Get to Know Health Behavior and Health Education Professor Carissa Schmidt

Carissa Schmidt

Carissa Schmidt

Clinical Assistant Professor of Health Behavior & Health Education

Have you always been in public health or did you start in another field?

I actually started my undergraduate degree in Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) at Central Michigan University. By the time I graduated, I had double majored in both HDFS and Public Health; so technically, the entire time I was in school I was pursuing public health. As I was taking classes, I found that HDFS complements public health really well, but the reason why I ended up shifting my focus to public health after undergrad was because public health is more focused on health outcomes, and I wanted to focus more on how development influenced health outcomes. I still draw upon both fields when thinking about my research questions and hypotheses. I focus on examining how developmental transitions during adolescence influence health outcomes. 

What brought you to Michigan Public Health?

Initially what brought me to the school was my interest in studying adolescent resilience and learning from Marc Zimmerman. Once I got here, I realized how much there was to offer and ended up completing both my MPH and PhD here.

After my PhD, I continued my time at the university and completed a postdoc with the Firearm Safety Among Children and Teens Consortium, which was the best of both worlds. I had the opportunity to build connections and network with amazing researchers and practitioners beyond Ann Arbor, while still being able to continue working with folks at the University of Michigan. 

When you’re at the University of Michigan, you begin to realize how many resources and opportunities are available here. I had the opportunity to develop teaching skills while I was also working as an independent researcher, I had great mentorship here, and there were so many opportunities for me to continue the work I’m interested in at this university. 

What courses will you be teaching?

I teach two residential classes—HBEHED 530 (Survey Research Methods), and HBEHED 624 (Needs Assessment Approaches in Public Health). I think what’s really unique about these classes—and what has made students really excited about taking them—is when you finish each class, you leave with tangible skills and tools that you can use in practice. 

In this previous semester, HBEHED 624 students went out into the community and conducted direct observations as a way to assess needs and assets of a community. In HBEHED 530, students have the opportunity to propose a survey research study and then develop a questionnaire they would use to conduct their study. 

Master’s degrees are often practice-oriented, so when you graduate, it’s important to have a portfolio of skills that you can showcase and use in practice. For example, you could develop a survey, but unless you’ve been trained in survey development—or in understanding the different biases and errors that can influence your data—that survey won’t be effective. Having the skills to be able to develop strong questionnaires, where you’ve thought through question ordering effects and other sources of error, you can effectively collect data and evaluate programs out in the field. 

I’m also teaching three online courses, one in program evaluation, one in health behavior theory, and one in survey methods. 

What are your research interests and how do you balance research and teaching?

My research interests, broadly, are on understanding socio-ecological influences on youth development and youth outcomes in relation to health and wellbeing. Specifically, I focus on the risk and protective factors related to youth violence, whether that be youth violence in terms of bullying and aggression, or youth violence in relation to firearm violence. 

Lately, I’ve been focusing on studying these factors among rural youth, and soon I’ll be doing research on how socio ecological influences differ among rural, suburban, and urban youth in relation to firearm violence. 

When it comes to balancing research and teaching, I believe that it’s a skill that you have to learn over time and I’m hoping to continue learning how to best balance research and teaching. Currently my research has taken a bit of a back seat while I’m in the thick of developing new courses. Once I’m finished developing the online classes I’m working on, I’m excited to delve back into my research. Time management skills are definitely a lifelong journey, especially in this case.

What is your favorite thing about Ann Arbor?

For me, Ann Arbor is a metropolis. Compared to the town I grew up in, this is a huge city. Having grown up in a really rural town, I had to drive an hour just to see a movie, and there wasn’t a lot to do around town. 

My favorite thing about Ann Arbor is that on any given day, at any given time, there’s always something that I can do. I love that in the same weekend I can see a musical, go to a comedy show, and eat food at one of the really great restaurants we have here in Ann Arbor without having to drive very far to do so. It is a great place for myself, my partner, and my dog Josie. 

I also really appreciate the amount of vegan and vegetarian options that are here; my favorite restaurant is The Lunch Room, but Vedge Cafe has the best vegan loaded potato soup in town!

What do you like to do in your free time?

We love going to the dog park with Josie, or any sort of dog-friendly events. Actually, my partner and I recently joined an “Ann Arbor Doodles & Poodles” group on Facebook and there are always dog get-togethers taking place, so we try to go to as many of those as we can to help socialize Josie while she’s still a pup. Other than that, one of my favorite things to do in my free time in Ann Arbor is to rollerblade or run along the river while listening to true crime podcasts. 

What advice can you give to students or people interested in exploring a similar career path?

I think the best piece of advice I can give to students interested in pursuing a PhD is to spend a lot of time researching programs, because you may identify with a program based on a faculty member you want to work with, or a project you want to work on, but it’s important to think about the program as a whole. For example, what financial resources does that program provide, what are the resources available for caregiving, resources for family, teaching resources? Make sure to think more broadly about the program, and not just one person or project. 

Additionally, make sure that you’re searching for good mentorship; a good mentor can open doors for you. If you’re trying to figure out where your passion lies, consider what part of PhD life doesn’t feel like work to you. For me, when I was working as a graduate student instructor, it didn’t feel like work to me. It felt like a passion project and that’s how I figured out that I was destined for a teaching-focused role.