Sciences and Human Development & Family Studies, and an Investigator in the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics at the Pennsylvania State University. Smith is a quantitative, social scientist who studies social influences in health. Her research centers on identifying message features and structural power associated with the uptake and diffusion of health beliefs and behaviors; as well as the effects of health perceptions on people’s message production and interaction patterns. Her current research centers on building and testing theories focusing on the relationships and dynamics among health stigmas, communication, and infectious disease. She uses a variety of quantitative methods, including dyadic analysis and social network analysis, to investigate these issues.

She has expertise in health message design and evaluation, and extensive experience with the evaluation of funded programs nationally and internationally. For example, she led the community-characteristics research arm of PEPFAR program evaluations with JHUCCP for Namibia (2004-2007), including network mapping and analysis, completed formative research to inform the development of two innovations for malaria and food security in Mozambique (2009-2011), and contributed to a working team focused on scale up for impact for the Gates Foundation (2012). She has made numerous presentations in scientific, technical, policy, and advocacy fora, and authored over 60 scientific, technical, and public health articles and chapters, the majority in peer-reviewed journals.

Research Interests:

Graduate Faculty:


Department of Communication Arts & Sciences faculty, graduate students, family members, and their dogs posing behind the left field foul pole during "Bark in the Park" night at a State College Spikes minor league baseball game, August 11, 2011.

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