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Rachel A. Smith

Rachel A. Smith

Associate Professor: Communication Arts & Sciences and Human Development & Family Studies; Investigator: Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics (Huck Institute) and the Methodology Center (HHD)

W-252 Millenium Science Complex
University Park , PA 16802
Office Phone: (814) 867-4651

Office Hours:

  • Fall, 2012: Tuesday 9:30-10:30 am

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 social influences (e.g., social networks, social support, social cognition, and stigma) in health communication (e.g., disclosure, compliance, message diffusion and behavioral adoption) in both domestic and international contexts. I develop and test theories to understand the systemic diffusion, maintenance, and elimination of beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that may promote or inhibit health and wellbeing. 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
  • Developing theories, techniques, and decision-making to optimize health interventions (e.g., identifying critical message features and critical people within social networks that facilitate and inhibit compliance, diffusion, and behavioral adoption in managing health ailments; developing theories and techniques for person-centered and network-based approaches  to persuasion)
  • Identifying impacts of social influence (e.g., support, norms, and stigma) on communicators' susceptibility to health aliments and immunity
  • Identifying communication's role in infectious disease dynamics; and infectious disease's role in communication dynamics.
  • Quantitative research methods, including those in non-independence (e.g., social network and dyadic analysis)


  • CAS 202: Communication Theory
  • CAS 253/453: Health Communication
  • CAS 471: Intercultural Communication Theories and Research (Next offered, Spring 2014)
  • CAS 557: Health Communication
  • CAS 561: Quantitative Research Methods
  • CAS 563: Pairs & Pairings (dyadic and social network analysis)  (next offered, FALL 2014)
  • CAS 567: Health Campaigns

Research Areas

  • Stigma
  • Health Communication
  • Campaign Design & Evaluation
  • Social Influence
  • Mathematical models of theory
  • System Sciences

Examples of Recent Publications

  1. Fink, E., High, A., & Smith, R. (in press). Compliance dynamics within a friendship network II: Structural positions used to garner social support. Human Communication Research.
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. Smith, R. A. , Greenberg, M. & Parrott, R. L. (2014). Segmenting by risk perceptions: Predicting young adults’ genetic-belief profiles with health and opinion-leader covariates. Health Communication, 29, 483–493. Doi: 10.1080/10410236.2013.768475
  6. Parrott, R. L. & Smith, R. A. (2014). Defining genes using “blueprint” versus “instruction” metaphors: Effects for genetic determinism, response efficacy, and perceived control. Health Communication, 29, 137-146. DOI:10.1080/10410236.2012.729181 PMID: 23448621
  7. Smith, R. A., Wienke, S. E., & Baker, M. (2014). Segmenting Married Adults Diagnosed with Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency Based on their Communication Patterns using Latent Class Analysis: Insights for Intervention. Journal of Genetic Counseling, 23, 299-310.doi: 10.1007/s10897-013-9661-8
  8. Smith, R. A. (2012). An experimental test of stigma communication content with a hypothetical infectious disease alert. Communication Monographs, 79, 522-538. DOI:10.1080/03637751.2012.72381
  9. Smith, R. A., & Findeis, J. (2012). Investigating adopter categories for an agricultural innovation in Mozambique with Latent Class Analysis. Journal of Health Communication, 18, 6-19. DOI:10.1080/10810730.2012.688249
  10. Smith, R. A. & Baker, M. (2012). HIV Stigma and Centrality in the Community’s Network in Namibia. AIDS & Behavior, 16, 525-534. PMID:22327408
  11. Smith, R. A., & Parrott, R. (2012). Mental representations of HPV in Appalachia: Gender, semantic network analysis, and knowledge gaps. Journal of Health Psychology, 17, 918-929.  Doi: 10.1177/1359105311428534
  12. Smith, R. A. & Lanza, S. (2011). Testing theoretical network classes and HIV-related correlates with Latent Class Analysis. AIDS Care, 23, 1274-1281.
  13. Smith, R. A., Barclay, V.C., & Findeis, J.L. (2011). Investigating preferences for malaria prevention technologies in Mozambique with Latent Class Analysis. Malaria Journal, 10:200 doi:10.1186/1475-2875-10-200


  • 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 student, 2015). Maddie Quesnell (MA, 2015)

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.

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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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