From founding social marketing as a focus area at USF to spearheading a seminal program promoting breastfeeding among the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) clients, Dr. Carol Bryant has dedicated more than 30 years to a career focused on improving lives.
Bryant, Distinguished University Health Professor in the USF College of Public Health’s Department of Community and Family Health and former director of the Florida Prevention Research Center—a center she played a vital role in establishing—retired in August with emeritus professor status.
“It’s a little scary after working so hard for so long and being so focused on public health and service; it’s been hard to have a sense of purpose and feel fulfilled the same way I did when I was working,” Bryant said. “After you’ve had your nose to the grindstone and worked your butt off for 45 years, you have to take care of whatever remaining body parts you have!”
The Miami native studied applied anthropology at the University of Kentucky and then started working at the health department in Kentucky, working her way up from health educator to health education deputy commissioner over a span of twelve years.
In 1989 she joined the Department of Community and Family Health (CFH) as an assistant professor eventually becoming the founder of all things social marketing at the COPH.
She said she was first exposed to social marketing while volunteering in Ecuador with her husband and saw it as the key to creating action in public health.
“The basis of social marketing is understanding and respecting the people, the community’s values, their dreams, their fears, their day-to-day issues, and honoring them in a way that allows you to help them solve the problems they want to solve and get the life they want to have,” Bryant said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has been implementing her breastfeeding program, “Loving Support Makes Breastfeeding Work” since the 1990s.
Because of the success of the program to promote breastfeeding among WIC clients, the demand for training in social marketing grew and led Bryant to establish the Social Marketing Conference and Training Academy, a conference held every two years that draws public health professionals from across the globe.
As a result, Bryant has taught more than 6,000 public health professionals on how to use social marketing to get communities engaged in a healthy behavior.
“This is a totally different approach, it [social marketing] focuses first on understanding and respecting and honoring people,” she said. “Once you have that insight, you often can take what science says will make them healthier, and their community a better place to live, and define it for them and recommend ways that they can do that within their life and their dreams.”
She said thanks to the support of COPH administration including COPH Dean Donna Petersen, Paula Knaus, associate dean for faculty affairs, and Jay Evans, chief operating officer, she was able to get social marketing efforts off the ground.
In addition to the Social Marketing Conference and Training Academy and the FPRC, Bryant also established the graduate certificate in social marketing, MPH social marketing concentration, and USF’s World Health Organization Collaborating Center for Social Marketing and Social Change.
“She has invested enormous creative energy over the past 28 years to build the USF social marketing program into the world-class status it enjoys today,” said Dr. William Sappenfield, director of the Lawton and Rhea Chiles Center for Healthy Mothers and Babies.
Bryant said one of her proudest professional achievements is the work she’s done at the FPRC, one of 26 named Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Centers in the nation, funded by the CDC.
“I’ve always believed in the power of the community owning the problem and the solutions,” Bryant said. “At the FPRC that is the hallmark of what they do.”
According to Bryant, each center has a specialty they focus on, but only the USF center uses social marketing to promote change among the community.
“It’s terribly satisfying to see a community solve a problem that they’ve had for a long time and be given a new of way thinking about problem-solving that they never thought about before,” she said.
The FPRC has sustained funding since 1998, according to Bryant, and over that span of time has taught communities how to use social marketing to design programs and bring about policy change. Their newest focus is now bringing about entire systems change.
Tali Schneider, COPH alumna and FPRC program administrator, who has worked with Bryant for seven years said she’s always appreciated Bryant’s passion and friendly demeanor.
“I love the way she gets enthusiastic when new ideas are presented,” Schneider said. “She always listens to others and gives her sincere opinion. She has the gift of presenting any idea or news, good or bad, in a positive light and convincing manner.”
Bryant said that while it was difficult to leave, she is confident that the FPRC will continue to do great work.
“We found a person who is a far better social marketer than I, Dr. Claudia Parvanta, who used to be the health communication director at the CDC,” she said. “So, while I miss everybody, I don’t worry about them, I know they are in great hands. I know they will continue doing fabulous work and I am so grateful to USF in supporting that work.”
Parvanta, who also serves as a full-time professor in CFH, said she had interacted for decades with Bryant on social marketing efforts before joining the COPH.
“I always thought of Carol as one of a very few social marketers who worked in academia—most of us were in the private sector or government at the time. But, until coming here in January, I had no idea how hard Carol works, and how much effort she puts into every project,” Parvanta said. “Even though she very nicely handed over the reins of the PRC to me, she continued to show up, and work hard, until the minute she retired. And she is counting the days until she is allowed to ‘volunteer’ for USF social marketing efforts. She is a role model on so many levels, not only for her students, but for her colleagues around the globe.”
Parvanta said a scholarship fund has been initiated in honor of Bryant and work in the field of social marketing.
“If you have ever studied with Dr. Bryant, worked with her, benefited from her advice, or just like her, please contribute something to help us launch the next wave of social marketers,” Parvanta said.
To donate to the Carol A. Bryant Social Marketing Scholarship, click here.
Bryant said in retirement she will focus her attention on her new passions of art, pottery, glass fusion, photography, and spending time with family.
“I learned something new every day [at USF] and I loved the people I’ve worked with and I will miss them every day, but it is time for me to take care of this almost 70-year-old body and see what I can do in the art field,” Bryant said.
Story by Anna Mayor, USF College of Public Health