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Josh Messner ’02

Dexter, Michigan

Alumni in Focus

Josh Messner ’02 Finds his Calling as a Communicator

Fall 2021

Josh Messner ’02 studied music and theology at Valparaiso University and continues to draw from the academic, professional, and personal growth he gained at Valpo and the many friendships he maintains to this day. He is a content strategist at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, where he writes, edits, and manages health science communications and serves as editor of Findings Magazine, the School of Public Health’s alumni publication. In spring 2020, Josh and his team developed “All about Coronavirus: A Video for Kids and Their Families,” a multilingual project that helps families understand and explain the spread of COVID-19 and the precautions one can take to protect themselves and others against viral infection.

Tell us your Valpo story.

I first heard about Valpo from an aunt who graduated from the deaconess program in the 1960s. I looked at many of the Midwest’s small liberal arts schools and was drawn to Valpo: a University with multiple schools and colleges, a large variety of programs, and a stunning campus — all with that small liberal arts college feel. The invitation to join Christ College — The Honors College sealed the deal.

My student experience was an embarrassment of riches: singing in the Valparaiso University Chorale and touring the country, working as a student editor at The Cresset, playing intramural sports, supporting our Division I athletics teams, having a best friend and roommate from Valparaiso who helped me get to know the town itself, changing majors a few times and feeling totally supported by everyone involved, the whole Christ College experience (especially the Freshman Production), staying for a fifth year because I just couldn’t get enough, meeting my future wife in the Center for the Arts, and getting to worship in the Chapel of the Resurrection and connect daily worship experiences with my intellectual growth as a student.

How did Valpo help to prepare you for being a public health communicator during a global pandemic?

The Valpo community not only nourished my intellectual growth, but it also helped me develop greater emotional and social intelligence. I’ve always been an empathetic person, but during my time at Valpo, I learned how to channel my natural curiosity about the world and care for people into engaging communications.

As I’ve developed professionally, this has made me a good translator of science. When I prepare to interview a public health researcher, I am genuinely curious about why they practice public health, how they do their work, and what their research means for everyone’s health. This helps me ask better questions and facilitate more incisive discussions. Science matters and truth matters.

My interest in research and the people who do it helps me identify the core stories in public health—such as the amazing history of vaccine development—and helps me share those stories in compelling ways that the general public can appreciate and value. Valpo’s emphasis on meticulous truth-seeking and courageous truthtelling really empowered me to succeed as a health sciences communicator. In a way, the pandemic has heightened the urgent need for lucid, effective health communications. But we have always needed good translation between the technical world of health research and the pragmatic world of human health. When overwhelming evidence of the importance of things like masks and social distancing meets the complex realities of human emotions and public policy, science communicators need to be clear, accurate, and persuasive in ways that are challenging but extremely important.

More from the Fall 2021 Issue