Working at the Intersection of Public Health and Public Relations: Meet Kayla

Kayla stands smiling on a hiking trail with a beautiful mountain scene behind her.

By Elise McGlothian

The Minerva team is excited to introduce our newest full-time member of the team—Kayla McMenamin! 

Coming from Portland, OR, her public health and public relations background make her the perfect addition to Minerva Strategies growing team. We checked in with Kayla to learn about what led her to Minerva Strategies (for a second time!) and what she’s been up to since. 

Where are you from and where are you living now? 

I am from Hillsboro, Oregon and I’m currently living in Portland. I moved away for grad school and lived in Austin, Texas for a few years, and then moved to Seattle for a year for a job. And now I’m just so happy to be back in Portland. My whole family is here. And my partner and his family are here. It’s great to be back. 

Did you always want to work in communications?  

Growing up, I wanted to be a doctor. I’ve always been interested in health, and at that time I felt like the only way you could really work in health and help people was to be a clinician. So, when I left for the University of Oregon for undergrad, I signed up for all science classes. After only the first few days of 200level biology classes, I thought, “Oh, no, this is not what I want from my college experience.  

After that, I took a more exploratory approach to college, and during that process I took an intro to journalism course. I was always a good writer and had other interests in art and sociology. That was my first step towards a love for communications. I became really interested in what motivates people and the psychology aspect of communications, so chose the public relations trackWhile enrolled in that program, I realized that you can help people in ways that also utilize your skills and interests – I didn’t need to be a nurse or a doctor to make my mark. 

Why did you pursue a Master of Public Health (MPH) 

After working in communications and nonprofits for a few years after undergrad, I still had a deep passion for health that I felt needed to be unearthed. I also love to learn, and getting a Master’s was always a goal of mine. I decided to get an MPH in Health Promotion and Behavioral Science, which was focused on theories that dug into why people do or don’t practice different health behaviors and the barriers that keep people from accessing care. Surprisingly, I found that these theories were very closely aligned with what I had learned in the journalism program – people are driven by different motivations 

When starting my program at the University of Texas School of Public HealthI noticed that I was outnumbered by students who were very science-based. I started thinking, “Wow, there is a huge opportunity here for communicators to get into public health. You can do all the research that you want, but without good dissemination tactics and strategies, you’re not going to convince policymakers to use evidence in their policymaking or change systems about these complex topics.  

Something really cool that I saw in the MPH program was that overlap with strategic communications, and how I could use my skills to help people better understand the science.  

You actually have a long history with Minerva Strategies and its president – tell us about that.   

I actually interned for Joy (president of Minerva Strategies) while she was the communications director at Mercy Corps. And after graduating, Joy reached out to say she was starting her own communications consulting firm, and she asked if I would be interested in working with herSo, I contracted with Minerva Strategies in the early days before I moved to Austin for grad school! It’s been such a cool thing to see the organization grow over the years. 

What was your journey after grad school  

After grad school I moved to Seattle to work for a former Minerva client – the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). At IHME, my primary role was to manage the media relations strategy for the organization, which is where I started to become more interested in research and translating complex studies for a variety of audiences.  

After my partner was offered a job in Portland, we moved and I started working for the Center for Outcomes Research and Education (CORE), where I focused on qualitative research and program evaluation. After about three years at CORE, I realized that conducting research really wasn’t what I wanted to do long-term, and I wanted to explore new horizons that let me be more strategic and work with people. 

How did you end up on the 2020 campaign trail? 

I was really inspired by Senator Warren and her campaignShe was running on a platform that resonated with what I felt the country needed: universal health care, better education systems, and an economic system that works for everyone – not just those at the top.  

Before the pandemic started, I had been volunteering with Senator Warren’s campaign, and was among the first supporters to help get the grassroots Portland group up and running. I knew nothing about political campaigns, but I found myself leading volunteer events and running the group’s social media platforms and really loving it. Eventually, the campaign opened an Elizabeth Warren Campaign office in Portland, and I applied for a job and got it.  

At the campaign office, my primary responsibility was to train volunteers in phone banking. I absolutely loved this experience because I got to use my skills in empathetic communication and translation of complex policies to build people up for the nerve-racking act of phone bankingI really focused my trainings on how to use empathy and active listening when talking to voters and to steer clear of shame-based tactics when talking about politics. I tried to keep it fun and engaging for the people I was training.  

Why did you decide to return to Minerva? 

After the campaign ended, I started doing a lot of soul searching about my career and the kinds of work that have excited and kept me engaged over the years. I really feel at home in strategic communications, and I love the diversity of the clients and work that Minerva does. I have found my niche at the intersection of health and communications, and I want to keep exploring that path. Minerva has been a great place to grow and continue to build those skills. 

What is your dream job?  

would love to lead a nonprofit someday. I think there are so many great organizations out there doing amazing work. The hard part for me would be deciding on an area of work, because there are so many that I am interested in and that intersect with health – healthcare, housing, education, food access.  

What do you do for fun when you’re not working?  

Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, you have so many opportunities to get outside in natureso I get excited about getting outside and hiking. I’m also extremely extroverted, so I feel most happy when hanging out with my friends and having long conversations about life. I have a lot of very close relationships that I care aboutso the pandemic has been hard because I’ve had to maintain those relationships virtually, or from a distance. And they’re extremely important to me! I also like to cook – it’s my stress relief activity. 

Two women (Kayla and her friend) at a rally for gun control

Are there any rules that you live by or guiding principles in your life?  

There’s a mantra I picked up from a book by Daniel Quinn called Ishmael, “...people need more than to be scolded, more than to be made to feel stupid and guilty. They need more than a vision of doom. They need a vision of the world and of themselves that inspires them.”  

I’ve always thought of that quote in communications and in all aspects of life. People aren’t going to be inspired by hearing about what could go wrong. It’s very true that using the strategy of hope and inspiration is way more effective than shaming people or using fear. So, that’s something I like to think about. I try to remember that when I’m creating content or even in talking with my friends and family. 

About The Author

Elise McGlothian

Elise McGlothian


Elise thrives when creating a positive social impact through communications. She has a passion for equitably relaying information and moving people to support organizations tackling critical social challenges – especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about Elise.