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CAMD Student Olivia Giorlandino (second from left).

For the past several years, the College of Arts, Media and Design (CAMD)’s Department of Communication Studies has fostered undergraduate student research and worked to identify outlets for this student work to be reviewed, recognized, and celebrated. To support this initiative, one academic conference the department has targeted is the James C. McCroskey and Virginia P. Richmond Undergraduate Scholars Conference (USC), hosted in conjunction with the Eastern Communication Association (ECA). This year, the ECA USC will be held in Providence in mid-April, and Northeastern will have a strong presence there for the second year in a row – with sixteen accepted papers and eight posters, representing the work of more than forty students.

While there are various outlets for undergraduate research on campus, the ECA USC is an opportunity for students to present their research in the discipline to external audiences who are experts in the field. Professor Steve Granelli, who is one of the Communication Studies faculty members leading the department’s research initiative, presented his work for the first time at this same conference in 2001, held in Portland, Maine.

“I will never forget how genuinely interested the attendees were in my work and my methods,” Professor Granelli said. “There was a group of people who had chosen to come hear and see my work, and were truly excited about the communication discipline.”

This experience was valuable for him, and he is eager to now take the opportunity to encourage his students at Northeastern to participate in such an inspiring and empowering academic exercise. To this encouragement, prompted by Professor Granelli and other Communication Studies faculty members, the student response has been overwhelmingly positive. In fact, last year, Northeastern won an award for having the most undergraduate student submissions at the ECA USC.

One of these Communication Studies students, Olivia Giorlandino, echoes the positive impact of presenting one’s own research at an academic conference.

“It’s incredibly valuable to have the opportunity to conduct, submit, and present research as an undergrad because it gives a certain level of validation and appreciation for our school work,” Olivia said. “Research papers and opportunities such as this give students autonomy over what they are actually curious about and allows them to take control of their course of study. To cite a cliché, the student-control that comes with undergrad research makes learning fun, and being able to submit and subsequently present personal findings gives value in research that extends beyond a simple letter grade.”

Last year, Olivia was awarded with a Top Paper Award at the ECA USC, meaning it was one of the four highest individually authored papers written by a Lambda Pi Eta (communication studies honor society) member. Her paper investigated gender-based insults on the reality television show America’s Next Top Model, including what the nature of these insults were and how power structures and non-verbal cues were used within the insults.

“To be recognized with a Top Paper Award was an incredible and humbling honor,” Olivia said. “At the conference, I presented on a panel with the other top paper recipients and received comments from a professor respondent, Lynda McCroskey from Cal State-Long Beach, whose father the conference was named after. The whole experience was amazing and definitely a highlight of my college career.”

This year, Olivia’s research paper, which she developed under the guidance of CAMD Professors Carole Bell and Steve Granelli, is entitled “Lessons from Hillary and the Future for Females: Analyzing Media Coverage of Hillary Clinton in the 2008 and 2016 Primary Races.” Olivia will present it during the ECA USC’s “Changing Landscape of Political Communication” session.

“For this paper, I looked to see if the gendered communication directed at Clinton decreased over the eight year span on three major networks (Fox, MSNBC, and CNN), as well as the nature of how that communication manifested,” Olivia said. “This was another opportunity to investigate something I am personally passionate about, gendered communication.”

The upcoming ECA USC conference also includes a category for poster presentations, which is a perfect opportunity for students who took Intro to Communication Studies to submit their work. In this introductory class, students are tasked with choosing any communication concept and showing it in a real-life example, explaining how we can use this method to become more ethical communicators.

Hannah Wong, Communication Studies, is a student behind one of the accepted poster submissions, for a project entitled “Celebrity Safari: The Danger of the Zoo Approach.” She worked on a team of other CAMD students, including Vidisha Agarwalla, Nicole Kraemer, Adam Regenstreif, and Lilly Wilcox, to examine the concept of the “zoo approach” within the context of celebrities, which occurs when someone meets an individual from another culture and due to their inability (or unwillingness) to relate to this individual on an interpersonal level, they end up treating them as an “exotic other.”

“Think about it as a walk through a zoo exhibit: due to the foreign-ness of the subjects, you treat them as a spectacle or a source of entertainment. Our research connected this phenomenon to celebrity culture,” Hannah described. “Because celebrities have such drastically different incomes, opportunities, exposure, and followings than average people, we tend to view them as exotic objects. This essentially dehumanizes celebrities and can ultimately put their privacy and safety in jeopardy. In order to demonstrate this, our project uses the example of Princess Diana, who died in a car crash after being pursued by unwanted paparazzi presence.”

Hannah and her team will be presenting during one of the ECA USC’s poster sessions.

For Vidisha Agarwalla, CAMD student and “Celebrity Safari: The Danger of the Zoo Approach” team member, working on this poster was a meaningful step toward achieving her academic goals and aspirations.

“I think it is so important for students to have the opportunity to conduct research because it benefits my academic objectives in many ways,” said Vidisha. “First, I will be able to share my research in a professional environment. This conference will also create a valuable networking opportunity as I will be able to meet professionals in the Communications field. This is a great opportunity for us, freshmen, to begin building resumes prior to applying to co-ops and to graduate school. Second, I am excited to be able to learn about the work that my peers and other professionals in the communication field are doing. This conference will both broaden the scope and increase the depth of my knowledge of my field, which will help me determine the concentration I want to take in my major.”

Beyond this upcoming conference, more generally, the Communication Studies Department’s research initiative intends to open new doors and opportunities to students. While going on co-op is crucial for gaining first-hand work experience, conducting and presenting research can open up different pathways for students.

Communication and research can go hand-in-hand, and the Communication Studies Department is hoping to empower students to begin their journeys with research while they are still in school.

“Conducting research as an undergraduate student was especially validating for me because it opened up a dialogue with my peers about what I’m studying and what interests me,” Hannah Wong concluded. “Communication Studies can seem like an ambiguous major to those who aren’t familiar with the coursework, but participating in this conference, and research generally, has given me an outlet to share what I’ve learned and why it’s relevant with those around me.”