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Department of Communication


Professor Merissa Ferrara

Professor Merissa Ferrara

A New Outlook on Interpersonal Communication
By Crystal Jones

"I wanted to stay in college forever," exclaims Merissa Ferrara. "College is the first time you get to know who you want to actually be."

As a first year communication professor at the College of Charleston Dr. Merissa Ferrara has recently been accredited as a doctor in communications from Michigan State University. Seen walking around campus in her Michigan State jersey, you may mistake this young professor as a student, but don't be fooled, this bodybuilding and beach-loving "student" may turn out to be one of your professors.

Ferrara is not only new to the college, but also new to Charleston. She and her new husband moved from Michigan not only because of the

gorgeous weather, but for the opportunity to surround herself with college students which she described as "fun to be around and get to know."

Ferrara's research investigates interpersonal and health communication processes in a variety of contexts. Ferrara spent three months in Namibia, Africa exploring the characteristics a person evaluates to determine a partner's trustworthiness, and assesses the relationship between romantic relational trust and condom use in teens and young adults. While the primary reason for not using condoms is, as she puts it, "trusting a partner," the data reflect that the majority of those sampled are still consistently wearing them.

Another research area for Ferrara starts with the belief that the national obesity epidemic merits academic attention. This belief has driven her to graduate with a double major in exercise science to understand exercise testing methods, familiarize herself with the literature and the perspective of exercise scientists. Numerous intervention programs to curb obesity have been implemented, yet the effectiveness in many cases has been limited or short-term. Dr. Ferrara uses surveys and meeting with people currently using these programs to see how the weight loss programs are currently affecting their romantic relationships. She has been surpised by her findings-- that numerous people that have either decided to quit their weight loss programs or regularly cheat their diets due to the unhappiness of their partner.

Ultimately, she is interested in trying to answer the question posed by the National Institute of Health: "How does communication influence health risk behavior?"

As a communications major here at the college I have had the pleasure of taking two of Dr. Ferrara's classes, Interpersonal and Advance Interpersonal Communications. I have walked away from her class with a whole new perspective on the crazy world of relationships, finding myself analyzing all of the relationships in my life.

"Relationships are important, but they are not easy," Ferrara says while describing what she wants students to take away from her classes. She wants students to better understand how and why things work and don't work in all of the relationships we have. "They are everywhere, and we might as well know how to use them wisely in our everyday lives."

Don't be alarmed if you ever walk by a classroom and overhear an enthusiastic teacher discussing topics that would make a normal person blush. Ferrara's style of teaching is very discussion oriented; welcoming as well as sharing personal mishaps and stories to help students retain the information is a must in her grade book. Ferrara's classes are designed to get students involved and let them have fun while doing it. There are many projects on her syllabus allowing students to pick and choose the specific ones they want to complete. Most of the projects are designed to get students to analyze and use their personal relationships for the basis of the project.