Multidisciplinary Studies student Keith Pederson brings a fresh face to public health education
"Just an old lady trying to make a change," is the mantra of a one Mrs. Margie Pederson--a.k.a. Mama P., Mrs. Pederson, and Margie.
The blonde afro bedecked, '70s-era schoolmarmish be-togged alter ego of Multidisciplinary Studies student Keith Pederson, Mrs. Pederson is one of the driving forces behind Keith's degree plan, which focuses on new media and GLBT history and studies.
"I work in the field of public health education, specifically on HIV education. Mrs. Pederson came about back when I was working with the Minnesota AIDS Project doing outreach for younger men. It was volunteer night, and all of these guys were over to make safer sex kits, and we fed them this horrible frozen pizza.
"I realized that we really should be valuing these volunteers more, so the next time, I took the afternoon to make up a huge pile of tater-tot hot dish, and served it up...and lo and behold, Margie was born."
Since then, Pederson has used Margie to serve as a mouthpiece for public health and mental health topics, largely through new media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and YouTube, along with public events and appearances such as Pride Fest and "Mrs. Pederson's Twin Cities Got Talent."
"Margie's messaging is a bit irreverent, fun, smart, and sassy," Pederson says. "She's a good public outreach tool, and just by being 'herself' in the public eye--at events or through her media channels--she allows us to reach a much wider audience.
"Mrs. Pederson is like that hip grandma giving advice. People open up to her, laugh with her, they ask her questions. When she's out in public, she's able to start up a dialogue with younger gay men who otherwise wouldn't have a conversation with me or another educator."
That connection to the community and openness to dialogue is crucial for public health education, specifically for HIV awareness among younger audiences--young gay men in particular, says Pederson. "If we can't message kids 'where they live'--get onto the phones in their pockets, then we won't be able to communicate good sexual health and public health practices.
"The best way to deal with HIV is to prevent it. There is 'treatment optimism' out there, and people who don't see STIs [sexually transmitted infections] and HIV as a big deal anymore because they think it's treatable. But the reality is, even for those who ARE able to treat it long term, that's still basically lifelong chemotherapy. It's toxic. If you don't have to subject your body to that, why would you? Don't contract it to begin with."
For Pederson, designing a degree that focuses on electronic journalism through new media technology, combined with GLBT studies is a way to build on his current career path and credentials. "The MdS degree says 'this is where I have been and what I value; this is where I plan to go; and this is how I will get there.' It's an opportunity to strengthen what I am already doing."
He continues, "It's perhaps an unusual combination on the surface, but the fit is perfect for my work. For me working in HIV prevention, one of the hardest hit communities is men who have sex with men. And, being a gay man myself, I think it's important to understand and value our history--the triumphs and the struggles. And the use of electronic media as a communication tool is only going to increase, so it's an ideal vehicle to use to reach out for education and community building.
"What we don't do in the U.S., we don't message our youth about prevention. They get a lot of sex messages--that's everywhere, from ABC to YouTube to the cable channels, but the whole safer sex message has gone by the wayside. If through Mrs. Pederson, we can get that education out to a broader audience, or if we can get one soccer mom who may be uncomfortable bringing the topic up with her kids to say 'well, if she can do it, so can I,'... well, that's my goal. My degree is giving me that opportunity, that chance to pursue the many different paths that health education can take, and to reach those audiences."
Watch a video interview with Pederson as he discusses his experiences in the College.
Find out more information on the College's interdisciplinary bachelor's degree programs.