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Hi! My name is Ava Liccione, and I’m a senior from Charlotte, North Carolina majoring in psychology and music. Throughout my undergraduate career, I have worked as a research assistant in the Carolina Affective Sciences Lab under the direction of Dr. Kristen Lindquist studying individual differences in emotional and physiological reactivity during acute stress. Through this research and my studies in the Psychology Department, I realized my passion for health promotion. After graduation, I hope to work as a lab manager in health psychology lab and then pursue a PhD in psychology. The Gil Internship Program has given me a way to explore the intersection between health promotion and psychological research through my placement at Innovation Research and Training in Durham.

Innovation Research and Training, or iRT, is a behavioral sciences research company. iRT uses applied research to create and disseminate a line of online products and services aimed at improving the health and quality of life for children, parents, families, and communities. iRT offers materials for substance abuse prevention, social and emotional learning, mental health, and media literacy. For my internship, I am working closely with my mentor Elyse Keefe and the rest of the Media Literacy Team to use media literacy skills to promote sexual and relationship health education. Media literacy is about assessing and critically evaluating the messages and motives embedded in the various media influences with which we interact every day. Media literacy asks those who practice it to consider how complete or incomplete a media message is before taking it at face value. iRT’s media literacy approach to sexual education provides information about protection, abstinence, as well as drug and alcohol use and consent, while also asking its students to consider what external influence tv shows, movies, and songs may have on their attitudes toward sexual health.

Currently, the Media Literacy team is collecting data to examine the efficacy of their web-based program, Media Aware High School, on high school students’ behaviors and attitudes regarding sexual health. To assist this project, I tested both the programs and the various web portals for teachers, parents, and students to help correct any errors. Additionally, for every school recruited for the study, I collected demographic information such as community characteristics, measures of socioeconomic status, and offerings of advanced courses. I also updated the Media Literacy Team’s measures database to compare the measures and findings of their previous studies. I was even able to collect some of the data in local high schools.

As I approach the last few weeks of my internship, I’ve been given the opportunity to draft a new lesson for one of the Media Aware programs. Specifically, the lesson looks at how adolescents may be negatively affected by early exposure to explicit content. Currently, I spend much of my internship researching the rates and consequences, as well as the myths surrounding youth exposure to explicit materials. The goal of the lesson is to help students use the tools of media literacy to understand that much of the sexual content they may find online can be misleading, especially regarding consent, protection, and overall consequences.

In many ways, the focus and content of my internship work was uncharted territory for me. When I was first asked to draft this lesson, I felt out of my element and unqualified to address topics of sexual health. But the Media Literacy Team at iRT is such a supportive network of people that I feel comfortable asking for direction and guidance. While exploring my interest in psychology and health, I’ve been able to develop and broaden my skills. Before the Gil, I never thought I would be comfortable discussing sexual health education, but after learning how important open communication is in helping adolescents make informed and responsible decisions, I realized that “The Talk” doesn’t have to be awkward or uncomfortable, and can be used to promote healthy relationships and behaviors.

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