Friday, February 10, 2023

The Department of Communication Studies is excited to welcome our newest faculty member: Assistant Professor Dr. Helen Lillie! Dr. Lillie is already making headlines at the University of Iowa— continue reading to learn more about her journey to becoming Assistant Professor! 

After earning her undergraduate degree at Michigan Tech, Dr. Lillie began teaching and conducting research as part of her Master’s program at Purdue University, which helped solidify her choice to pursue a career path in higher education. After finishing her PhD at Purdue, Dr. Lillie accepted a two-year post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Utah working with the National Cancer Institute before coming to the University of Iowa Department of Communication Studies. 

Dr. Lillie accredits her interest in the University of Iowa to the Department of Communication Studies faculty members. Not only did she know Associate Professor Dr. Kate Magsamen-Conrad, but her research in interpersonal and health communication was similar to that of other faculty members in the department, such as Associate Professor Dr. Rachel Mclaren. In her interview with PhD Candidate Cameron Brown, Dr. Lillie noted that “On a more personal level, Iowa puts me closer to my family and friends. Most of my family and friends are in the Midwest so I also a Midwest person.”

Dr. Lillie’s research is centered around interpersonal and health communication and she describes her work as finding ways to “build resilience through communication before, during, and after a hardship … or a disruption.” Dr. Lillie understands that communication is vital “for getting through important health issues.” Dr. Lillie and her family acted as caregivers for her grandparents for a period of time, and seeing her family’s dynamic during that time furthered her interest in the topic of health communication. 

Recently, Dr. Lillie received the Seeding Excellence Early Career Award from the Office of the Vice President of Research. Dr. Lillie is planning to use the funding from this prestigious award to put biophysiological equipment into research labs. The equipment allows “eye tracking, facial expression analysis, and galvanic skin response” data to be recorded and used to track the quantitative changes “during conversation or while you’re reading a story.” Not only will she use the equipment to facilitate her own research, but also for use in her classes— further contributing to the department’s mission to prepare students to become visionary leaders and innovative scholars.  

One of Dr. Lillie’s favorite memories from her first semester teaching at the University of Iowa is her capstone class. She described herself as “feeling a bit nervous” because the small class of nine students was heavily discussion-based. However, Dr. Lillie used the small class size to her advantage by getting to know her students on a more personal level and investing herself into the processes of the students’ final project— an entertainment education and health messaging assignment. She was happy to see her students “so invested and excited” while working on their projects. 

Dr. Lillie is currently furthering her research in health communication through tracking the emotional responses of people reading cancer-related narratives. The Department of Communication Studies congratulates Dr. Lillie for receiving the OVPR Exceeding Excellence Early Career Award and we are excited to see what else Dr. Lillie achieves during her time at the University of Iowa!