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Student Profiles

Jenna Stewart

Written by Shannon Cunningham (BSJ+MSJ, 2018), Program Coordinator for the WVU Media Innovation Center

Staying in West Virginia wasn’t part of Jenna Stewart’s post-college plan, but advice and opportunities provided by mentors in the WVU Reed College of Media have helped the Fairmont native find her calling in the Mountain State.

Stewart always knew she’d attend West Virginia University, a mere 30 miles from her hometown, but deciding on a major proved more difficult. She had a love of writing but preferred the technical over the creative aspects. One day Whitney Godwin, then recruiter for the Reed College of Media, gave a presentation during Stewart’s journalism class at East Fairmont High School, and Stewart was sold.

“I didn’t even know that there was something you could do to make those technical writing skills shine,” Stewart said. “And I got a glimpse of the Mountaineer experience, and I was like ‘oh my gosh, I want to be a part of that!’”

Stewart chose WVU because of its diversity, the ability to grow her skills and the opportunities to get out of her comfort zone. In the five years since arriving on campus, she’s had some incredible experiences – making new lifelong friends, singing “Country Roads” at football and basketball games, traveling abroad, celebrating Mountaineer Week and being recruited for a dream graduate assistantship – but the moment that really solidified Stewart’s love for public relations came during her third year at WVU when she enrolled in the Martin Hall Agency (MHA) capstone course.

“I thought it was going to be the hardest semester of my life. I had just started taking graduate-level courses as part of the College’s accelerated bachelor’s / master’s degree program, and I’d heard how demanding working with real clients in MHA could be, but that real-world experience was life-changing.” JENNA STEWART

Stewart was the communications director for an MHA team tasked with increasing awareness of agritourism in West Virginia. They traveled to various agritourism businesses across the state and hosted an event for the business owners to gather and talk about how they could work together to better promote the industry. Stewart developed a communications toolkit for the team’s “Promote Local” initiative that went on to win a Crystal Award from the West Virginia Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (WV PRSA).

“I already felt a sense of accomplishment after the project was over, but to have that [WV PRSA] recognition on top of it just made me feel like we had really done something that mattered in West Virginia,” said Stewart. “MHA has been one of my favorite classes, and nearly all of my classmates have landed jobs primarily because of the real-world experience they gained through MHA.”

Stewart planned to move to Nashville after graduation to pursue a career in public relations related to the beauty or fashion industry, but that all changed when she was recruited to work for Assistant Professor Julia Fraustino in the Public Interest Communications (PIC) Lab, a program that works on several state and federally funded public health projects that use data-driven communications to enhance positive behavioral change.

The PIC Lab’s main focus in recent years has been conducting communications and social science research with West Virginians to understand their thoughts and perceptions on COVID-19 vaccines. Stewart has also helped with the development of the COVID-19 vaccine calculator.

“A lot of the COVID-19 vaccine state materials that you see out there, I’ve either created or had a hand in working on, which was pretty life-changing for me,” Stewart said. “I have found that this side of public relations – speaking to people, educating them and meeting them where they’re at on issues – that’s where I belong.”

Stewart is now the lead graduate research assistant for the PIC Lab. Her main job is to conduct social listening and monitoring for the state related to COVID-19, influenza and HPV vaccinations, among others. She uses the information she gathers to write a monthly report that helps leaders in West Virginia make informed decisions about what they’re going to say and do to communicate with residents on these issues.

“It’s been fun, and it’s where I found my love for health communications,” Stewart said.

While having a work/life balance is important for her, she’s never shied away from an opportunity to experience something new. “I think we owe it to ourselves to get out there and explore and not tie ourselves to one thing,” Stewart said. “That’s my passion behind everything. I want to learn and be the best I can be.”

Stewart channels that energy into being a lifelong learner, but also into helping other students find their path. Through another teaching assistant position with Adjunct Professor Chuck Harman, Stewart traveled to France with students from his capstone class. On the trip, she helped students promote D-Day and War Memorial sites for the D-Day Memorial Foundation in Bedford, Virginia. In the spring, she will be guiding students on Harman’s spring break trip to Italy.

Group WVU photo

Jenna Stewart (fourth from right) with Adjunct Professor Chuck Harman's (third from right) capstone class in Normandy, France. Submitted photo.

“I love working with students! I used a lot of what I learned in Martin Hall Agency to help guide them and to see the amount of passion each of them put into the project and trip – there’s nothing better than that,” Stewart said. “I could’ve never imagined that this is where I’d be – the Italy trip has even more special meaning to me because it’s where my ancestors are from, and I’m the first person in my family who’s getting to go back.”   

Stewart’s currently finishing her master’s degree in journalism, but her post-graduation plans are yet to be finalized. She does, however, have some ideas about what she’d like to do in the future.

“I’d love to work with health entities in the state in some way – maybe even working with some sort of key influencer in the state who wants to work on promoting health and West Virginia in some way,” Stewart said.   

No matter where Stewart ultimately lands, it’s clear that her love for her family and the state will always bring her back home to West Virginia.

“This is where my roots were planted and established, and there are good people here. I believe that they are often misunderstood, but West Virginians are some of the kindest, most caring people that you’ll ever meet,” Stewart said. “I want my life’s work to help the people of West Virginia and also show people why West Virginia is such a great place.”


In you are interested in learning more about or making a donation to either Martin Hall Agency or the Public Interest Communications Lab, contact Mary Esposito at