How my baby’s time in the NICU led to a capstone thesis that makes a difference.

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This piece is brought to you in partnership with Queens University of Charlotte. Jennifer Hull, a Queens alumna with a master’s degree in communication, went back to school to deepen her knowledge in her field. Life surprised her along the way—which led to a meaningful outcome. 

Going back to school to earn your graduate degree is a big commitment. In 2009, I was in an advertising role for a Fortune 50 company and enjoying my work, but I knew I was missing something. I decided to attend an information session at Queens Knight School of Communication. In that one-hour session, I found what I was missing: learning and thoughtful conversations about communication theory, and applying it to the workday. At that moment, I decided to take on the big commitment of going back to school. 

With one big change came another! Soon after I started, I found out I was pregnant with my first child. As I was working toward my first year of graduate school, the professors were also preparing us for our capstone thesis. They wanted us to be mindful of our interests and passions, and use those as the impetus for our capstone. Little did I know, the inspiration would come 34 weeks later. 

When I was 32 weeks pregnant, I went into preterm labor and ended up on the high-risk floor for two weeks. Gratefully, my daughter was born healthy at 34 weeks, but she did need to spend time in the neonatal intensive care unit for 16 days. While I knew she was in good hands, it rocked my world.

I felt lost, even with a supportive network around me. I wanted to talk to other mothers who had gone through the same experience because this was not in the baby books. I remember arriving each day to wash my hands and put on a yellow gown and hoping I would run into another mom who would want to talk about her experience. But how do you do that when you are both stressed, worried and not on the same visiting schedule? 

These questions became the inspiration for my capstone thesis. I wanted to create a parent-to-parent program for NICU families and help build a supportive network. I wanted my research to be relevant and applicable. I had the pleasure to be advised by Dr. Zachary White, who specializes in health communication. Together, we embarked on an eight-month project of interviewing NICU families and understanding the strategies they used to lower uncertainty in stressful times.

The results from my capstone were shared with the NICU team at Carolinas HealthCare System (now Atrium Health), and I was asked to be on their Family Advisory Council. Additionally, as a result of my research, I collaborated with faculty on publishing an academic article in the Journal of Family Communication. I was proud of our work and that I was able to share my experience and research with passionate people who wanted to support families in our community. 

The professors pushed me to blend my knowledge and passion to make a meaningful difference in my roles at work, home and in the greater Charlotte community.

To learn more about how you can enhance your career and discover your passion with an innovative masters degree in communication at Queens, visit queens.edu/macomm.

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