SexLab Welcomes: Michele Demers, MPH
Daniel Connochie. As part of SexLab’s abundant growth in the past few months, Michele Demers joined us in December 2014 as a Project Manager. Michele has over eight years of experience working at the intersection of sexual health and health communication, and was previously a Project Manager and Content Writer for the Center for Health Communications Research. I had the opportunity to interview Michele about her research interests and career path.
When asked to describe her research interests, Michele says she focuses on, “the way people use technology…as a broad means of communication…and how social and sexual networks affect the transmission of HIV. I am also interested in how stigma plays a role in HIV prevention methods, especially as they relate to successfully communicating health behavior messages. And I’m really interested in gender disparities research.” Her roots in the field of Public Health stem from a deep passion for social and political activism. Early in her career, Michele became involved in activist movements in Arizona surrounding the social and environmental impacts of Maquilas (American-owned factories) on Mexican border towns. After moving back to her home state of Michigan, she worked as a Research Assistant at the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment, where she studied the effects of environmental degradation on perinatal health in border towns.
Michele started to connect her experiences in Maternal and Child Health to Sexual Health when she began working at HARC as an HIV/AIDS test counselor. She says it’s one thing to be in a university setting working on HIV/AIDS, but interacting with clients at HARC really opened her eyes to the disparities present in the HIV epidemic: “you start actually seeing the impact of HIV/AIDs on individuals…who it’s impacting…it’s not just who people are having [barrierless sex] with.”
Michele pursued her MPH in Health Behavior and Health Education at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill School of Public Health and worked heavily with Dr. Carol Golin, who focuses on HIV/AIDS treatment adherence and stigma. Michele stayed in North Carolina for some time as the Manager and Adult Education Training Specialist at the UNC Center for AIDS Research, Social and Behavioral Sciences Research Core.
A few years ago, Michele moved back to Michigan and became a Project Manager and Content Writer at the Center for Health Communications Research (CHCR). On transitioning back to Michigan, Michele says it was “good to come home—I love Michigan—but career-wise, I left a lot of people that I love working with, and I thought when I came here that I wasn’t going to find that again.” Through her work with CHCR, Michele developed an interest in the interface of technology with other areas of public health.
Currently at SexLab, Michele is the Project Director for the iCON project, which is funded by the Herb Ritts Foundation. The goal of the project is to develop a web application to assist young gay/bisexual men and trans* women in accessing health and social services in Southeastern Michigan. The project intersects with Michele’s interests and expertise in health communication and sexual health. In the future, Michele looks forward to being able to tailor services and technology to HIV. “I’d like to focus more on mobile health and e-health…I’d also like to be involved in where social and political activism overlap with public health.”
SexLab is very fortunate to have Michele on board and we look forward to learning from her expertise as our Center continues to grow!