Amazing Student: Jessica Shotwell

Doctoral student Jessica Shotwell is passionate about public health and is researching ways to facilitate and improve health care systems and health communication platforms so people receive equitable and equal health care.


High school: 
Gilbert High School

Current employment: 
UGA Experiential Professional Development (xPD) summer intern for The Office of Industry Collaborations. Doctoral research assistant for The Human Biofactors Laboratory housed within UGA’s Institute of Gerontology within the College of Public Health

Expected graduation: 
Spring 2020

Degree objective: 

Other degrees:
M.S., B.A.

University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:
Summer 2019
UGA summer 2019 Experiential Professional Development (xPD) intern for the Office of Industry Collaborations. I am beyond excited to have been selected for this position because I will have the new opportunity to learn what it means to engage members of the academy with industry partners. Throughout the summer I will receive training in effective communication and engagement with UGA industry partners, provide organizational and logistical support for upcoming UGA-Industry events and meetings, as well as provide benchmarking and comparative analysis of industry engagement functions.

Summer 2019
Trained by the Athens Community Council on Aging (ACCA) and the Alzheimer’s Association Georgia Chapter on how to facilitate and maintain a community-based education and support group to those recently diagnosed with early-stage dementia and their care-partners. These support groups will run for eight weeks, with the opportunity for monthly “alumni” sessions after the eight weeks end. Once the sessions end I will have the opportunity to train future students for facilitating the support groups.

Spring 2019
Winner of the American Public Health Association (APHA) Delta Omega Selection for the University of Georgia Chapter. I will be presenting my research related to health care communication at APHA’s annual conference, this year in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, alongside 28 other selected students from across the nation. The work to be presented is a culmination of the past two years of data I’ve collected from three large, Athens-based health care centers. In addition to receiving a certificate at a special ceremony, I will be awarded $350.

Spring 2019
I helped coordinate a partnership with Wellbridge Community Senior Living Center, which is being built in Madison, Georgia. Since then we have established the Wellbridge Work group where I sit on the board of Scientific Advisors. Our team will be conducting program evaluation as well as implementation of science research to ensure the application and sustainability of evidence-based best practices within the Wellbridge Community Living Center.

Fall 2018
I was awarded a $1,111 travel scholarship to present at the annual APHA conference in San Diego, California and the annual Gerontological Society of America (GSA) conference in Boston, Massachusetts

Spring 2018 – Present
Phi Kappa Phi student member since spring 2018 — Phi Kappa Phi is the nation’s oldest and most selective multidisciplinary collegiate honor society.

Summer 2018
I was awarded a $1,400 travel scholarship to speak about a project at Cambridge University (Cambridge, England, United Kingdom). I spoke at the Brain and Ocular Nutrition (BON) conference, where I was also a member of the BON Early Investigator Society

Fall 2018 – Present
By invitation, I sit on the Health Promotion and Behavior Research Committee as the program’s graduate student representative. In addition to being the voice for graduate student life within the Health Promotion and Behavior Ph.D. program, I assist with coordinating invited guest lectures for the Health Promotion and Behavior seminar series.

Fall 2018 – Present
Student member of the Gerontology Club (The Institute of Gerontology) where I participate in community outreach and engagement with the older adult community in Athens. Beginning in the fall of 2019 I will be the club’s co-president.

Fall 2017 – Present
I have established and maintained research partnerships with three large health care practices in the greater Athens area (University Surgical Vascular, Athens Orthopedic Clinic, and Piedmont Athens Regional’s Community Care Clinic). These relationships have allowed us to research quality improvement efforts in health care delivery and the ability to communicate directly with health care providers on patient reported barriers and facilitators to high-quality medical care. The combined results from these projects earned me the APHA Delta Omega Selection for the University of Georgia Chapter.

I chose to attend UGA because …
… of the opportunities it presented. I grew up in a very small town (graduated high school with 63 students) and then attended a small liberal arts university (less than 500 in my graduating class). Don’t get me wrong, both places provided me with a fantastic education, I took advantage of many student engagement and research opportunities, and absolutely loved my time there, but I was eager to expand my horizon and step outside of my small-town comfort zone. It honestly still shocks me how huge the UGA student, faculty and staff body is – you’d think I’d be used to it by now. Because UGA is so large, the opportunities for enrichment and engagement are even larger. UGA offers countless opportunities, but I think the one that has helped me the most has been the ability to connect and partner with students, faculty and staff from disciplines vastly different from my own. This opportunity has helped my research career take off and I’ve made lifelong friends and collaborators through the process.

(L-R) Graduate students Kasey Smith, Jessica Shotwell, and Brandon Dunlap talk together after a meeting at the Institute of Gerontology in Hudson Hall. Shotwell is a PhD candidate in Health Promotion and Behavior.

My favorite things to do on campus are …
… walking through UGA’s Botanical Garden and seeing new exhibits at the Georgia Museum of Art.

When I have free time, I like …
… being outside! I love hiking, going on walks, and just generally being in nature. I also enjoy cooking; you can often find me experimenting with new recipes when I have the time.

The craziest thing I’ve done is …
… pack up my entire life into a two-door car — which included two cats — and drive 16 hours down the East Coast to begin my Ph.D. program! Although the craziest decision I’ve made, my decision to attend UGA has by far been the most rewarding one.

My favorite place to study is …
… any of the local coffee shops. Sips and Walkers are particular favorites.

My favorite professor is …
What a tough question! I have had some pretty amazing professors while at UGA and throughout my time as a student. But my favorite is my major professor and mentor, Dr. Lisa Renzi-Hammond. Lisa has been the most supportive, encouraging and enthusiastic professor I’ve ever had, both inside and outside the classroom. Many of my achievements are because Lisa pushed me to apply, to engage, to think, and to step outside of my comfort zone. She has truly transformed my time here at UGA.

If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with …
… my sister, 100 percent. We currently live in different parts of the country and I never get to see her as much as I would like to. I miss her dearly.

If I knew I could not fail, I would …
… take the time and apply for one of those massive R01 grants to fund all the different research ideas my colleagues and I have.

If money was not a consideration, I would love to …
… start some sort of scholarship for Ph.D. students. Probably a scholarship related to pursuing research within the field of health care equity, equality and quality improvement.

What is your passion and how are you committed to pursuing it?
At a very high level, my passion is public health. Specifically, though, researching ways to facilitate and improve health care systems and health communication platforms so that people receive equitable and equal health care. I am pursuing this passion by partnering with medical systems to empirically study quality improvement, designing technology-based intervention methods for health promotion within medical clinic settings, as well as actively initiating and participating in education and outreach projects to engage with community members — which includes physicians, other medical professionals and a variety of different patient-types.

After graduation, I plan to …
… continue working hard to ensure that people’s everyday life is enhanced by scientific advances. Scientists are meant to conduct research for the betterment of the general public, and that is something I take quite seriously. Regardless of what job I end up in (because I’m still unsure of where I want to be), I will actively take steps to translate what is being discovered so it is readily accessible and available for the public. Whether that’s facilitating communication efforts on a large or small scale, engaging with corporations to translate research products to the marketplace, or participating in policy discussions, you can be sure I’ll be an advocate for people’s well-being.

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be …
… attending my first-ever college football game! My undergraduate university didn’t have football, so I was completely new to the whole college town football enthusiasm. My Dad is a big UGA fan and during one of his visits to Athens we went to a game together and had such a great time. Definitely something I’ll always remember.

Learn more about the Amazing Students at UGA here.

Posted on July 1, 2019.