On this homecoming week, it is only fitting that one of our new UW-Eau Claire faculty members is a former student. I recently had an opportunity to sit down with Evan Perrault, the newest member of the Department of Communication and Journalism. A recent graduate of Michigan State University, Perrault is now teaching Communication in Contemporary Society (CJ105), Writing for Public Relations (CJ373) and Public Relations Campaign Planning (CJ374). Our conversation covered many topics but one thing was clear throughout: Perrault is enthusiastic about what he is doing and loves where he has ended up.
How is the new semester going?
I’m enjoying it. I’m really enjoying my students. The caliber of students here is unlike anywhere I know. They’re thirsty for knowledge; they are students who want to learn. It’s something that you don’t really find at bigger institutions, even at other institutions this size in the state. I’ve been able to visit many different schools during my graduate schooling and have interacted with their students. I don’t think there are any other students out there like the students here. I think part of it is the liberal education core that we have. We want students to not just be experts in their disciplines or sub-disciplines, but also well-rounded individuals who are able to approach problems from lots of different angles.
I think that is why I am where I am today, because I had that broad knowledge base and liberal education. I think there is a whole culture here surrounded by this idea that we can do more than just what our discipline says we can do.
How does it feel to be back in Eau Claire?
I love it. The learning curve is a lot less steep, which I really like, because I know where I’m going; I know where the resources are and how to find them. I think that is one of the biggest challenges when you start a new job anywhere is just trying to figure out the little things to help you survive. Luckily I’ve been able to focus more time on my teaching because of the high level of familiarity I already have with the institution.
What is your academic background?
I graduated from UW-Eau Claire in the winter of 2006 with a double major in political science and broadcast journalism. Then I was a TV reporter for a little more than two and a half years at two different stations in Wisconsin, but decided the TV life wasn’t for me and decided to go back to school.
During my time as a reporter I did a lot of stories on health care. I always thought, there had to be better ways we could improve how people learned about health and how we could communicate about it more effectively through the media. As a result I looked for graduate programs that had a strong health communication focus, and found Michigan State University’s to be one of the top programs in the nation for health and risk communication.
The funding I received as a Master’s student required me to teach undergraduate courses, and I immediately fell in-love with teaching. Unlike television news where I never knew if my messages were having an impact, with teaching I can see if my messages are really taking-hold in my audience – my students.
After that first year of my Master’s program I knew I was in the right job, so I decided to continue my graduate studies. I just finished my Ph.D. in communication from Michigan State University in May of this year.
What are your interests in public relations?
My core interest is in health communication. I am specifically interested in how patients choose their primary care physicians, and what healthcare systems can provide to patients to help them make more informed decisions. For example, I have performed a few content analyses about the kind of information that appears on doctors’ online biographies. The amount of information that is provided to help patients make an informed decision is very limited. It’s normally just a name, their education, where they did their residencies, and that’s about it. Personally, when I am searching for a new doctor I want to know if this person is someone with whom I would feel comfortable disclosing highly personal information. We know that we like to disclose information to our friends because we know personal information about them, and they are similar to us on a number of dimensions. So I thought, why can’t we try to make doctors seem a little more like us; a little more human? My dissertation tested this idea by showing prospective patients biographies of doctors that had either professional or personal information about the doctor within them. People overwhelmingly chose to want to visit the physician that included personal information about herself within the biography. This is a simple addition healthcare systems could make to their current biographical offerings that could help patients make better decisions for themselves about the kind of doctor they want taking care of them. I’m interested in continuing this line of research during my time here at UW-Eau Claire, and hopefully being able to partner with the health systems in town to find the best ways to improve their physician information online.
Second, I’m also broadly interested in campaign design and evaluation, which is why the PR campaigns class is a good fit for me. I’m interested in how we can gather data from target audiences and use that data to try to make the most effective messages possible.
What do you think of the direction of the CJ department is heading?
I’m excited about it. I think there is a void in this region, and even in the state, with regards to higher education beyond the bachelor’s in health communication. Next year we’re starting a graduate certificate in health communication and hopefully moving into a full blown master’s program. That is something I think this region could really use. With the health systems in town, and the excellent nursing school at UW-Eau Claire, I think a graduate program in health communication is a great way to bridge all these fields together. After all, you cannot have effective health care without effective communication.
What are your interests outside of work?
In what little time I can find, I like to watch football (of course the Green Bay Packers), but also try to find some time to cheer on my Michigan State Spartans. My wife and I recently bought a house, so there have been lots of projects that have been taking up my time. Other than that, we like to travel and cook together, and we look forward to discovering some new places to eat in the Eau Claire area.