Dr. Step’s academic interest is in understanding and improving health related messaging associated with social and behavioral risk factors, such as tobacco use and HIV prevention. She holds a doctorate in Communication Studies from Kent State University (1998) and completed postdoctoral training in cancer prevention and control at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine (2008). Dr. Step secured extramural funding from the American Cancer Society, HRSA and NCI to support her research focused on improving health related messaging in clinical, social media, and mobile health contexts. This work includes observation and evaluation of health communication processes, communication skills training, and development of communication-focused interventions to support health outcomes. Her work conceptualizing patient-centered cancer care emphasizes the role of relational communication in clinical settings. Dr. Step has also focused on tobacco cessation, and was a primary member of a research team that developed and delivered training for primary care clinicians in tobacco cessation counseling. She has also explored social media messaging surrounding several public health risk behaviors, including little cigars, e-cigarettes, and disordered eating.
Dr. Step currently collaborates with Cuyahoga County’s MetroHealth Hospital in the development, implementation, and evaluation of a mobile health application, Positive Peers, a social media-based intervention for supporting young people diagnosed with HIV. There is a significant disparity in new HIV cases among young, Black, MSM. Positive Peers targets this population with messaging and tools that promote achieving an undetectable viral load and good Mind/Body/Sprit health. Dr. Step and her team learned that the Positive Peers mobile app, available only to young people (13-34) is perceived by users as a safe place to process intersectional stigma, and help others work through similar challenges. Further, when compared to similar nonusers, Positive Peers users are more likely to be virally suppressed and be engaged and retained in HIV care. Dr. Step is currently at work disseminating Postive Peers on a national scale and planning additional evaluation activity.
Dr. Step is an enthusiastic instructor who has taught a broad array of social science coursework to undergraduates, graduate students, and clinicians. She has mentored many students over the years, and is particularly committed to sharing the process of scientific discovery with undergraduates. She is a Northeast Ohio native and proud KSU alum.