Communication junior to spend summer interning at BCPM in New York City

Posted on: April 14, 2017

New York City is like a second home for communication junior Allie Baer. Having traveled to the city almost every year since she was young will make her summer internship position with BCPM a smooth transition. BCPM is a global public relations agency, specializing in brand building and communications in New York City.

“I thrive in fast-paced environments and am thrilled Allie Baerfor this opportunity,” said Baer.

Baer’s personal and professional connections enabled her the chance to interview with the company over the phone. Just a few days later, she was offered the position, which she excitedly accepted.

“I can’t wait to be a part of such an outstanding agency,” Baer said. “I knew BCPM was a top public relations agency and it was started by two strong women, which really appealed to me. They offered me a position in the fashion department, so I am excited to learn more about that industry as well.”

Baer admires how the company got its start. She said it shows women choosing their career paths and pursuing what they want to do.

“Their client list spoke volumes for me,” Baer said. “BCPM works with high-level clients, including fashion and travel. I’ve been interested in both of these industries as it relates to public relations and now I will get to learn from professionals how these industries work.”

She describes this internship as her first real-world experience.

“I’m on my own at MSU, but this experience will be different,” Baer said. “I will be working and living on my own, which is exciting and scary all at the same time.”

How she started the search process

Baer started networking and applying for internships earlier this fall to get ahead of the summer internship season. At the time, she was a part of a course that met for two hours on Fridays, facilitated by Karin Hanson and Rachel Ruis. Each week, they brought in MSU alumni to speak to the class and offer advice about the networking process, the importance of attending career fairs and industry insight.

“They told us to not be afraid to reach out,” Baer said. “Talk to people, learn about what they do. A lot of their advice was about trying new things and how to use LinkedIn effectively, as well.”

Baer used LinkedIn to look for internships and find alumni at companies she wanted to work at. Now, she’s using LinkedIn to find her peers she will be working with this summer at BCPM.

Her advice?

“Don’t be afraid to reach out,” Baer said. “Spartans are always willing to help you. Don’t give up. I started applying in September and I just accepted this internship within the past month. Everything happens for a reason. Once I interviewed with BCPM, the process took only six days. So don’t give up and don’t get down on yourself. Always keep trying.”

By Meg Dedyne

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Communication Senior Selected as Speaker at 2017 Convocation

Posted on: April 10, 2017
Matt_photo

Matthew St. Germain

Graduation day is an experience that college students think about often – whether it be with excitement for the future or perhaps a fear of the unknown. However, before they cross the stage and turn their tassels, some of the university’s finest representatives offer them words of wisdom as they transition to alumni and seek refuge in the real world.

One of those people is Matthew St. Germain, a communication senior from the College of Communication Arts and Sciences and this year’s Convocation Student Speaker for the Class of 2017.

Selected by the Associated Students of Michigan State University among other student applicants, St. Germain hopes to give the graduating class, family and friends a very “Matt-like” speech, he said.

“People can expect some pensive thoughts tempered with a little goofiness and inspiration. My hope is to make this significant life event even more enjoyable and memorable, and to send my fellow students off with an encouraging ‘hoorah!’” said St. Germain. “It is an honor to represent the graduating Class of 2017, and I hope to give a speech worthy of their world-class accomplishments.”

St. Germain is heavily involved in university life as a member of the University Academic Hearing Board, an undergraduate researcher, an intern at the MSU Federal Credit Union, a previous member of the Spartan Marching Band, RHS Representative as well as an apprentice of the University Carillonneur at Beaumont Tower.

“My co-workers know me as ‘Smiley,’ and I do my best to learn something new every day. I try to live very intentionally, and be grateful for the smallest things in life. I believe every moment of every day is an opportunity to demonstrate leadership and be the change you wish to see in others, and ultimately, the world,” said St. Germain. “I am never afraid to be my goofy self, but I also work extremely hard to demonstrate love and kindness to all. It may be cheesy, but I believe that something as simple as a genuine smile has the potential to turn someone's life around.”

He hopes to someday take his talents and enthusiasm into a future of helping others as a member of the Peace Corps or possibly working in developing countries on community and environmental sustainability. His goals might even provoke him to consider running for elected office, he said. St. Germain will enroll for the Linked Bachelor’s-Master’s Program in Communication with a specialization in Non-Profit Fundraising in the Fall of 2017.

Michigan State University’s Spring Convocation ceremony will take place on Friday, May 5 at 1 p.m. at the Breslin Center in East Lansing.

By Savannah Swix

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Linked Bachelor’s-Master’s Programs Offer Undergraduates Connection to Higher Education at MSU

Posted on: March 31, 2017

bamaStudents in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences at Michigan State University are offered unique experiences and opportunities during their undergraduate years. From top-tier faculty to international competitions, state-of-the-art technology, innovative learning spaces and reoccurring networking events, it’s no wonder that many students want to stick around to continue their education.

With the Linked Bachelor’s-Master’s programs at Michigan State University, undergraduate students from across ComArtSci – including journalism, advertising + public relations, communication and media and information – can apply to complete their master’s degree in just one year.

The programs allow students to use nine credits from undergraduate courses toward receiving their master’s degree – cutting the two years often required to receive a master’s in half.

Constantinos Coursaris heads the Department of Media and Information’s Linked B.A.-M.A. program. He said the faculty who contribute their knowledge and resources to the program are a major advantage for students to consider when thinking about applying.

He added that students learn “the professional demands of not only today’s, but also tomorrow’s, workplace that leverages the power of media and information – from game design and the creative arts, to user experience and the management of information and communication technologies.”

In the classroom, Linked B.A.-M.A. students often apply their growing knowledge and skills to hands-on work created for real-world clients. Celina Wanek is currently enrolled in the media and information program for media management and said working with her classmates to develop client-ready projects for organizations outside of Michigan State University has been her favorite part.

I would highly encourage (other students) to apply,” said Wanek. “It's definitely a full year of work but knowing that it's just a year and being almost done is incredibly rewarding.”

Linda Good, director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Advertising + Public Relations, said these programs are for students dedicated to the pursuit of higher education and aiming to increase their value as professionals in their industries.

“As they seek positions that may not require a master’s degree, having the master’s degree gives them an edge over students that don’t have it. They’ve only added a year, basically, to their studies and they enhanced their knowledge base, their experience base and their network by completing the Linked Bachelor’s-Master’s degree (program).”

For more information about all of the Linked B.A.-M.A. programs, click here.

By Savannah Swix

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ComArtSci student landed internship at Traverse City media company

Posted on: February 16, 2017

kathryn mcLavryCommunication senior Kathryn McLravy immersed herself in the Northern Michigan culture this past summer, as a marketing intern for MyNorth Media in Traverse City. MyNorth Media is a media company that shares stories and photos of life in Northern Michigan, including its publication of print issues such as Traverse Magazine, wedding issues and food issues.

McLravy helped facilitate relationships with other companies in the Traverse City area, planned events and the coordination of other daily and weekly tasks.

“A lot of what I worked on was marketing that MyNorth Media was a part of the local community in Traverse City,” McLravy said. “I would work on how to improve the local hotel advertising and tell them about events that were coming up. It was all about having a symbiotic relationship with others in the community.”

She liked how MyNorth Media wanted to give back to the Traverse City community, not only for tourists, but connecting the community together as a whole. McLravy also enjoyed being up north for the entire summer.

“I actually have a cottage in Northern Michigan, so I knew of MyNorth and the Traverse Magazine,” McLravy said. “It was really cool because whenever I mentioned to someone that I was interning at MyNorth, they would recognize the website and magazine as a good resource for restaurants and events going on in the area.”

MyNorth had posted about the position on their website last spring and McLravy reached out via email and by phone when it took some time to hear back.

“Being persistent and really wanting it definitely paid off in the end,” McLravy said. “I think showing that I was very interested in the position helped. I wasn’t calling everyday, but emailing once in awhile, saying I was looking forward to hearing from them and connecting their company to my experience in Northern Michigan.

The biggest thing she learned during her internship is that there is a strong sense of community surrounding the Traverse City area.

“I didn’t realize the extent of MyNorth’s community involvement,” McLravy said. “MyNorth really tries to connect local businesses with each other and I just learned how connected everything truly is. There is just so much to offer in this area that I didn’t realize.”

Working on email newsletters and learning how to reach out and communicate with others made McLravy interested in this research.

“I thought I would be more interested in event planning,” McLravy said. “But I found through my internship with MyNorth that I actually had more of an interest in the behind the scenes projects and research and how to create the best relationships with local companies.”

McLravy also learned the importance of being persistent when it comes to creating partnerships. It’s not as simple as just asking. It takes working out benefits between both companies and establishing an effective language.

Her advice? Visit the ComArtSci Career Center and ask for help.

“As someone who also works in the career center, there are so many resources people can take advantage of,” McLravy said. “Even just getting your resume looked at is a good step. There is always someone there to help you. If you need advice about something, don’t be afraid to ask. People are afraid of being too forward, but it’s okay to ask for help.”

By Meg Dedyne

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Communication senior blends two passions into one internship

Posted on: January 26, 2017

laurentamboerPassionate about the environment doesn’t even begin to describe communication senior Lauren Tamboer and the work she is doing as a communications intern at MSU Sustainability.

She is pursuing a minor in environmental and sustainability studies, a decision that she said was inspired by her father.

“My Dad has definitely had an influence on my interest in the environment,” Tamboer said. “He was always asking, ‘What tree is this?’ ‘What animal is that?’,” Tamboer said. “The environmental classes (at MSU) also keep my interest ... I hope to dedicate my career in some type of way to the study of sustainability.”

The internship with MSU Sustainability is a year-long position. Tamboer said she has already learned so much. She runs all of the “Be Spartan Green” social media accounts, developing content and monitoring channels. She also creates the content for the newsletter that goes out every month. She contributes a story of her own to the newsletter, which requires her to research and brainstorm as well as interview a subject matter expert.

Sometimes, she interviews professors or researchers for these stories. They are all based on environmental topics, community engagement and sustainability.

“I have a really strong personal connection to sustainability, which makes this job fun for me,” Tamboer said. “The environment is one of the issues I care most about and one of the most pressing issues in the world. Our generation is really receptive to these issues and there is a lot of research being done here at MSU. Seeing other people’s passion about it, gives me passion about it, too.”

Her passion led her to seek out more information and eventually to her internship.

“I followed ‘Be Spartan Green’ on social media and they always keep all of their channels updated with positions,” Tamboer said. “I wanted an internship that combined my passions for communication and the environment and when I heard about this job and the content I would be writing, this sounded exactly like what I was looking for.”

Tamboer found the job on MySpartanCareer, the career network website replaced by Handshake, and formally applied.

“When they offered me the job, I accepted right away,” Tamboer said. “I knew it would be a good fit.”

In addition to working on issues that matter so much to her, she said her favorite part of the job is the people.

“They really make it,” Tamboer said. “Everything is collaborative and they value my opinion. I know that it’s okay to try things out and make mistakes. When other people care about sustainability, it makes the collaboration so worthwhile.”

For those who don’t exactly know what sustainability means, Tamboer describes the term as living a lifestyle using resources in a way that allows future generations to use our future resources.

“We cover water, transportation and campus environment. Sustainability on campus is the ultimate goal,” Tamboer said. “We focus on the community message of sustainability and send the message out to university facilities. We also try to focus on including students in the sustainability conversation so they can share their own impact on campus.”

Tamboer said this internship has solidified that she wants to further pursue environmental communications. This field keeps her excited about a future career. Her advice for searching for that perfect job or internship is to be selective.

“It’s about paying close attention to where you would want to work and what content they are creating,” Tamboer said. “It’s challenging to find something that blends all of your passions together, but it definitely comes around if you just keep looking.”

By Meg Dedyne

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MSU alum walks into strategic sector of Campbell Ewald

Posted on: January 18, 2017

In the advertising industry, it can be tricky for students to decide on the concentration that best suits their skillset or interests. From creative to production, account, strategy and more, each team comes together as one to make up an agency and make the magic happen for clients. For 2014 communications grad Ken Walker, he credits a specific class that he took as an undergrad at ComArtSci, ADV 342: “Account Planning and Research,” for pointing him in the direction that led to his position today at Campbell Ewald, an advertising agency in Detroit.

“Initially, I didn’t understand the different departments and their roles in an agency as an undergrad,” said Walker. “I think in order for me to discover my niche, it took different courses that were tailored toward each aspect and component that an agency needs. That makes the ADV courses more valuable, because working as an account person, you learn what every department does, which that in itself has its own value to your growth in this industry.”

“Planning” for the future

After interning as an account executive for a couple years at a local agency in Okemos, Walker landed a position post-graduation as a strategic planner at Campbell Ewald on the Cadillac account. With this role, his hope to “be the voice of the consu14117718_10207414730347698_5314308850025772459_nmer” came to life, for he is now in a department that is more hands-on and he has a bigger input on a campaign’s augmentation.

“I knew right a way that I didn’t want to be an account person after working as an intern, because I wanted to have the ability to give some insight or thought when it comes to creating ads,” said Walker. “If you’re a thinker, I think planning is always a good choice, but if you have some ability to use some level of persuasion, then an approach with more research involved is your saving ground.”

A strategy for strategy

In the words of Walker, strategy is the ability to give an insight from a point-of-view that the client, the account team and creative team hasn’t thought of yet. The challenge of this is that consumer behaviors are constantly evolving, but it’s up to you to find a new, strategic way that makes sense for the campaign’s message and target.

“The key to strategy and planning is curiosity. Your curiosity is what makes you better, and it causes you to always ask ‘why’,” Walker said. “You can challenge research that way, and become more equipped by constantly finding more useful insights out of the data.”

Walker continued, “Strategic planning is all about connecting the dots and bringing everything together. Everybody has an opinion, but you can inspire effective creative in ways that encapsulates everybody’s thoughts if done the right way.”

Life in the agency

The culture in an agency is very different from that of your “average corporate America role,” but Walker states that the fast-paced atmosphere never allows for a dull moment.

“Advertising, as a whole, is an industry that is easy going,” Walker, said. “My favorite thing about working at Campbell Ewald is how highly collaborative it is. The agency is one of the few that promotes an open architecture (which) helps inspire us all, no matter the department.”

Everybody brings their own personal story and skillset to the workplace, too, according to Walker, which makes it a special place to be and create.

“Diversity is important in this industry. (Campbell Ewald is) actively improving the ways that we educate each other about our differences and how they make us who we are,” he said. “I think a lot of the effective work that our agency has created (i.e. the recent Find Your Words campaign for Kaiser Permanente) has been mindful of different cultural tensions, because ultimately we want to compete with culture, not advertising.”

Advice for the aspiring

Just like many students toward the end of their college careers, Walker felt lost in terms of how to approach finding where he belonged in the advertising industry. Based on his experiences, he has a couple of useful tips for students that are about to graduate.

“I can attest that MSU has the best advertising department. It is both robust and challenging, which will teach and prepare you for all aspects of this industry,” said Walker. “The courses are there to help you find your way, but you must be resourceful.”

Walker states that it is up to the student to define their future.

“It’s your job to be proactive enough to talk to your professors on a personal level, because you are part of a network where Spartans are literally all over the world. If you learn how to be resourceful and proactive at such a young age in college, that persistence is only going to help you build life-long useful connections.”

For more information about Campbell Ewald and the work they do, visit here.

By Emmy Virkus

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MSU Advertising alum holds a sweet and savory position with Frito-Lay

Posted on: November 28, 2016

Chris Kuechenmeister graduated from the MSU College of Communication Arts and Sciences in 1995 with a bachelor’s in advertising and a specialization in public relations. After spending his early career in agencies working with clients on corporate reputation and brand building projects, Kuechenmeister found his place with Frito-Lay, a sector of PepsiCo. Stationed in Dallas, he has been with Frito-Lay for 8 years, serving as the vice president of communications for the last two and a half years.

Before his current position, Kuechenmeister worked in Detroit in agencies that served the auto industry. He spent a few years in North and South Carolina agencies, as well as in a corporate communications role with Michelin. His last stop before Dallas was Los Angeles, where he spent six years working on the agency side of the industry.

“I feel the diversity of roles, responsibilities and work settings I’ve had helped prepare me for my current role,” said Kuechenmeister. “Having a multi-disciplined background provides a helpful foundation for the various twists and turns this career brings.”

Kuechenmeister says he has always been very open to new opportunities – a mindset that has helped advance his career. He says he aims to grow with each challenge.kuechenmeister-1

“When there are bumps in the road–which always come–I do my best to learn from each situation and apply it to my future,” said Kuechenmeister.

As the VP of Communications for Frito-Lay North America, he leads a team that manages all internal and external communications for the company, including external media relations for 30-plus brands, internal communications with 55,000 associates, community relations and more.

His fast-paced job also includes day-to-day tasks that vary from managing new product launches to generating media coverage.

“The variety keeps things interesting and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” said Kuechenmeister.

Since PepsiCo is a globally recognized organization, Kuechenmeister says, “the possibilities from a communications standpoint are endless.”

He works his hardest to remain thoughtful and structured while immersed in a leadership position that continually presents unforgettable opportunities.

Kuechenmeister says he has had many memorable experiences, but the best are those when he and his team can have a positive impact on the lives of consumers. One of these memorable experiences was during the Tostitos sponsored Fiesta Bowl.

“The brand‘s positioning was all around bringing people together to share memorable experiences, and we created a surprise reunion for some members of the military stationed in Iraq with their families back in the states,” said Kuechenmeister. “These families had been apart for several months and being involved with them reuniting was pretty special.”

Kuechenmeister continues to be inspired by his organization and all the people in it. And as a consumer, Kuechenmeister says his favorite Frito-Lay product is Wasabi Ginger Lay’s Kettle Cooked Potato Chips.

“The people at Frito-Lay and PepsiCo are committed to doing the best work they can - providing great products for our consumers and supporting our fellow associates all along the way,” he said. “It creates a high-performance atmosphere and the feeling that you can achieve your true potential.”

By Lily Clark

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Communication professors collaborate on healthcare research with MHA Keystone Center

Posted on: November 22, 2016

mha

The Michigan Health & Hospital Association (MHA) Keystone Center has been awarded a grant by the Center for Innovation and Research, a partnership of Sparrow Health System and Michigan State University (MSU), to research hospital culture and front-line healthcare professionals speaking out about potential mistakes.

The research team is being led by Dr. Kenneth J. Levine, a professor in the Department of Communication at the College of Communication Arts and Sciences, along with co-principal investigator Dr. Kami Silk, also a professor in the Department of Communication.

“The grant is focused on conducting formative research through focus groups and survey methods to develop an understanding of the existing culture of speaking-up related to medical errors and near-misses,” said Sam R. Watson, MHA’s senior vice president of patient safety and quality and executive director of the MHA Keystone Center.

Kenneth Levine and Kami Silk from the Dept. of Communication at the College of Communication Arts and Sciences.

“Understanding factors that affect whether front-line healthcare professionals report medical errors and near-misses at Sparrow is critical to ensuring the best possible care for patients. This project will provide important knowledge which can improve healthcare staff performance and patient outcomes,” said Shelia Cotten, PhD, director, Sparrow/MSU Center for Innovation and Research.

The research team will run a series of focus groups with practicing clinicians to better comprehend barriers to submitting adverse healthcare-related events, with a goal of understanding the existing organizational culture at Sparrow Health System. The findings will be analyzed for common themes, trends or concerns. Findings will then be aggregated and shared with hospital administrators. If there are actionable areas of opportunity, the research team will consider a second phase for developing interventions for improvement.   

Other research team members include Christine Jodoin, MSN, RN, NE-BC, vice president of nursing at Sparrow Hospital; Ted Glynn, MD, FACEP, vice president of medical education and research at Sparrow Health System; Anna Melville, director of population health at Sparrow Health System; and Adam Novak, manager of patient safety & quality at the MHA Keystone Center.

The grant and its research builds upon the work of the MHA Keystone Center and its efforts to improve hospital culture among members at the unit and organizational level. Leveraging data and trends from the MHA Keystone Center Speak-up Award! and adverse event reports, this research aims to influence best practices and provide further insight into the culture of preventing patient and staff harm.

“Cultural improvement is a foundational concept that crosses all of our patient safety and quality improvement efforts,” said Watson. “Our targeted focus on improving culture and initiating person and family engagement activities are helping move members toward becoming highly reliable organizations.”

Michigan is the second state in the U.S. to embark on a statewide high reliability initiative with the Joint Commission Center for Transforming Healthcare, and this research will guide the MHA Keystone Center and its work in helping members move toward a state of high reliability. Highly reliable organizations are those that manage safety hazards extremely well under trying conditions and do so consistently over extended periods of time. High reliability in healthcare signifies excellent care is consistently delivered, with a commitment to zero preventable harm.

Learn more about the MHA Keystone Center and their patient safety and quality improvement work at, www.mhakeystonecenter.org.

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ComArtSci alumnus skyrockets through AT&T Sales Program

Posted on: November 4, 2016

For some students, finding their field of passion comes more naturally than it does for others. However, for class of 2013 grad Adam Upholzer, he did it by scouting out his dream company early on, then discovering which department he best fit in. Majoring in Communication, Adam’s original idea of going into network operations or service assurance at AT&T led him toward an interest in sales, then eventually to pursuing the Sales Leadership minor at ComArtSci.

“Before the minor I never considered going into sales,” said Upholzer.“I knew that I
wanted to work for AT&T, but sales was not on my radar. I quickly found out that sales was the best way to get my foot in the door with AT&T.

“I am extremely thankful that I started my career in sales because it gave a much deeper understanding of the business, our products and our customers.”

How it all startedprofile

AT&T was Upholzer’s top pick when he started his job search. Scanning  their website for openings it was then that he discovered their Business Sales Leadership Development Program (BSLDP). It is a fast paced program that AT&T offers to upcoming business sales leaders. It’s organized to prepare future professionals for the industry, while allowing them to reach their maximum potential with a wide range of products, industry-leading services and a strong network of peers by their side.

“I was able to reach out to someone who worked in that program and they were able to get me in touch with a recent graduate of the development program,” Upholzer stated. “After speaking with that person I was absolutely certain that B2B (Business to Business) sales at AT&T was where I wanted to start my career.”

Upholzer said that the sales program gave him an incredible advantage over others hired into the program.

A soaring career

After obtaining the Diamond Club Award in March 2016 for being in the top 1 percent of the  program’s class, Upholzer was rewarded with an additional and unforgettable honor. Accompanied by his father, Upholzer won an all-expenses paid trip for two to the Trump National Doral Resort in Miami, Florida. He reflected on the personal greetings from limo drivers at the airport; 5-star meals every day; fan boat tours through the everglades; a private concert by Keith Urban; and being introduced to ABC Shark Tank’s Robert Herjavec.

“The experience was unforgettable and made me feel like my hard work was truly appreciated,” Upholzer said.

While he acknowledges the company for the recognition he has received for his dedication, he treats every day like it’s a new challenge. Everybody in the industry has their own way of pitching a sale, but Upholzer explained that he doesn’t already know the solution before meeting with a client.

“My specialty is to sit down face to face with you in order to develop a better understanding of your business and your strategy as you move forward. That will allow me to design a full color solution tailored exactly to your company and not a black and white solution that you can just order on our website,” said Upholzer.

Future pitchers

When Upholzer was asked about his time at ComArtsci, a specific mentor came to mind who he credits for educating him the right way. Coordinator of MSU’s Sales Communication Specialization Jennifer Rumler has been working with the program since 2008. Her challenging curriculum prepared Upholzer to excel in his career today.

Without her devotion to growing the program while maintaining the high level of talent, I don’t think I would have taken the classes as seriously as I did,” said Upholzer. “I was honored to be admitted to the sales specialization, but I knew from day one how hard I would have to work in order to meet her expectations. Given that, I also knew that my peers were being held to the same high expectations, which motivated me to be around a group of students who were just as determined to succeed as I was.”

Upholzer would advise future sales specialists to realize that, at the end of the day, it is your network that determines your net-worth.

“You can never have too many connections, attend too many career events or have too much sales experience,” he continued. “You grow from every opportunity you take advantage of so don’t leave anything on the table.”

To learn more about the minor, click here.

By Emmy Virkus

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New center puts MSU on the vanguard of research and application of virtual reality systems

Posted on: October 21, 2016

A new lab focused on the interdisciplinary study of the effect of virtual reality experiences on human interaction has found a brick-and-mortar home within the Michigan State University College of Communication Arts and Sciences.

The Center for Avatar Research and Immersive Social Media Applications (CARISMA) Lab opened for research the third week of October 2016 under the leadership of Gary Bente, a visiting professor in the Department of Communication. The center will draw on basic research from fields like communication science, psychology, education, linguistics, computer science and engineering to refine and develop virtual reality (VR) technology for use in areas like education, training, therapy and rehabilitation, and e-commerce.

“I agree with Marc Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO, that virtual reality will change the way we play, work and communicate,” says Bente. “However we know little about how this will concretely happen and how VR will impact our private and professional lives.”

carisma

The CARISMA Lab, Bente says, is meant to be an interdisciplinary center for the study of human behavior, emotion and cognition in immersive virtual worlds.

“We are also interested in collaborating with applied sciences and with business to develop and evaluate useful applications in variety of fields, such as education, training and health behavior,” he says.

The new lab firmly positions MSU on the frontier of communication and media research. Investigators and scholars will explore human interaction beginning with the generation of animated characters or avatars through motion capture systems. While participants may physically be in separate locations, head-mounted displays or immersive technologies transport them to a 3D-world where they meet as avatars in a virtual space.

"So in this 3D world, wherever it is, you could meet another person as an avatar of your choice in an environment of your choice,” says Bente. "For example, if your girlfriend or boyfriend is abroad, imagine that you could meet in a nice landscape or park and take a walk together."

carisma-lab-2Bente says the lab's virtual reality systems enable researchers to intensely study non-verbal communication and movement, and in turn, study human perception, behavior and trust within virtual environments. Accompanying sensors assess psychophysiological measures like heart rate, eye movement, breathing and skin temperature that indicate stress or other emotional response. Data is then used to assess the subject's response to a particular situations, task demands or social affordances.

A focus of study, Bente says, will be visual components of communication such as physical appearance and nonverbal behavior.

"Mainly, we are looking at human responses to situations or representations in virtual environments," says Bente. "For instance, how does the physical appearance and behavior of avatars affect our own body image and identity as well as our perceptions of others and our social interactions? One applied research interest lies in the domain of autism spectrum disorders and new ways to help people with social communicative impairments through immersive technologies.”

Collaborative and social

Bente comes to MSU as a visiting professor from the University of Cologne where he leads the Cologne Virtual Reality Center and serves as a professor of social psychology and media psychology. A pioneer in the study of human communication using virtual characters or avatars, Bente is slated to join MSU full-time in the fall of 2017.

The CARISMA Lab's focus, he says, solidifies MSU's presence as a national and international leader in the academic and commercial use of virtual reality systems. Bente foresees research that leads to the development of applications for social networking, net-based collaboration, e-commerce and training, as well as those for therapy, health education, exergames, cross-cultural communication and conflict resolution.

"Virtual reality is a great way to study human communication since it provides you with so much experimental control and challenges your knowledge," says Bente. "I must admit it can be a lot of fun, and keeps me in university research and education."

Bente will work collaboratively with MSU teams, researchers and scholars from the departments of Communication, Media and Information, Kinesiology, Computer Science and Engineering, and Electrical and Computer Engineering. Key faculty partners and investigators include Professor James Dearing, chair of the Department of Communication; Professor Ron Tamborini, director of doctoral studies in the Department of Communication; Professor Subir Biswas, department of Electrical and Computer Engineering; and Professor Debora Feltz and Assistant Professor Rajiv Ranganathan, Department of Kinesiology.

Students will also be able to use CARISMA Lab resources for projects, study and research. The center will leverage expertise within MSU, foster research and collaboration with scholars at national and international educational institutions, and promote scientific breakthroughs for commercialization through industry and business partnerships.

"Our vision of future communication systems are a little bit like the holodeck in Star Trek where you meet with virtual others in virtual environments," says Bente. "You can imagine elderly people having their children sit and chat with them, or friends and families who are separated by time and miles can meet in a virtual space and do things together. The possibilities for social interaction, education and training, and commerce are endless."

 

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