Emily Contois - The University of Tulsa

Emily Contois

Vital communication: A TU alumna’s contribution to infodemiology

Girl standing in front of a map of the world and smiling
Taylen Hitchcock

Early in her academic career, Taylen Hitchcock (BS ’20) learned that information is power. It could be used for good but could also be used to spread harm. With that in mind, she embarked on a project that could be used to help the developing world manage future health crises, such as those posed by the 2014 Ebola outbreak and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. 

The University of Tulsa alumna and London School of Economics master’s graduate combined her studies in communications and biology to identify how public officials could better reach marginalized populations during health emergencies. Specifically, Hitchcock helped develop a document on “infodemiology,” or the combination of information and medicine. She and her colleagues examined how health information was spread in Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda and Senegal populations. 

Lifesaving accuracy

Person standing in front of mural
Hitchcock in London

Hitchcock’s infodemiology work was done under the auspices of the African Health Observatory Platform on Health Systems and Policies, which operates in conjunction with the World Health Organization. Inside those efforts were discoveries on how early intervention can properly inform people during a health crisis and how accurate information can be used to nip misinformation and disinformation before it becomes a more serious problem. 

In one case, Hitchcock and her fellow researchers discovered that deaf populations in sub-Saharan Africa were not getting the information they needed, so a communications plan was formed to reach out to the hearing impaired. These lessons can be applied to future efforts that could save lives whenever the next major health crisis emerges. 

A lack of data motivated Hitchcock to become part of the infodemiology project. “There wasn’t much research on that, so it was nice to fill in the gap,” she said. 

Getting to a place where Hitchcock could be involved in such high-level health policy work started in the classroom at TU, where professors challenged her to adapt to new concepts quickly. 

An interdisciplinary focus

Person standing outside a United Nations building
Hitchock visiting the United Nations

“What the media department was great at was working with students on what interested them,”
Hitchcock said. “They gave me a lot of perspectives. TU really helped me be a leader” at London School of Economics.

That’s what Hitchcock’s professors are shooting for: producing graduates who have the ability to think broadly about problems and then apply their knowledge to building real-world solutions. 

“Media Studies’ emphasis upon critical thinking and effective communication can train a new generation of health care providers and policymakers to see problems of health and disease in new ways that create innovative solutions that take into account the full context of patients’ and people’s lives and experiences,” said Emily Contois, TU assistant professor of media studies and one of Hitchcock’s former professors. “Taylen is a fabulous example of what such interdisciplinary training can accomplish, and we are immensely proud of her and all her success. 

“Media Studies examines all the ways that humanity can connect, communicate and share information, ideas and feelings. In Taylen’s case, this is not just through health communication materials, like you might expect, but through processing the idea of ‘health’ itself, and how its meaning is constructed through society, culture, history, economics and politics.” 

Eventually, Hitchcock plans to attend medical school. First-hand experience at the clinical level will help her continue to make sure people are getting life-saving information during trying times. 

Effective communication is important for every career. TU offers undergraduate students a major and a minor option in media studies. Visit the degree information page to learn more. 

Introducing TU’s new Faculty in Residence family

By Emily Contois

woman smiling while placing dishes on a dining table
Emily Contois preparing to welcome guests

“Hey, sweetheart. I think I’d like to be part of The University of Tulsa’s Faculty in Residence program and live on campus with students. You’d do that with me, right?”

Some husbands might panic if their wife asked such a question on a random evening in February. But not mine.

Chris and I actually met when we were students at the University of Oklahoma. He even proposed to me, years later, on the patch of sidewalk where we first spoke on campus. One of our biology professors was a faculty in residence, regularly challenging students to rounds of sand volleyball. We didn’t imagine then that we’d serve in that role ourselves, but we are honored and excited to do so now.

Building bridges

When faculty and their families live on campus, it can form a bridge between the classroom and student life. For me, this is a natural expansion of teaching at TU, where our small class sizes make it possible for me to know my students as whole people. I love our intellectual exchanges in the classroom, where my students challenge their perspectives, grow their critical thinking skills and polish their communication abilities. But I also enjoy running into my students when I’m walking my dog, Raven, working out at the gym or grabbing a bite at the Student Union.

I’m looking forward to the many ways I’ll get to connect with students while living on campus with them. I hope to be a positive part of their college experience and to quite literally be steps away when they need help.

Supporting TU students

close-up photos of a woman, dog and a bearded man
Emily, Raven and Chris

But to return to that night in February, when I asked my husband if he would be a Faculty in Residence family with me, things moved very quickly after that!

I researched similar programs and read the literature about how they can positively impact student satisfaction with the college experience, student retention rates and student learning, growth and achievement. I created a proposal for what a TU Faculty in Residence program could be. Chris and I were blown away by how quickly TU administrators and staff members enthusiastically said yes and set to work bringing the program to life.

We initially toured student apartments, and we were ready to move into Norman Village when things clicked into place for TU to restore the faculty apartment on the top floor of LaFortune House. Chris and I soon learned that Robin Ploeger, TU’s vice president for business continuity and sustainability, was TU’s last faculty in residence there in 2009. We’re excited to build on her successes and be the first faculty family to live in LaFortune in more than a decade.

Welcome to our home!

We’re eager to welcome students and colleagues into our new home. I spent part of the summer decorating it and hope students find it warm, welcoming, colorful, fun and a little quirky. (We joke that I’ve finally put my years of watching HGTV to good use!)

One of my main research areas is food media, so I love gathering with others over food. The kitchen was updated before we moved in, and a gorgeous 10-foot table that used to be in TU President Carson’s office will make it possible for us to host students for big family meals.

Raven and I are also planning “Pup and PJs” office hours in the Faculty Study that’s located next to our apartment, so students can come as they are and at a time that might work better for their often-late-night lifestyles. Raven is a natural nanny dog and is already booping all the students’ suite doors as we walk down the hall, so she’ll be readily available for pets and cuddles.

woman and dog seated on a gold-colored couch
Emily and Raven

LaFortune also has a great lobby, where Raven and I will spend time every week so students can stop by to ask questions, get help or just say hi on their way to class. The lobby also has a TV. Chris studied film in undergrad and is now a sports performance physical therapist and an avid athlete himself, so he’s looking forward to watching movies and sports with students. He’s happy to share his professional experiences in the health sciences, too. He’s worked in hospitals and clinics, and during our years in the San Francisco Bay Area and in New England, he worked with numerous elite college athletes from a range of sports as well professional athletes and a number of Olympians.

We’ll be hosting academic and social events in our home, but we’ll also collaborate with LaFortune’s resident assistants and Student Life staff on programming. We’re also hoping to serve as a connector and convener, gathering groups of students to attend and support the already great events on campus — from student athletics to Student Association events, to music performances and art exhibitions, and fascinating talks and symposia across campus — all to help support a vibrant and engaged campus culture.

This is just the beginning of our Faculty in Residence adventure. We’ll be listening to and learning from TU students, fellow faculty and staff about how we can make our presence impactful. We hope that students soon know, and feel, that we’re a resource for them on campus. To them we say, we genuinely care about you and we’re here to support your college journey. We can’t wait to see you soon and welcome you into our home!

You’re welcome to follow our Faculty in Residence journey on social media. I’ll be posting at @emilycontois on Instagram and Twitter with the hashtag #utulsafir.


Helen Atwater

By: Emily Contois, Chapman Assistant Professor of Media Studies

Black and white photograph of Helen Atwater wearing a dark dress, glasses and a scarf loosely tied around her neck
Helen Atwater (copyright American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences, Cornell University Library)

I’m fascinated by what health and nutrition mean in American culture and how media circulate these meanings. When I was researching the history of American food guides, I came across “How to Select Foods,” published in 1917 by Hunt and Atwater. I assumed that this Atwater was Wilbur Olin Atwater, the man so often heralded as “The Father of American Nutrition.”

I was wrong.

It was Helen Atwater and a little digging revealed that she was Wilbur Atwater’s daughter, who had grown up alongside his research and, as much as possible given the gender politics of her day, followed in his footsteps.

As is too often the case with histories of male-dominated fields, Helen Woodard Atwater’s name, story, and contributions are relatively absent from accounts of the early days of American nutrition science, though they’ve been slowly recovered.[1] In many ways, Helen Atwater is the first lady of American nutrition, who made her own mark on the world of food, though few know her name.

A World War 1 poster that reads "Help your boy at the front. Use less wheat and meat. Send more to him." Includes a large United States flag.
World War I poster

Despite her interest in nutrition, Helen did not pursue its study in college, as it was a rarity for women to attend university in the late nineteenth century, let alone study science. One of the most esteemed leaders of the domestic science movement, Ellen Richards, was the first woman ever admitted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She gained entrance in 1870 as a “special student,” a status that demarcated and demoted her within the classroom for her sex/gender. In fact, when Helen pursued higher education in the 1890s at Smith College, only 2.2% of U.S. women aged 18 to 21 years attended college.[2]

After graduation, Helen Atwater worked as an editorial and research assistant with her father in his laboratory. She assisted him in preparing “Principles of Nutrition and the Nutritive Value of Food,” published in 1902 in the USDA Farmers’ Bulletin No. 142, a landmark publication. On her own, she also wrote “Bread and the Principles of Bread Making” in 1900 and “Poultry As Food” in 1903.

When she was in her late twenties, Helen’s father died from a stroke. She then took charge of her father’s papers and later joined the United States Department of Agriculture’s Office of Home Economics as a writer and editor. With Caroline Hunt she published the guide I mentioned in my opening sentences, “How to Select Foods,” which was one of the first official American food guides that greatly influenced early federal nutrition policy. Atwater also worked on myriad food conservation efforts during World War I, including “meatless Mondays” and “wheatless Wednesdays.”

woman with short hair, smiling, wearing a dark blue blouse and standing in front of a green shrub
Emily Contois

She published, edited and oversaw countless newsletters, articles, pamphlets and guides. Throughout her career, Atwater sought to inform the public on nutrition science and how it could influence everyday life. She died in 1947 at the age of 71.

Of the many resources Helen Atwater published, one of my favorites is “Honey and Its Uses in the Home” from 1915. It covers everything you’d ever want to know about honey. It also included dozens of recipes, which offer “extraculinary” meaning.[3]

Reading between the lines of the clearly worded “Yellow Honey Cake” recipe tells the story of home economists who boldly occupied an ambivalent position between the perceivably feminine and masculine, private and public, domestic and professional, as they carved out their own space and played significant roles in the history of nutrition.


A longer version of this essay originally appeared on Nursing Clio, May 3, 2017. It is republished with permission by the author and the editors.

[1] Melissa J. Wilmarth and Sharon Y. Nickols, “Helen Woodard Atwater: A Leader of Leaders,” Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal, 41: 3 (2013): 314–324.

[2] Barbara Miller Solomon, In the Company of Educated Women: A History of Women and Higher Education in America (New Haven, NJ: Yale University Press, 1985).

[3] Gayle R. Davis, “Eat My Words: Reading Women’s Lives through the Cookbooks They Wrote. By Janet Theophano, “The Journal of American History 90: 2 (2003): 617-618.

Does the shaping of lives and society by race, gender, sexuality, class and other factors fascinate you? If so, you’ll definitely want to check out TU’s welcoming and vibrant Women’s and Gender Studies program today.


Students explore the culture and politics of anti-fandom

woman seated in front of a screen with the words Welcome to Anti-Fan Popcon
Emily Contois

Politics, culture and the rest of it feels more divisive than ever, but what can we learn from the way we love to hate certain shows, celebrities and public figures? University of Tulsa students found out this semester in the course Media and Popular Culture.

Teaching through the fourth semester of a pandemic may have slowed or dimmed the teaching energies of many faculty and students around the country, but not so for Chapman Assistant Professor of Media Studies Emily Contois. “After all we’ve been through, this was the right moment to try creative approaches, especially as we returned to the classroom together after a year online,” she said. “It’s one thing to read, learn and discuss a theoretical concept. It’s another to experience and embody it, to see yourself in it.”

Learning from what we love to hate

cartoon-style book cover featuring a woman in a green top and the title Anti-FandomBuoyed by leading scholarship on anti-fandom and cultural analysis, students addressed a number of complicated questions:

  • How and why does hating on a show, celebrity or public figure produce pleasure and drive cultural exchange?
  • How does it define and reinforce community boundaries and drive other insights into our media environment in often contradictory ways?
  • When is the work of being an anti-fan healthy and when is it corrosive?

“I had written briefly on Guy Fieri anti-fandom in my book Diners, Dudes, and Diets: How Gender and Power Collide in Food Media and Culture and was excited to explore this field of scholarship with my students,” Contois remarked. “Most of them immediately recognized the behaviors of hate-watching and bitter tweeting that blend pleasure and pain, love and hate, in our media practices. Now, they have the tools to critically evaluate them.”

Putting theory into practice

Then came the creative part.

For their final project, student groups recorded energetic and conversational podcasts on the targets of their anti-fandom: TV shows, such as Keeping Up With the Kardashians and Riverdale; polarizing celebrities, such as Elon Musk and Tom Brady; and even the British royal family.

Some of the groups recorded podcasts on their laptops and smartphones, while others used TUTV Media Lab’s Studio 151, a new student-led podcast studio, under the leadership of Assistant Professor of Media Studies and Film Studies Justin Rawlins.

five students seated in front of a screen
Students left to right: Rory Seidel, Sara Nasreldin, Mary Allison Norris, Julianne Tran, Caiton Beesley

“Our anti-fan podcasts were a fun and challenging way to put our anti-fandom knowledge to practice,” said Julianne Tran, a political science major who is minoring in media studies and Spanish. “As a podcast-lover myself, I especially enjoyed being on the other end and putting together a podcast with my group. This entertaining and worthwhile assignment was definitely a highlight of my semester!”

As a playful conclusion to the semester, Contois hosted Anti-Fan Pop-Con in the style of Comic-Con. “Even from behind COVID-19 face masks, you could feel students’ enthusiasm for their podcasts and their personal anti-fandom, which is something we always strive for as professors: To truly engage our students in concepts that will be meaningful not just in the classroom, but in how they view the world in their everyday lives,” she said.

Anti-Fan Pop-Con caught the eye of Associate Professor of Anthropology Danielle Macdonald, the director of the Henneke Center for Academic Fulfillment. “Courses like Professor Contois’ highlight the creativity of TU faculty in the classroom. Her use of novel assignments like podcasts, and using popular (or unpopular) culture, engages students in critical analysis of the world around them and is a wonderful example of teaching excellence at TU,” Macdonald said.

Emily Contois’ podcast grading rubric is available here. You can also follow the TUTV Media Lab online at @TUTVnews.