Alumni Spotlight

Michelle Dixon Johns is a seasoned health communicator at the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) Office on Smoking and Health in the Health Communications Branch. She is in her 15th year and some of her focuses include formative research, product development, health disparities (such as work with American Indian/Alaska Native and Hispanic/Latino populations) and coordinated communication campaigns. Currently, her work passion is Tips From Former Smokers, a multi-award winning counter-marketing campaign that encourages people to quit smoking by highlighting the toll that smoking-related illnesses take on smokers and their loved ones (http://www.cdc.gov/tips). Michelle graduated from NMSU in 1997 with a BA in Communication Studies and in 1999, with a MA in Communication Studies (Health Communication emphasis). She was hired by CDC and moved to Atlanta in 1999, married her husband in 2004, and is now the proud mother of two young children, which makes her particularly passionate about protecting her family from the dangers of tobacco use and secondhand smoke exposure.

Cheryl Harkness, MA 2006, is leading a very busy life in at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan. She is the Deputy Director, NAF Human Resources at MCAS Iwakuni. She formerly owned/operated a Mobile Nail Care Salon called Satin Touch, LLC and is the founder of Angel Paints Community Care Program. She has new and exciting projects on the horizon as well. She looks forward to spending time vacationing the world with her husband Terrell.

Terrell Harkness, MA 2006, is living in Deagu, South Korea and is a Management Analyst at the United States Army Medical Materiel Center – Korea. He is responsible for a number of functions for the center and providing for the efficient running of the center. He has taught as an Adjunct Faculty member at Central New Mexico Community College, Rappahannock Community college and the Northern Virginia Community College since graduation. He looks forward to vacationing the Pacific with his wife Cheryl.

Dr. Merjjena B. Hemp – A journey to escape the shadow of 3,000 pairs of shoes began with a determination bigger than Godzilla. A seed was planted in a big coconut house that blossomed into a passion for education sweeter than any of the fruits from the trees in Dr. Merjjena B. Hemp’s grandparents’ backyard. The road to a Ph.D. starting out on the streets of Manila was not without its thorns and cracks in the sidewalk. When President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law on the nation in 1972, life changed dramatically for this young girl with a passion for education, quickly hardening Dr. Hemp into the fighter and social activist she is today.

In her memoir, Beyond the Shadow of 3000 Pairs of Shoes: A Story of Hopelessness, Persistence, And Survival, Dr. Hemp knew as a child that her only way out of each of her situations was through education. Improving each situation required some problem-solving and luck, starting with the first simple solution of leaving her home with adults and setting out on her own. Meeting and sizing people up was a skill she gained from becoming homeless along with a desire to do what is right. Her immediate needs required her to make money. Finding work was not easy, but once she started carrying a lady’s groceries for a few tips here and there, the lady unknowingly provided her a way out by supplying newspapers Dr. Hemp could use as a bed and covers.

The stories in the papers fueled her love of reading and soon she began answering ads for work. Although one of the ads she answered turned out to be a scam, it did lead Dr. Hemp to make new girlfriends who did not want her to end up like them. From there, she met a British gentleman who whisked her away into a life of education and high class, right into her first heartbreak as a young woman, to college and waitressing at a karaoke bar in Manila to meeting the love of her life to becoming a military wife.

Military wife. Two little words that meant a lot of change. Change can be good. Change can lead to communication and understanding. It can lead through a minefield of hardship and unbearable pain that

will lead back to an insatiable desire for education. After 9/11, Dr. Hemp’s curiosity about the community and country she now called home expanded. She went back to school and completed an Associate’s in General Studies, then Bachelor’s in Communication Studies and this year, completed her Ph.D. in Curriculum & Instruction with a Minor in Educational Learning Technologies. Communication became Dr. Hemp’s area of interest when she found out that part of why the terrorist attacks happened was because of a lack of effective communication between government organizations.

With a broad teaching experience inside a Communication Studies classroom, Dr. Hemp developed skills in public speaking, organizational communication, persuasion, interpersonal communication and political communication. She is now excited to use her skills to talk about improving crisis communication, a topic she is familiar with through her research.

Crisis communication is a way of communicating to the public to inform, connect and resolve. Studies have shown that regardless of people’s demographic differences, education is the one thing that makes a difference in a person’s attitude toward crisis preparedness. For this reason, Dr. Hemp would like to raise awareness to the public about crises like the current Ebola scare so people will be better judges of how a major crisis affects a community and how involved they should be. Studies also indicate that people are more willing to cooperate with crisis officials if perceptions of state and city representatives are positive. She hopes to reach out to increase support, cooperation, and to change people’s attitudes towards crisis preparedness, especially for those who may have never experienced a major crisis or those who do not see a need to form a crisis preparedness plan.

Dr. Merjjena B. Hemp has given crisis talks in universities and Office of Emergency Management. Her talks have also included reaching out to Arab Muslim communities to discuss our lives in the U.S. in the post-9/11 era. From sleeping with her plastic bag of clothes outside of a church building amongst children who sniff glue for entertainment to reading the newspapers she used as a bed all under the Marcos regime, Dr. Hemp has shown that you can use what little you have and turn it into something global.