ComArtSci Ph.D. Student Earns NCA Top Master’s Thesis Award

Posted on: August 16, 2017

Last year, master’s student Samantha Shebib was sitting next to her thesis advisor, Dr. William Cupach, at the National Communication Association (NCA) business meeting in Philadelphia. As they watched the scholars accept their awards he told her, “I can’t wait till it’s you up there,” while pointing toward the stage.

Shebib FeatureCupach’s confidence was not unfounded. This November, Shebib, now a doctoral student in ComArtSci’s communication department, will travel to Dallas to publicly receive her NCA Top Master’s Thesis award at the NCA convention. Completing and defending her thesis was the final step in earning her master’s of science in communication from Illinois State University.

“Defending my thesis was very nerve-racking,” said Shebib. “All research has limitations. You must outweigh the pros and cons of every step. You really have to defend what you did, and most importantly, why you did it.”

The NCA’s selection committee judged all of the nominated theses on “the quality of the scholarship, including its conceptual or theoretical foundation, methodological rigor, originality and creativity, substantive contribution, and potential impact in the field.” Not only did her thesis win the NCA award, but it previously gained attention at Illinois State, bringing in the School of Communication’s Outstanding Master’s Thesis award in April.

"To get recognition on something you worked extremely hard for is the most rewarding feeling,” said Shebib. “This NCA [convention] will definitely be a moment I’ll never forget.”

Shebib’s thesis details the various communication patterns marital partners engage in when discussing financial issues and how these communicative patterns are related to their marital satisfaction. Her study found that if a spouse believes they have different beliefs from their marital partner on how financial obligations should be managed, they are more likely to communicate in ways that are dysfunctional. Conversely, if a spouse feels they have similar financial beliefs to their partner, they are more likely to communicate constructively by being cooperative, supportive and compromising.

“Engaging in constructive forms of conflict during financial discussions is related to higher financial communication satisfaction and higher marital satisfaction levels,” said Shebib.

The Ph.D. student said that because all relationships experience conflict, studying interpersonal communication is both relatable and practical and she’s excited for what her next three years at ComArtSci will bring.

“I’m looking forward to learning more here at MSU and working with the incredible faculty in the department of communication,” said Shebib. “Everyone in this department is like a legend in our field, so I couldn’t be more honored to get the opportunity to learn from and work with them.”

Shebib wants to focus her time as a doctoral student on statistics, quantitative research methods and experimental designs, because at the end of the day, she said, the way you design a research study (regardless of the study’s topic) is the most important part.

"As one of my professors, Dr. Van Der Heide, told me, “No math can fix a poor design.” It’s all in the design and the statistical analyses one uses to test the hypotheses they posit,” said Shebib. “What you’re writing theoretically and what you’re hypothesizing need to be faithfully tested by your method.”

By Kaitlin Dudlets 


Share via these networks:

ComArtSci’s Sandi Smith Awarded University Distinguished Professor Title

Posted on: July 13, 2017

Sandi Smith Feature ImageAmong nine other Michigan State professors, ComArtSci’s own Sandi Smith has been named a University Distinguished Professor in recognition of her achievements in the classroom, her research and the community. This recognition is among the highest honors to be awarded by MSU to a faculty member.

“I am very honored to receive this award, but as with any accomplishment, I did not achieve this on my own,” said Smith. “My colleagues and graduate students in the department of communication deserve the recognition, too.”

Along with the title, which was voted on and approved by the Board of Trustees, Smith receives an additional stipend of $5,000 per year for the next five years in order to support professional activities. Smith said she will use the stipend to fund graduate students as they work in applied areas of interpersonal and health communication research.

Smith teaches and researches on topics such as persuasion, communication theory and interpersonal communication. In the past, her research has focused on persuading individuals to carry signed and witnessed organ donor cards, encouraging college students to consume alcohol moderately, if at all, and studying how interpersonal relationships with probation and parole officers contribute to positive outcomes for women on probation and parole, among many other topics.

The award is especially meaningful to Smith as her late husband, Charles Atkin, was also honored as a University Distinguished Professor. He was the chair of the department of communication for 15 years and was also an accomplished scholar.

This is not the first time Smith has been recognized for her work. She was previously honored with the Distinguished Faculty Award at Michigan State University, has received the B. Aubrey Fisher Mentorship Award from the International Communication Association and has received the Distinguished Scholar Award from the National Communication Association, among other honors.

By Kaitlin Dudlets

Share via these networks:

Filter Bubbles: ComArtSci Professor Researches News Consumption Trends

Posted on: June 22, 2017

With all of the information we have access to these days, you’d think we’d be exposed to a variety of topics. ComArtSci’s own Winson Peng, associate professor of communication, is here to tell you that you might not be receiving as much information as you thought. Peng conducted research on how individuals’ news consumption has become less diverse. In other words, he discovered that people are likely to view similar information over time. Winson Peng

Peng presented his research at the conference of the International Communication Association this May in San Diego. His presentation was titled, “Structurally embedded news consumption on mobile news applications,” and is a collaboration between Peng and other two researchers in China.

His Findings

Peng’s goal was to discover and understand the patterns of human communication behavior. He did so by mining large amounts of digital traces on social media.

“In the study, the digital traces refer to users’ behavioral records on mobile news applications,” said Peng. “Our dataset includes 29 million news views from about 30,000 users in a 6-month time span using a popular mobile news application in China.”

Peng discussed “micro-information environments,” or environments with a very narrow range of information. Many social media sites take note of what we like to view, and what we try to avoid. This in turn leads us to a more personalized set of information.

“Voluminous and diverse information is available on social media for individuals to consume,” said Peng. “However, the recommendation algorithms deployed on many social media platforms will create an individualized micro-information environment. This will lead to the formation of “filter bubbles” for news app users, which will expose users of social media to more and more homogeneous information over time.”

Peng was surprised to find that with all of the information we have access to today, people actually end up seeing less and less of it.

With the popularity of social media, we assumed that we are now embedded in a much richer information environment than we were in the past,” said Peng. “However, our consumption of news information is much more limited.”

Moving Forward

For future research, Peng hopes to take a more detailed study of the evolution of news content and the dynamics of news consumption. He notes that his current findings could help shape the way in which mobile news applications present information.

Mobile news applications should be aware of this narrowing trend of users’ news interests,” said Peng. “To avoid the loss of users, mobile news services should maintain the diverse news interests of their users.”

News Wide Photo

Peng believes that in order for us to receive the most accurate information, we must be aware of many different categories of news. This way, we are learning about more diverse issues, rather than just one specific area.

“A recommendation system can set a minimum number of news categories to be displayed for each user,” said Peng. “Furthermore, mobile news services can investigate news interests and develop the potential news interests of users that are beyond their news viewing behavior and personal registration information.”

With all of the information out there, it’s impossible to consume it all. But next time you think you’re catching up on the latest news, make sure you’re widening your search.

By Katie Kochanny

Share via these networks:

Communication Senior Scores Internship at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan

Posted on: June 20, 2017

When senior communication student Gabrielle Dolenga accepted an internship with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, she figured her days would consist of sitting in an office, working at her desk. Little did she know, she’d be out in the city of Detroit, making new connections and gaining real-world experience. Gabi Featured Image

Dolenga works as a corporate communication intern. Though she found the internship on LinkedIn, she points to ComArtSci as being especially helpful throughout her job search. 

“ComArtSci has prepared me for this internship in many ways,” said Dolenga. “I used Career Services to improve my resume before submitting my application. The career fair also gave me the opportunity to introduce myself to the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan recruiter after I applied for the position.”

Dolenga notes that her public relations class helped prepare her for all of the writing her internship requires.

“A huge part of my internship is writing for BCBSM's two blogs: A Healthier Michigan and MI Blues Perspectives,” said Dolenga. “ADV 225 definitely prepared me for this writing. In this course, I had to create my own PR campaign based on a topic I was given at the beginning of the semester. Writing and developing a campaign from start to finish prepared me for the many different writing assignments I would have at this internship.

Dolenga also believes that her communication research class has allowed her to succeed in this position.

“Another substantial part of my internship is analyzing BCBSM's social media each week,” said Dolenga. “COM 300 has given me the tools to understand this data on a deeper level and draw better conclusions from the numbers in my weekly report.”

As a communication major and public relations minor, Dolenga loves that she’s been able to gain relevant experience from this internship. She’s been working on multiple projects that have already improved her skills in these fields.

“My favorite thing about this internship has been the opportunity to become more involved in my community while improving my public relations skills,” said Dolenga. “Last week, I took a class at Area45 Fitness in Troy and helped create media surrounding it. This weekend, I wrote talking points and assisted with interviews for the Detroit Riverfront Conservatory's Riverfront Run. Next week, I'll be in Grand Rapids blogging and shooting nutrition segments with WZZM. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan has so many different partnerships that I'm excited to work with throughout the summer.”

Gabi Wide Image

If you’re looking for an esteemed internship, Dolenga would advise you to not sell yourself short.

“Apply, apply, apply. I applied to almost 25 internships this winter,” said Dolenga. “Set yourself up for success by giving yourself plenty of opportunities to choose from.”

Dolenga firmly believes that you should look for opportunities everywhere, no matter where you see yourself ending up. Applying to as many internships as possible will give you insight into different workplaces.

“Remember to apply to a variety of different places,” said Dolenga. “Big or small, corporate or agency; you will learn something from everywhere you apply and every place you interview.”

Regardless of what career path you take, if you utilize ComArtSci’s resources, apply yourself in class and look for a handful of internships, you’re sure to find something you love.

By Katie Kochanny

Share via these networks:

“Just One More Episode”: ComArtSci Professors Research Binge-Watching

Posted on: June 14, 2017

We’ve all been there: cozy on the couch, our favorite show on Netflix, telling ourselves that this is the last episode we’ll watch. But before we know it, we’re five episodes in and can’t seem to stop. We’ve just fallen into the trap that is binge watching.

Morgan Ellithorpe, assistant professor of advertising and public relations, partnered with Allison Eden, assistant professor of communication, to conduct research on the effects of binge watching. The two presented their findings at the 67th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association (ICA).

A lot of people engage in binge-watching - that is watching more than 3 episodes of a show in a row,” said Eden. “But it is relatively new in terms of being available to everyone, due to streaming technology like Netflix. We are trying to understand if there is something different about binge watching than other types of viewing behavior, and if it can have an impact on your health.”

Allison Eden2

Allison Eden

What They Found

Ellithorpe and Eden’s research found that binge watching can have an impact on a person’s health.

“Our research suggests that binge watching is associated with detrimental health behaviors such as foregoing sleep in order to continue watching, selecting unhealthy meals, unhealthy snacking and sedentary behavior (i.e., sitting too long, less exercise),” said Ellithorpe. “Other researchers have found similar effects, including a possible link with heart disease.


Morgan Ellithorpe

Though their data points to negative health effects, the researchers acknowledge the positive effects as well.

“Entertainment can do a lot of positive things for you, beyond just laughing and enjoying it in the moment,” said Eden. “It can keep you company when you feel lonely, help you recover from a long day of work and take you outside yourself to experience another character’s perspective. We see a lot of these positive effects generally when studying entertainment.”

Interestingly enough, these positive effects are even stronger after one has been binge watching.

Importantly, we see some evidence that these positive outcomes of media entertainment – enjoyment, immersion and character involvement – are stronger after binge watching than they are after watching TV the traditional way (i.e., one episode per week),” said Ellithorpe.  

Both researchers point out the fact that binge watching is not to be confused with problematic television use. Ellithorpe notes that problem viewing has elements of behavioral addiction, indicating continued viewing despite sometimes serious consequences. This may include issues such as inability to cut down on TV time, displacement of other activities, withdrawal and continued use despite knowing that the activity is causing problems. Ellithorpe makes it clear that although binge watching can sometimes touch on some of these behaviors, it does not generally make it to the level of problematic viewing.

“We have some evidence that although on the face of it, binge watching for hours on end seems like a potentially negative behavior that is almost akin to an addiction, it actually is not the same as problematic, addictive television use,” said Ellithorpe. “Problematic television use is worrisome for the way it impedes other aspects of one’s life – from social contact to mental health. It is important (and relieving, given its popularity!) that binge watching is different from problematic television use.”

One Step Further

Ellithorpe and Eden are interested in the overall effects of media, and more specifically how it can affect a person’s health. In terms of binge watching, they realized what a common practice it has become, and wanted to further their research in the area.

“From an entertainment standpoint, it’s a really interesting question to ask if the form of media consumption can alter the response and effects,” said Eden. “Of course, from a personal perspective, many of us have certainly struggled against the desire to watch ‘just one more’ episode of a show. Also, with Morgan’s interest in health outcomes from entertainment, and my past work on guilty couch potatoes, it seemed like a natural next step to take.”

Eden adds that their research was welcomed by many at the ICA conference. Since binge watching has become more popular over the past few years, thanks to streaming sites such as Netflix, many people were able to relate to their findings.

“It’s a common practice,” said Eden. “So people were pretty interested in finding out how best to manage this behavior and if there are any negative effects.”

Next time you’re tempted to binge watch, remember that although it may be good for your mood, it could also be detrimental to your health.

By Katie Kochanny

Share via these networks:

ComArtSci Hosts Third Annual International Summer School Conference

Posted on: June 6, 2017

From May 30th - June 4th, ComArtSci’s Communication Department hosted the 2017 Annual International Summer School conference. The theme for this year’s event was Synchronization in Communication Systems.

Research on synchrony dates back to the 17th century when Dutch scientist Christian Huygen discovered that barely detectable motion in floorboards led pendulums to synchronize, the topic of synchrony has become much more well-known. Synchrony has been used to explain how people's limbs become entrained during dance or military drills, how strangers develop rapport and cooperation and how movements with a virtual character can reduce outgroup prejudice.

The third annual summer school addressed the role of synchrony as a fundamental construct for communication science by bringing together scholars from the fields of communication, computer science, neuroscience, complex systems and cognitive and social psychology. Topics included research in neural, motor, physiological, virtual reality synchrony and communication research. Throughout its five days, the summer school provided advanced training and mentoring for young researchers at the hands of some of the biggest names in synchrony research.

“This is the third year of the conference. The first year was hosted by the University of Cologne, and the second year was hosted by Nanyang Technological University,” said Lindsay Hahn, one of the graduate student coordinators for the Sync Conference. “It's a great opportunity for us to be able to host it this year because we've brought scholars and students in from all over the world to be here, including the U.S., Germany, China and Singapore. In addition, we have gotten the chance to showcase our new motion capture/virtual reality lab (room 29 of ComArtSci) to all attendees.”

A handful of MSU professors presented at the event:

  • John Sherry - Synchronization as a Communication Construct
  • Devin McAuley - A Lifespan Perspective on Entrainment and Attentional Dynamics  


  • Jingbo Meng - Synchrony in online health social networks for behavior change
  • Josh Introne - Causal coherence and narrative convergence in online social networks
  • Winson Peng - Convergence and Divergence of Public Attention on Social Media

Over a dozen MSU students also presented at the conference. Hahn encourages students, both inside and outside ComArtSci, to get involved in next year’s conference.

“Information about next year's conference would be posted in the coming months on our twitter account: @syncMSU,” said Hahn. “Interested parties could also email us at to be added to a mailing list for updates.”


By Katie Kochanny

Share via these networks:

Studies in Interpersonal Communication Result in Outstanding Master’s Thesis Award

Posted on: May 8, 2017

The interest to pursue a career in interpersonal communication started at a young age for Samantha Shebib, whose ultimate goal was to be accepted into MSU’s Ph.D. Communication Program. Tracing back to personal experiences, Shebib connected immensely to the field of communication because it is relatable to every demographic.

Unknown“It has always been my dream to be a Spartan,” said Shebib. “I have been lucky enough to get the opportunity to work with the impeccable faculty and students in the Department of Communication. It’s crazy to look back on all those years I put into it and to see my hard work pay off. It’s an extremely rewarding feeling.”

Shebib identifies herself as a post-positivist researcher who studies interpersonal/family communication, nonverbal communication, physiological responses, social support and most importantly, quantitative research methods. She has bounced around several different regions of the world to endure rigorous academic success, beginning with her Bachelor of Science from Arizona State University in May 2014, followed by her Master of Science in Communication Studies from Illinois State University in May 2016.

Most recently, Shebib received the Outstanding Master's Thesis award from the School of Communication at Illinois State University on April 17, 2017. The award is given each year to one student only and was designed to promote a high-quality master’s thesis. Shebib’s thesis was titled "Financial Conflict Messages and Marital Satisfaction: The Mediating Role of Financial Communication Satisfaction."

“At Illinois State, my advisor was Dr. William R. Cupach and my former committee member was Dr. Kevin Meyer, both who nominated me for this award,” explained Shebib. “My thesis was interested in examining the proposed mechanisms through which different financial conflict messages influence marital satisfaction, specifically through the mediating variable of financial communication satisfaction. This empirical work, and the work I continue to do at MSU, is aimed at constructing a theory in marital conflict.”

Shebib believes that marital conflict is an important area to study because of its impact on children that become exposed to it.

“Since conflict is inevitable in all relationships, a theoretical framework to understand why people engage in destructive and dysfunctional strategies when conflict occurs would be extremely beneficial and would add important insight when trying to make sense out of marital discord,” explained Shebib. “Not only do children exposed to marital conflict have a greater risk for a host of behavioral and emotional problems, but it also socializes children to handle conflict the way their parents handle conflict. If I can disentangle and make sense out of marital conflict, well, then I think I can tackle conflict in other relationships, too. Fingers crossed.”

By Emmy Virkus

Share via these networks:

The Link Between Brain Activity and Social Networks

Posted on: May 4, 2017

This story was originally published on MSU Today

The structure of the social network to which a person belongs could shape how their brain responds to social exclusion, according to a new study led by a Michigan State University researcher.

Ralf Schmaelzle, assistant professor of communication, poses on Tuesday April 14, 2017.

Ralf Schmaelzle, assistant professor of communication, poses on Tuesday April 14, 2017.

The study is authored by assistant professor Ralf Schmäelzle, from the College of Communications Arts and Sciences, and published together with a team of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the Army Research Lab in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers looked at the brain’s response to social exclusion under fMRI, particularly in the so-called mentalizing system, which includes separate regions of the brain that help consider the views of others.

“The finding here is that these regions, which are in different places in the brain, show greater connectivity in response to social exclusion,” Schmälzle said. “They go up and down together, almost as if they’re dancing together, doing the same moves over time, and this ‘coupling’ of their activity increases during social exclusion.”

To create the experience of social exclusion, the researchers used a virtual ball-tossing game called Cyberball with 80 boys ages 16-17. While in the fMRI machine, each participant saw a screen with two other cartoon players — who they believed to be controlled by real people — and a hand to represent themselves. All three participants in the game take turns tossing a virtual ball to one another.

For the first phase of the game, the virtual players include the test subject, tossing him the ball frequently. The game then shifts to exclusion mode, and the virtual players stop throwing the ball to the participant.

“During exclusion, people might begin to ask themselves, ‘What might that mean when people are excluding me?” Schmälzle said. “They may ask, ‘Have I done something wrong?’ or ‘Why are they doing this?’ and such kinds of thought might engage mentalizing processes.”

The researchers also were able to access, with permission, the test subjects’ Facebook data, giving them a snapshot of their friendship networks. They found test subjects who showed a greater increase in brain connectivity during social exclusion were those in sparse networks. In sparse networks, the friends of a person tend to not know each other. In dense networks, by contrast, many of a person’s friends are also friends with each other.

“Social network analysis and thinking about social networks has been around a long time in sociology,” said Emily Falk, associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School and director of its Communication Neuroscience Lab. “But it’s only recently that these kind of quantitative measures of social networks have been combined with an understanding of the brain. How do your brain dynamics affect your social network and how does your social network affect your brain? We’re at the very tip of the iceberg right now.”

In addition to Schmälzle and Falk, study authors include Matthew Brook O’Donnell, Christopher Cascio and Danielle Bassett, all from the University of Pennsylvania; Javier Garcia and Jean Vettel from the U.S. Army Research Lab; and Joseph Bayer from The Ohio State University.

Share via these networks:

March for Science

Posted on: April 26, 2017

Science March DC April 2017As we were being driven toward the Washington DC National Mall On Earth Day, April 22 for the March for Science you could see people streaming toward the Washington Monument.  On sidewalks, in raincoats, carrying thousands of homemade as well as preprinted signs, walking in groups of 2, 3, 4 and more, a lot of them grouped by disciplines.  Entomologists on the left (“Black Widows for Science!”), physicists ahead dressed in Albert Einstein wigs and lab coats, science communication researchers on the right (“Science not Silence!”).  A hundred thousand graduate students, lab post docs, professors and researchers, federal government staffers, one girl wearing a space shuttle made out of cardboard, a boy dressed like Bill Nye the Science Guy (best sign:  “Without science, Bill Nye would be just a guy”), and me wearing all Green & White and holding a large Spartan umbrella and responding “Go White!” to calls every 60 seconds of “Go Green!”.  It was a proud day to be a MSU Spartan.
A Voice of America television crew followed me and a PhD from the MSU college of education for several hours, chronicling our experiences as we met an MSU physicist and listened to an MSU pediatrician rally the growing crowd (“What do we want?”  “Science!”  “When do we want it?”  “Now!”)  They were just one of the many many media organizations on-site with cameras rolling.  Questlove and his Big Band up on stage with a rocking horn section.  Bill Nye the Science Guy whipping up the mass of scientists, young and old.  Thomas Dolby thrilling the crowd in the light rain with his smash hit “She Blinded Me with Science!”  It was all serious and all fun.  It may also be just the start of researchers, academics and scientists and students standing up for knowledge and facts and their role in continuing to make a better world.


James W. Dearing, PhD
Professor and Chairperson

Share via these networks:

Edward Maibach shares research about communicating climate change

Posted on: April 25, 2017

Picture1On April 21 – one day short of Earth Day – the College of Communication Arts and Sciences welcomed Dr. Edward Maibach, director of George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication, to speak at the annual Bettinghaus Endowed Lecture organized by the Department of Communication and the Health and Risk Communication Center.

During a time when questions about our impact on the planet seem endless and recurring, Maibach highlighted how important it is to encourage people to learn and discuss the issue of climate change and its effects. He shared with faculty, students and staff of the college about his research on TV weathercasters as vehicles to spread news about this important issue via a segment called Climate Matters.

He spoke about how people trust scientists to provide information related to the environment and other scientific debates. However, just behind that group, people rank TV weathercasters high on the list of trustworthy sources. Maibach supported this by explaining that they have the trust of the public, access to the public and great communication skills. He credits experiential learning as a factor that helps people engage with issues and become more knowledgeable and aware of matters like climate change.

“Dr. Maibach’s work is cutting-edge both in terms of methodology and substance. He is creating innovative models for studying the effects of the news on people’s beliefs and attitudes," said Maria Lapinski, professor in the Department of Communication. 

Partnered with Climate Central, an independent organization of leading scientists and journalists researching and reporting the facts about our changing climate and its impact on the public, Maibach and researchers provide the newscasters with the information and digital content necessary to reach audiences such as maps, severe weather trackers and more. So far, 390 weathercasters have been a part of Climate Matters and numbers are growing.

Dan Totzkay, a Ph.D. Communication student, attended the lecture and called it “exciting and interesting.” As a fan of Maibach’s work, Totzkay said the presentation got him thinking about his own research and taking inspiration from Maibach to design better campaigns and know where to look.

Being that Maibach’s lecture was on the day before Earth Day, it was fitting that a group of people came together to educate themselves about how being conscious of issues such as climate change can benefit the future of our planet.

“Not only is it Earth Day, but also the March for Science. It’s about protecting the Earth,” said Totzkay. “We’ve only got the one, so this is pretty pertinent because, for whatever reason, (climate change has) become so controversial, even though it shouldn’t be … I think finding people like weathercasters or anyone else who people will listen to is so crucial.”

The next part of Maibach’s research is in the works. Currently funded by the National Science Foundation, among others, the team recently submitted a second NSF grant proposal. Together, Maibach and his researchers are preparing for the future of the organization.

The Bettinghaus Lecture was endowed by former Department of Communication Chair Erwin P. Bettinhaus and his family, friends and colleagues. Bettinghaus also served as the Dean of the college for 20 years.


By Savannah Swix

Share via these networks: