#MasonCOMM's Kreps: University Distinguished Professor of Communication and Director of the Center for Health and Risk Communication

by Catherine Wright

#MasonCOMM's Kreps: University Distinguished Professor of Communication and Director of the Center for Health and Risk Communication

Gary Kreps, one of #MasonCOMM’s former Department Chairs, has been at Mason since 2004.  During his long career, Kreps has worked with social justice issues, published in over 500 articles, books, and monographs, founded the Center for Health and Risk Communication which is housed at George Mason and has given several hundred speeches globally.

Kreps earned his BA and MA degrees in Communication from the University of Colorado in Boulder.  He earned his PhD from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.  He decided to study communication because he said “It seemed like a tremendously relevant area of study to me.  We all engage in communication all the time, although not always very well.  I felt that by studying communication I could learn how to help people improve their abilities to communicate and use these improved skills to achieve their personal and collective goals.”

Over the past 17 years, Kreps was Chair for the first nine years and is currently a University Distinguished Professor of Communication and Director of the Center for Health and Risk Communication.  He was hired after working for the federal government as the Founding Chief of the Health Communication and Informatics Research Branch at the National Cancer Institute (NIH).  His primary goal upon arrival to Mason was to help create a graduate program where students could study at both the Masters and PhD levels.  #MasonCOMM now has thriving top-rated graduate programs, in large part because of his involvement.  The graduate program focuses on several areas, including Health Communication.  Kreps said he is “especially interested in using communication to improve health and wellbeing” and was very excited to get a well-respected graduate program focused on health communication up and running. 

Kreps conducts research that can promote social justice.  As the field of communication grew, he helped to introduce the study of Health Communication, enabling him to combine his passion for both social justice and health promotion.  Kreps conducts “multi-methodological research studies that guide evidence-based communication interventions in health care settings that are delivered through community collaborations.”  In his many scholarly publications, Kreps examines “the information needs of vulnerable populations facing serious challenges to health and wellbeing.”  The data collected, he says, guides the “design and implementation of health promotion policies, technologies, and practices” in local communities and around the world.  These studies help health care professionals learn how to better work and communicate with their patients to achieve the best health outcomes.   

In addition to all he does, Kreps also coordinates the INSIGHTS (International Studies to Investigate Global Health Information Trends) Research Consortium in more than 20 different countries across five continents.  The goal of this consortium is to learn how people access needed health information.  Through their research, the INSIGHTS consortium members use the data they collect “to help improve the dissemination of relevant health information to those who are poorly informed.”  

Kreps also co-directs the Global Advocacy Leadership Academy (GALA) international training program, which promotes consumer input in directing health communication policies and practices around the globe.  He says, “I have been lucky to be able to participate in more than $60 million in funded research studies and am an active scientific consultant to many government agencies, foundations, and corporations.  These activities enable me to help enhance the use of communication to improve quality of life!”

In addition to all this work, Kreps also teaches graduate courses about health and risk communication and communication research.  He has taught a variety of courses over the past 17 years, including Introduction to Graduate Studies in Communication, Health Communication, Theories of Interpersonal Communication, Intercultural Health and Risk Communication, Consumer-Provider Health Communication, E-Health Communication, Communication Research Projects, and Health Communication Campaigns.  He also directs numerous MA and PhD student research projects, all a part of being a graduate faculty member. 

When asked if he had a favorite class, he could not choose just one.  He said, “I love teaching every one of my classes because the topics I teach about are very important to me.  I really enjoy interacting with students in my classes, examining complex issues and developing creative approaches to solving relevant communication problems in society.”

Like many, in 2020 he faced one of the biggest challenges in his career:  switching from an in-person teaching format to online only.  Kreps said, “I had never been a big fan of distance education and preferred to meet in-person with my students. However, necessity is the mother of invention and luckily, I adapted very well to online classes.  Now I am enjoying teaching online very much.  My students seem to like the online classes too!  We have great conversations, work on important projects together, and have a lot of fun in my classes!”

In what little free time he has, Kreps works on campus-based projects such as advising the university about implementing strategies for preventing the spread of the coronavirus on campus, as well as helping the university to promote vaccination for all members of the university (and surrounding) community. 

He is also an enthusiastic supporter of collaborative research, writing, and speaking.  With the COVID pandemic forcing people to use online technology as a primary communication tool, Kreps has been able to speak to many people concerning communication issues and solutions for handling pandemics for groups all over the globe.  Over the past few weeks, he has spoken online at Health Communication Forums in Singapore, Chile, Hong Kong, and Bucharest, Romania.  He is scheduled to speak this month in Guangzhou, China about strategies for effective health and risk communication during pandemics. 

While he cannot currently travel because of the pandemic, he has been able to catch up on shows by binge watching Netflix and watching basketball, baseball, football, and boxing events.  He has also taken time to develop his culinary skills, “learning how to cook different interesting and spicy foods from around the world!”

When he first arrived at Mason, he said the first thing he noticed “was all the open space and big trees that made the campus look very open and friendly.”  He is relieved that the campus planners have kept that feeling as the Department moved around campus to different buildings.  He looks forward to settling in and exploring our new home in Horizon Hall.

His advice for all students “is…..to have fun with your education.  Find subjects to study that are personally relevant and interesting to you.  Identify faculty members to take classes from who are interesting and interactive.  We are lucky at Mason, especially in the Communication Department, to have many master educators who are doing very interesting and important work!  Get deeply involved in studying the topics that resonate with you and engage in innovative activities such as group projects, clubs, collaborations, internships, and study abroad programs.” 

A focused, dedicated, research-centered faculty who enjoys working with students sums up Kreps’ #MasonCOMM experience.  But he is so much more.  He leads a Center, is involved in collaborative research on a global level, actively gives talks, and is highly involved on campus.  His advice to students is especially timely, given that we have been at home for the last 15 months, seeking a way to move forward. As Kreps ended his interview, he said, “These programs will not only enrich your education, but they are also likely to lead to exciting future opportunities for you!”