I’m Not Just the President…I’m Also a Client!

“I’m not only the president…I’m also a client”
– Sy Sperling, president, Hair Club for Men ca. 1989

There is no greater endorsement of a product than your own personal investment in it. When I started working as the senior communications associate at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, a US Department of Education National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence that serves 900+ students, I was familiar with its reputation as an outstanding independent Jewish school. Once I got there, I saw why.

The Challenge

How do you effectively sell a product that you haven’t bought, especially when you are the target audience?

At that point, my own children were enrolled at a different school. The longer I worked at BT, the more I appreciated the quality of the education the school offered, the more I wanted my own children to benefit from that kind of educational environment. Their transfer to BT changed their lives…and mine.

I was no longer just a communications associate…I was now also a client.

Rina and Shani '15

With my daughter, Shani ’15

I then truly began to understand the school’s mission — “Learning together. For life.” — from a whole new perspective — not just as a communications professional who promotes the brand to current and prospective parents, but as a parent watching her children flourish academically, socially and spiritually while being welcomed into the community as a fellow parent, not just as a staff member. That experience transformed my role as a communications professional, allowing me to not just promote school’s brand, but to tell its story, understanding its value and impact from the perspective of the people we’re trying to reach: parents.

Moving Through the Funnel

With Rivi '19

With Rivi ’19

Beth Tfiloh is not only an independent Jewish school, it is also the largest Modern Orthodox synagogue in the United States. While I transferred my girls to the school three years ago, I was still a member at another synagogue a mile away. Balancing the marketing demands of a large school is enough to keep me busy — add in the needs of a large synagogue, it can be quite a challenge.

Each weekend, the synagogue offers a multitude of programs for children, pre-teens, teens and adults, all designed to help them experience the beauty and meaning of the Jewish Sabbath in a personal, warm way, regardless of their level of religious affiliation. Some weekends, there are communal meals; others offer a different style of prayer or a guest speaker addressing a hot topic in the Jewish community. Each initiative aims to bring in community members and make them feel at home.

Ahuva ’24

Before I was a member, I promoted those services mechanically, without any personal understanding or connection. Once I joined and started attending services regularly, I saw the energy and excitement both kids and adults alike felt about Sabbath services, and the sense of community created through those services. I’m not just selling a religious service; I’m inviting others to share in what I experience each week. That connection informs my communication strategies and implementation, making me a more effective communicator while also helping me grow professionally — today, I am Beth Tfiloh’s Assistant Director of Communications.

The Lesson: Buy In!

If you are going to devote 8+ hours a day to selling a product or service, find one that you can really get behind personally. Your message will be far more compelling and authentic if you are a satisfied customer — or volunteer, or donor — than if you are just killing 8 hours a day to earn a paycheck.

Rina GoloskovRina Goloskov is the Assistant Director of Communications at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School/Beth Tfiloh Congregation, using her nearly two decades of communications experience to manage the brand of both a US Department of Education National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence that serves 900+ students, as well as a 2,000-family Jewish congregation, across multiple marketing channels: website, social media, print and radio advertising, direct mail, and e-mail. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Touro College and is currently pursuing a combined MA in Communications and Certificate in Non-Profit Management at Johns Hopkins University Advanced Academic Programs. Contact or network with her on LinkedIn.

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The Selling of You: Your Personal Brand

who are youAs a communications professional, you’re always focused on promoting your clients. But what have you done lately to promote yourself? If you want to get ahead in your career, you can’t just be good at what you do. You have to think about your personal brand.

Take Control

While previous self-help management techniques were about self-improvement, the personal branding concept suggests instead that success comes from self-packaging. But it’s not just what’s on the outside. It’s a compilation of your vision, mission, values, and personality. This is what you need to think about in the selling of you.

Self-promotion is not always looked upon as a positive attribute. But, if you are serious about advancing your position, raising your profile, or changing careers, it’s time to think about marketing yourself by working on your personal brand. It’s up to you to take the necessary steps to create the brand you want, manage it, and take it in a positive direction to achieve your career goals.

Take Stock

Although you may not have strategically marketed yourself yet, people do perceive you in a particular way. Their perception is based on their experience with you, your track record, and what’s out there about you – the infamous “digital footprint.” Google yourself, examine your social platforms from the view of an outsider, look at past performance reviews and emails in which people have expressed their appreciation. What qualities stand out? What are you known for? What does this picture of you look like? Are you happy with it?

brand research

Take a Stand

Maybe you don’t like what you see. Maybe you want to go in a new direction. Is it possible to change your brand? Just ask Madonna. She has invented and re-invented herself so many times in the past 30 years to stay marketable. Consider your career goals, the values that are important to you, what you want to accomplish in your career. Write them down. You may have “winged it “ in high school, when you were class clown, the intellectual, the athlete. But there’s too much at stake now. Decide who you are and, more important, who you want to be.

Take Action

Where you need to start is your vision and mission The vision statement expresses what you want to achieve in the future, the ideal of what you want to accomplish. What do you enjoy most about your career? What motivates you? What are your greatest strengths?

The mission statement is more about what you want to achieve now and how you will reach your vision. To create your mission statement, think about what you do, how you do it, the target audience, what makes you unique, and the value do you provide.

Your vision and mission statements should give you the laser focus to work towards your goals.

Take Action

Marketing yourself is not a whole lot different than marketing your clients.Determine your key messages and the vehicles you can use to gain visibility. Online opportunities abound. Share your opinion and your insights and engage with others. As you find your voice, devise a plan for creating your own content and marketing it. Establish your own space online – a website or a blog – that you can use an anchor. Then drive people there from your social platforms. Create your own community. Strive to become a thought leader in your field.

Putting yourself out there might seem intimidating. It takes confidence in your experience and ideas, as well as courage to be visible. A lot of people may have the same knowledge as you do you your field. But if you market yourself better, you will stand out and achieve your goals.

As Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com said, “Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.” Don’t leave it to chance.

Eileen 2 Seattle CroppedEileen Masciale founded EJM Public Relations after serving as vice president at a New York City PR firm. She is especially passionate about healthcare communications and nonprofits. She works with several major PR firms and is the Consulting Director of Communications for The Marfan Foundation. Reach Eileen by email (ejm@ejmpr.net) or follow her @EileenMasciale.

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The Patient Experience: The Importance of Care, Communication, and Compassion in the Hospital Room

Book cover of "The Patient Experience"

Book cover of “The Patient Experience”

I believe in healthcare because I owe my life to modern medicine.

As a Hopkins M.A. in Communication student, healthcare advocate, and former ICU patient, I have focused my efforts on improving the level of communication in the hospital between the patient, their family, and the care providers that are taking care of them.

I frequently speak about the patient experience throughout the year, and I have collaborated with several health care institutions on communication projects related to patient and family engagement in the hospital setting. One project in particular that I really enjoyed working on last year was ‘Project Emerge’ with Dr. Peter Pronovost and the Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality at Johns Hopkins. This project consisted of a technologically innovative electronic tablet that improves communication in the hospital setting. Later this summer I will be working with the Armstrong Institute again on a national project regarding mechanically ventilated patients.

My path to the health communication field began one month after I graduated high school in 2004. I was coming home from swim practice and was involved in a near fatal car accident with a speeding dump truck. My dreams were shattered like the bones in my body. I lost 60% of my blood, heart was ripped across my chest, lungs collapsed, major organs were damaged, pelvis and ribs were pulverized, and I was resuscitated eight times. While in a two-month long medically-induced coma, I was unable to move or talk to anyone around me, yet I was able to hear, see, and feel pain for a majority of my time in the Intensive Care Unit.

As a family, my parents and I never thought that we would face such a traumatic situation, or rather, such a horrific nightmare. We were thrown into a place consisting of surgeries, machines, tubes, blood, and medical terms that caused utter confusion.

Due to a concussion, I woke up not knowing how I arrived at the hospital, or why I was paralyzed, or why my parents were hysterically crying every time they came in my room. I had so many questions and needed so many answers. My parents had many questions also – about my prognosis, what the future would hold, and if life would ever return to normal. But again, there were no answers. There was no guidebook or support group to prepare us for what we were in for as a family.

What I learned throughout my time in the hospital is that while I may have been the patient lying in the hospital bed, I was not the only one in that room who was suffering. The observations that I made truly inspired me and helped me understand how important the role of communication is among the patient, family, and health care provider. When I was able to learn how to talk again, I soon discovered that the power of the voice is amplified when the message is of gratitude, that a simple smile cannot be underestimated, and that body language and tone of voice are critical components within the hospital room.

Speaking at the 2012 Johns Hopkins Patient Safety Summit

Speaking at the 2012 Johns Hopkins Patient Safety Summit

This background that I have as a patient, and now healthcare advocate, is what inspired me to want to pursue my M.A. in Communication at Hopkins. I have the background of being a patient, but now I’m gaining the knowledge and resources in my classes to be able to influence the level of care and communication in the healthcare realm. Last semester in my Independent Study course, Professor Susan Allen gave me guidance and support as I wrote my second book called, The Patient Experience: The Importance of Care, Communication, and Compassion in the Hospital Room. In this book, my parents and I share our sincere gratitude and insight with the medical community from a patient and family perspective. We also hope that our experiences can offer hope and guidance for families facing the heartbreaking sadness when an unexpected, life-altering medical situation occurs.

Our goal is to offer suggestions that we hope will improve the overall experience for both the caregiver, the patient, and their family. In order for us to provide better care for these individuals, we must understand the experiences they go through within the health care system. We must observe what they think and feel as they go through their journey. Our story is only one journey and it is intended as a means to express our appreciation to health care providers and also initiate the much-needed conversation of how we can take a step further to improve the experience for the patient and their family.

This book offers a rare and unique glimpse of what the patient and family are going through, and it covers the information that my parents and I wish we had during our time in the hospital.

brianboyle_biophotoBrian Boyle has been on a mission to make an impact in healthcare education since he left the hospital in 2004. He has been recognized for his contributions with several national awards, including the American Red Cross Presidential Award for Excellence, the Daily Points of Light Award, the Johns Hopkins Martin Luther King Jr. Community Service award, and the Champion of Change award from President Obama. Brian has appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, NBC’s Today Show, ESPN, CNN, and several other programs throughout the country. He is the National Volunteer Spokesman of the American Red Cross, a columnist with The Huffington Post, a blogger for The British Medical Journal, a patient advocate for The Armstrong Institute, and is currently in grad school at Johns Hopkins University earning his M.A. in Communication and an MBA with a concentration in Healthcare Management. He resides in Southern Maryland. More information on Brian’s story can be seen on his website, Twitter, and LinkedIn account. 

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For The Love Of…Media and Relationships

I graduated from JHU back in 2009 (yikes)! Was Instagram even around then? It wasn’t. Either way, one of the most exciting stages of working on my master’s degree at JHU was preparing for my thesis. Granted, we all started prepping for thesis the minute we enrolled for our first class but once I picked my topic and started researching and writing, I knew I was close to the finish line. My thesis, “Media Coverage of Barack and Michelle Obama’s Relationship: African-American Perceptions of Black Love in the Media” is still my pride and joy. Why this topic you ask? Well, who doesn’t love love? Also at that time, Barack Obama was elected the first Black president and what followed were numerous newspaper headlines, magazine covers and hours of coverage focusing on his relationship with Michelle. The bulk of coverage purported that ‘Black love’ had returned or was now a reality because Barack and Michelle appeared to actually like each other. A labor of love if you will, my completed thesis was later used as an example in the ‘Applied Qualitative Research’ class, which is the perfect segue to the point of this post.

Laughing at an audience member's comment during Districtly Speaking's 'Black Love' Panel Photo courtesy: Nefertiti Pokahantas (Sabrina Thompson)

Enjoying an audience member’s comment during Districtly Speaking’s ‘Black Love’ Town Hall
Photo courtesy: Nefertiti Pokahantas (Sabrina Thompson)

I met a student from that very class, Jonelle Henry. She started a political and social soapbox, Districtly Speaking, through which she periodically hosts engaging town halls. She invited me to participate in last month’s town hall, which was a celebration and discussion of Black television shows and films, and the popular Black couples that became household staples. We discussed Black TV shows from The Cosby Show and Martin, to classic Black movies like Love Jones and Love & Basketball and as a result, the discussion was lively. We also discussed real-life couples like Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith and Barack and Michelle Obama, and the love we assumed and hoped existed between them.

What remains constant about love is that everyone has felt and experienced it; therefore everyone has an opinion about it. When it comes to romantic relationships, multiply the number of opinions by 10. Since I can’t share all of those opinions, I picked a few points I thought you’d find interesting as it relates to the media:

  • Claire and Cliff Huxtable from The Cosby Show are neck and neck with Barack and Michelle Obama for favorite Black couple. The loose similarities in career success, child rearing and just overall lovable factor make the two couples the ultimate blueprint of relationships. While one is fiction and the other reality, both couples represent positive representations of Blacks in the media.
  • Participants from my study, and some attendees at the town hall, expressed frustration that fictitious couples were even used as a blueprint for romantic relationships. Someone at the town hall even asked whether Caucasian viewers had to look to couples on television to help guide their relationships. I don’t have the answer to that question but what I realized from my research is that I only scratched the surface and there is a lot more to explore about the media and its impact on all romantic relationships.
  • One major takeaway came up during the panel when an attendee asked “Whose responsibility is it to protect and uphold the image of Blacks in the media- the consumers or the creators?” In other words, should Shonda Rhimes (Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal) or Lee Daniels (Precious, Empire), both Black creatives, take care to only show ‘positive’ representations of Blacks in the media?

Should Scandal’s Olivia Pope refrain from engaging in relationships with married men? Perhaps but that certainly doesn’t mean all Black women consume huge amounts of red wine and popcorn and are involved in love triangles. Or does this mean consumers should stop watching television shows with what they think are ‘negative’ representations to demonstrate that they want something better? The conversation got a little heated as the room was divided on this one so I’m curious to hear what my fellow JHU alum and students think.

What we did agree on during the town hall is that beautiful images of Black love do exist (thank goodness) but we have to mind how these images affect the way we perceive love and each other.


Mercy ChikoworeMercy Chikowore (@MercyC) is a Public Relations and Social Media consultant, freelance writer and Communications Director for the DC chapter of ColorComm. With almost a decade of PR and marketing experience under her belt, Mercy has worked with nonprofit, entertainment and private sector clients. The Zimbabwe native received her Bachelor of Arts from Claflin University where she studied Print Journalism and later received her Master of Arts in Communication from The Johns Hopkins University. While at JHU she focused on Public and Media Relations and completed and defended her thesis: “Media Coverage of Barack and Michelle Obama’s Relationship: African-American Perceptions of Black Love in the Media.” Mercy often serves as a voice on relationship, career and communication panels and writes music reviews and guest posts on PR blogs. Her most recent post, Never Stop Moving: One PR Professional Shares Her Biggest Lesson, may inspire you. Mercy is also a pop culture junkie, sushi addict and has an unhealthy obsession with music and live concerts. Don’t be shy, you can say ‘hi’ to Mercy on LinkedIn or send her a tweet!


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The Pressure to Produce

by Anastasia Parsons

I’m in a staring contest with my cursor. I’m waiting on it to blink first.

Writers Block

Image from suzannevince.com

Okay, so it’s a lame joke, and it’s definitely a writer’s humor, but as jabs go, it is a pretty honest swipe at what it’s like to work day in and day out as a content creator. Some days you’re so prolific, the sentences just fly from your fingertips as you type away, and other days, well, it’s just not there.

Welcome to every content creator’s nightmare – writer’s block. Working in communications, it is something to be both feared and expected. We have all panicked over deadlines that inch closer and closer while your computer screen remains blank. In a business that puts a premium on content as well as speed – you’ve got to scoop the competition whenever you can – the pressure to produce can be paralyzing at times.

Personally, I’ve encountered writer’s block more times than I care to admit over the course of nearly two decades working as a writer. I’ve even had it in those moments where you’re not supposed to freeze, like when a crisis communication needs to be crafted and sent out the door ASAP. Inspiration is a fickle thing and, unfortunately, it is not always going to come when you need it to. So what do you do? What do you need to know about dislodging the logjam in your brain that is keeping you from producing the content you need to make deadline?

Walk Sign

Image from Clyde Robertson – Flickr

Get On Up
Given that Americans sit an average of 13 hours a day – according to a survey from Ergotron – it’s little wonder that once bright ideas lose their luster and dim from time to time. When I get stuck, I’ve found the most effective technique for chipping away at writer’s block is to simply get up and move around. Getting away from my screen for a short walk has been known to produce miracles when the creativity simply isn’t flowing. And, science confirms this advice. A recent Stanford University study found that walking boosts creative inspiration:

Across the board, creativity levels were consistently and significantly higher for those walking compared to those sitting.

Distractions are Good
That saying about the definition of insanity and doing the same thing over and over again is pretty spot on when you’re attempting to create content. When I find myself spinning in circles with a piece, sometimes my only recourse is to stop and work on something else for a while. The something else can be anything from answering emails to organizing files. It can be mundane and mindless or involved and engaging, the “what” doesn’t so much matter, it’s the problem solving that goes along with doing something different that is the key. Thinking critically about something separate has a tendency to open up those uncooperative neural pathways keeping your creativity at bay.


Image from Monte Mendoza – Flickr

It’s Not That Complicated
Most often I find that when I am truly and profoundly blocked, it’s usually because I’m overcomplicating the process. I am looking at an idea from too many angles or trying to incorporate more information than is necessary to convey the point. Unless what you are writing is an involved dissertation on the inner workings of a rocket engine or a specific, life-saving surgery technique, it is likely that your content is not that complicated. Narrowing down an idea to the simplest possible terms and explanation isn’t always easy, but it is likely the information your audience is most interested in. So, simplify.

Invariably, at some point in your communications career you will encounter your own O.K. Corral of sorts as you try to outstare your cursor. Getting beyond the block is not always easy, but it’s also not impossible. Just remember to keep a pair of walking shoes close by, and you should be able to beat that cursor every time.

Have another way that helps you deal with writer’s block? Make sure to note it in the comments below.

Anastasia ParsonsAnastasia Parsons is a seasoned communications specialist based in Reston, VA, who currently works as part of an internal marketing agency for a software solutions organization. For nearly 15 years, Anastasia has provided content creation and management strategies for a variety of organizations in both the non-profit and corporate sectors. She has been highly involved – and in some cases the mastermind behind – award-winning marketing and communications concepts and campaigns. In her free time, Anastasia enjoys reading, spending time with her friends and family, and writing about making life bigger for her blog, LivingWide.net. She is also actively in the process of completing her first novel. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of Georgia and will earn her Masters of Arts in Communication through The Johns Hopkins University in Spring 2015. You can find Anastasia on LinkedIn.

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Five Reasons a Master’s Degree is Valuable at Any Career Stage

By Dawn Doty

I recently completed my master’s degree at JHU and wrote about the experience for my firm’s blog. Folks at JHU thought it might be interesting for regular readers of the career blog, too, so I updated the post.

Over the past 3.5 years, I took one class at a time, year-round, to complete my degree while working full-time. I often was asked, “Why are you getting a master’s degree now?” It’s a legitimate question. I’m a VP/Partner at Linhart PR and have had a nearly three-decade career in public relations. What could a degree give me that “real world” experience had not already provided?

Here are five reasons I believe getting an advanced degree can be valuable…at any stage in your career:

  1. You can apply what you learn in school at work…every day: I studied persuasion theory with Miscally and applied it to how to encourage Moms to think differently about Crocs shoes. I researched online influencers for a Jeni’s ice cream project in Tracey Schroeder and Kelly Hur’s digital media class, which helped me learn to do something that at my level is tackled by junior colleagues. Bottom line: learning was relevant to my day-to-day career life.

     Given the vast changes that have taken place in the past five years in the communication industry, I’d argue that learning is more important now than ever before. The environment has required experienced pros to learn new skills. It’s an exciting time to be working in this industry and it requires more learning than ever before to stay competitive.

  1. An online degree is a great option for busy professionals: Think about how work gets done in the real world. Do you have conference calls frequently or write plans via Google docs that you edit and review with colleagues? Do you share/discuss substantive information over email? If you answered yes to these questions, this mirrors how you study in an online environment.

     In addition, I actually found the online learning environment freeing. It allows you to study when it fits your work and family schedule and it doesn’t require time on the road, gas in your tank, or a babysitter for your kids.

  1. Academic rigor is good for the mind: The ability to synthesize tons of data and argue a point of view regularly in a succinct two or three-page paper made me a better thinker and writer. The critical thinking skills you learn and apply consistently in graduate school are valuable ways to stretch your mind which ultimately sharpens your work.
  2. Are you craving work that you can’t (yet!) do in your current position? I’ve always wanted to work internationally. But I don’t. A public diplomacy class gave me the opportunity to analyze the American Corners program operated by the U.S. Department of State and interview people from all parts of the globe. While I craved getting As in school, the A+ I earned in Joan Mower’s class paled in comparison to simply being able to work on an interesting project beyond our U.S. borders.
  3. Personal goals have professional value: I told myself for years I wanted a master’s degree. It was a personal goal. As we take on more work and family responsibilities and focus on career growth, it is easy to put the brakes on personal goals that are time consuming outside of the office. That’s what I had done.

     I’m grateful to my husband and work partners for supporting my commitment to achieve this goal. It required me to reduce my community service commitments and to study on vacations in Croatia and Ireland. However, it rewarded me with the energy to continue to “lean in” to my career. I believe the personal goal I achieved will have professional value for decades to come.

JHU grads and students, what do you think? If you are still taking classes, what advice would you add? Most importantly, if you have resolved to start (or finish!) a degree program, as Nike would say, “Just do it!”

Dawn Doty/Vice President/Partner

Linhart Public Relations



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Ugh, You’re So Americanized

By Yumi Phillips

“Ugh, you’re so Americanized.”

My grandfather said this to me with a sneer that conveyed a bit of frustration and annoyance. It happened when I seemed to challenge his view on what we were discussing.


This was an “aha” moment for me.








Why? Well, in my mind, I was sharing a valid point to add to the conversation in a respectful manner. But to my grandfather, I’ve done the opposite of what traditional Japanese culture expects: obedience and respect to elders, especially to men who are the head of the household. I thought that I contributed maturely as a young adult to the discussion, but my grandfather was shocked that his youngest granddaughter not only disagreed with his opinion so openly but also that I even had my own opinion on the matter in the first place.

I doubt what happened is unique to me. Most people have probably have experienced some sort of generation gap, if you will. But I also think that it has something to do with my bicultural background, being raised in a Japanese household while growing up in the States. I am sometimes seen as too Americanized in Japan and too Japanese in the States. I’ve had more of these “aha” moments since that conversation with my grandfather, mainly in my professional life.

Picture 161

Let me give you an example.








I was raised to use the honorific title san (which means “Mr.” or “Ms.”) with anyone who is older and outside of my family. Therefore, in any professional settings, I assumed everyone would be addressed using a similar type of formality. So, I was a bit shocked when I learned that almost everyone at my work— including the president of the organization— is on a first-name basis.

I know that this is not the case in every workplace in the States. It depends on the office culture, the type of professional relationship you have with the person, etc. And I don’t call just anyone at work by his/her first name. I certainly use formality when it’s appropriate, especially for the first correspondence or meeting and with certain respected individuals. I was just shocked at first because it’s almost unthinkable in the Japanese society to address your co-worker let alone your boss by his/her first name.

At any rate, it definitely took a while for me to address people with doctorate degrees—particularly college deans, university presidents, and former congresspersons, among others— by their first names, even when they requested it. I’m used to it by now; but along the way, there have been other “aha” moments. And every time it happens, I think about what happened with my grandfather many years ago. Then, I remind myself to consider how my reactions are perceived and what’s culturally appropriate in the situation.

I now feel that I’m more conscious of my surroundings and more able to place myself in other people’s shoes. And it’s a great asset to be able to understand cultural differences and know how to be adaptable—or so I’m told. What are your thoughts?

Yumi Phillips is the associate program officer of Health Policy Educational Programs and Fellowships at the Institute of Medicine (IOM), the health arm of the National Academy of Sciences. She is also the deputy director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health Policy Fellows program. Before joining the IOM, Yumi was an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) Fellow at the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research within the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Yumi received her BS in biology from the University of Maryland, College Park, and her MA in communication from the Johns Hopkins University.






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