Rachel A. Smith, PhD is an Associate Professor of Communication Arts & Sciences and Human Development & Family Studies, and an Investigator in the Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics and the Methodology Center at the Pennsylvania State University. Smith studies social influences in health. Her research program focuses on how social identities, social interactions, and social memberships shape and are shaped by communication. She uses a variety of quantitative methods, including dyadic analysis and social network analysis, to study patterns of relationships as well as interpersonal or intergroup influences in persuasion and compliance. She tends to focus on social health conditions, such as infectious diseases and genomics. Her current research centers on building and testing theories focusing on the relationships and dynamics among stigmas, communication, and health. She has expertise in health message design and evaluation, and extensive experience with the evaluation of funded programs nationally and internationally. For example, she led the community-characteristics research arm of PEPFAR program evaluations with JHUCCP for Namibia (2004-2007), including network mapping and analysis, completed formative research to inform the development of two innovations for malaria and food security in Mozambique (2009-2011), and contributed to a working team focused on scale up for impact for the Gates Foundation (2012). She has made numerous presentations in scientific, technical, policy, and advocacy fora, and authored over 50 scientific, technical, and public health articles and chapters, the majority in peer-reviewed journals. Her specific CIDD-related interests include:

  • Identifying critical message features and critical people within social networks that facilitate and inhibit the diffusion of beliefs, attitudes, or behaviors related to managing health and well-being
  • Identifying impacts of social influence (e.g., social networks, support, norms, and stigma) on communicators' susceptibility to health aliments and immunity
  • Developing and extending theoretical models of stigma communication and label management
  • Optimizing network-based interventions (e.g., opinion leader designs), entertainment-education interventions, and the diffusion and adaptation of evidence-based interventions to new target audiences and communities.


Epidemics - the Dynamics of Infectious Diseases