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

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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

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Elizabeth Dorrance Hall to join faculty in Communication Department

Posted on: December 14, 2016

Aelizabeth-dorrance-hallssistant Professor Elizabeth Dorrance Hall will join the Department of Communication in Fall 2017. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. in Interpersonal and Family Communication from Purdue University, where she studied under Steve Wilson.

Elizabeth's research focuses on communication processes in close relationships, especially in the context of family. She applies and extends interpersonal and family communication theories (e.g., family communication patterns theory (FCP), confirmation theory) to explore how family communication is associated with young adults' academic, relational, and psychological well-being.

Her current projects focus on changes in perceptions of family member marginalization (the "black sheep" in families) over time.

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Communication Professors receive ICA Fellow status

Posted on: June 10, 2016

William Donohue and Frank Boster, professors in the Communication Department, join a large group of ComArtSci faculty who have been acknowledged by the International Communication Association (ICA). Both Donohue and Boster were nominated and awarded Fellow status for their research and dedication to communication.

Department of Communication Professor and ICA Fellow William Donohue

Department of Communication Professor and ICA Fellow William Donohue

ICA welcomes scholars studying and teaching human communication. In order to become a Fellow, an individual must be a member of the Association and has to be nominated by another member. Then, it’s put to a vote.

Former Michigan State University professor Don Ellis nominated Donohue for his study of conflict management and resolution. Donohue’s ongoing research targets topics such as divorce mediation and hostage negotiation.

“It’s nice to have the recognition that my research has had an impact and that people have found the work made a contribution and is credible work. It’s nice to have peer recognition,” said Donohue.

Boster’s research studies social influence in groups. His current focus lies in something he calls “sticky messages.”

Department of Communication Professor and ICA Fellow Frank Boster

Department of Communication Professor and ICA Fellow Frank Boster

“(I’m) excited right now about the idea of sticky messages and how we design messages that are not only persuasive but stay that way for a period of time,” Boster said. “There’s a tendency for a persuasive message to change people and then (they) revert back to (the way they were) before they were exposed to the message.”

Boster was nominated by Malcolm Parks, a classmate from graduate school and now a professor at the University of Washington.

“I was honored that he took the time to not only write a letter for me, which he did very thoughtfully, but also arranged for others to write supporting letters,” he said. “And I was honored that the fellows that vote found me worthy of that designation.”

Donohue and Boster presented at the ICA Conference in Japan where they were officially awarded and recognized as Fellows.

They will receive plaques in acknowledgement of their new status and achievements.


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Scholarly Analysis Among Top Papers at International Conference

Posted on: April 1, 2016

Amanda_HolmstromA paper based on interdisciplinary research and written by an MSU associate professor of communication will be among the most highly ranked presentations at the 2016 annual conference of the International Communication Association.

Mandy Holmstrom's scholarly analysis will be showcased as one of four top papers in interpersonal communication at the June 9-13 ICA conference in Fukuoka, Japan. The paper "'So that's how she do': Supportive messages female offenders receive from parole officers" is part of a larger interdisciplinary research program focused on improving supervision for women on probation and parole. The program involves MSU investigators from the departments of communication, criminal justice and psychology and is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

"We were all surprised and excited to be selected," says Holmstrom. "We were picked from a large field of submissions, and it's a great opportunity to get the word out about MSU's research and programs to an international audience."

The International Communication Association (ICA) is an academic association for scholars interested in the study, teaching and application of all aspects of human and mediated communication. The 50-year-old organization started as a small association of U.S. researchers and has become international in scope with more than 4,500 members in 80 countries.

Holmstrom's paper presented findings of a recent study that examined the content and effects of supportive messages that women on parole or probation receive from their probation and parole officers. The study is among the first of its type to specifically examine supportive messages from parole and probation officers related to the use of drugs, alcohol and substance abuse among female offenders.

"The study found that women are receiving quite a lot of supportive messages from their parole and probation officers, and that they see it as being helpful," Holmstrom said. "But the study also showed there are still a number of gaps in their social support network that could be filled."

Communication Professor Sandi Smith, also director of the MSU Health and Risk Communication Center, is among the study's four investigators and will be traveling to Japan to present the paper. She mentioned that the preliminary findings outlined in the paper might lead to subsequent research focused on the effect of social support messages between probation and parole officers and female offenders.

In addition to Smith, other investigators on the Improving Supervision for Women Offenders project include Merry Morash, professor of criminal justice, Jennifer Cobbina, associate professor of criminal justice, and Deborah Kashy, professor of psychology. Beth Adams, doctoral student in the department of criminal justice, is also a coauthor on the paper and will travel to Japan with Dr. Smith.

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Faculty Members Named Sustainability Fellows

Posted on: August 3, 2015

Sustainability banner

Two College of Communication Arts and Sciences faculty members have been named 2015 MSU Sustainability Fellows for their environmental sustainability-themed online survey of MSU undergraduate students.

John Besley, Associate Professor and Ellis N. Brandt Chair in Public Relations in the Department of Advertising + Public Relations, and Bruno Takahashi, Assistant Professor with a joint appointment in the School of Journalism and Department of Communication and Research Director of the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism, worked on the initial sustainability survey along with Adam Zwickle, Assistant Professor in the Environmental Science and Policy Program and the School of Criminal Justice in the College of Social Science.

The survey includes questions gauging environmental sustainability and scientific knowledge, norms and practices surrounding sustainability related behaviors, and attitudes toward environmental responsibility. The plan is to make the survey an annual project.

bruno-takahashi feature

Bruno Takahashi

“The Sustainability Office, specially Ann Erhardt (Director of MSU Sustainability), has recognized the importance of evidence-based communication. In that sense, we are hoping the results of the survey will help inform the communication initiatives at MSU,” Takahashi said. “From a research perspective, there are very few empirical studies examining educational settings that attempt to understand the factors that explain the engagement in sustainability behaviors by students. We are trying to push the envelope in the study of environmentalism, behaviors, and well being among students.”

Data from the initial survey was collected at the end of the spring 2015 semester. Students were randomly selected to participate with more than 2,800 completed surveys received.

The research team plans to produce a report for the Sustainability Office with some recommendations and are working on two academic studies, one on the relationship between values and environmental behaviors, and another one examining differences in environmental behaviors based on cohorts (freshman, sophomore, etc.).

“The assumption for the second one is that students' attitudes, knowledge about science and the environment, perception of social norms, among other factors change as they move forward with their degrees, and that this affects behaviors,” Takahashi said.

Plans are already underway for a 2016 survey as well as identifying areas for targeted campaigns.


John Besley

“We want to make the survey an annual thing so that we can use it to track the impact of the college experience on students’ views and behavior,” Besley said.

MSU Sustainability’s fellowship program uses the MSU campus as a laboratory to address issues related to greenhouse gas emissions, renewable energy, waste reduction, water conservation, sustainable transportation, education, engagement, social responsibility and more.

The program funds research projects that focus on aspects of environmental responsibility and sustainability specific to MSU.

"The work is driven by real challenges faced by the university," Erhardt said. “The fellowship program connects researchers with campus decision-makers in order to effectively plan for the future sustainability of MSU's campus."

For more information on these and other sustainability efforts, see the MSU Sustainability website.

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Studying Social Media and Its Effect on Disaster Communication

Posted on: June 15, 2015


When Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the Philippines in 2013, thousands of people were killed, in part because they didn’t know it was coming or didn’t know how to protect themselves.

Could an increased use of social media, particularly on the part of the nation’s government, have made a difference?

While that question remains open, it is clear that social media should play a larger role in emergency preparedness, says Bruno Takahashi, Assistant Professor of Journalism and Communication, who studies the issue.

Using the Philippines’ typhoon as a case study, Takahashi and his fellow researchers looked into the matter and determined that more tweets and Facebook messaging might have made a difference.

“We need to think of social media not as an afterthought,” he said. “It needs to be integrated into emergency-preparedness plans.”

As Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest storms ever recorded on Earth, made landfall, many individuals and some journalists were using Twitter to spread information. However, the government was not.

bruno-takahashi“All of the coordination of relief and what to do to seek shelter came after the storm hit,” Takahashi said. “Maybe that is something governments should do ahead of time – be more proactive.”

For this study, which was published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, Takahashi and his team analyzed more than 1,000 tweets that were sent around the time of the typhoon.

“We have to think about social media not just as this place online where people go to have fun or share mindless thoughts,” he said. “It’s apparent that social media can be a really powerful tool, not only for preparedness, but also as a coping mechanism.”

Just as radio was years ago, social media helps people connect with others, lets them know there are others out there sharing the same problems.

“It lets people know they are somehow connected to others,” Takahashi said. “People use social media to share their feelings, as well as help them try to make sense of the tragedy.”

One way in which Tacloban City, which took the brunt of the storm, used social media afterwards is officials set up a center where people could log onto Facebook. They were given three minutes to send a message, letting friends and loved ones know they were all right.

How effective can social media, particularly Twitter, be at spreading news? Takahashi said that social media messages can spread faster than natural disasters, including earthquakes like the one in Nepal last month.

“There was an instance in which people who had not felt an earthquake got a tweet about it, then felt it seconds later,” he said.

Other members of Takahashi’s research were Edson Tandoc, Assistant Professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, and Christine Carmichael, a doctoral candidate in MSU’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

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Smith Appointed to National Advisory Panel

Posted on: May 20, 2015

Portrait of Sandy SmithAn MSU faculty member from the College of Communication Arts and Sciences will serve as one of the first members of a new advisory panel for a nonprofit research funding institution focused on communication and dissemination research.

Professor Sandi Smith joins 20 new panelists in advising the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) on funding research that determines how to best communicate and disseminate clinical study results so those results are more quickly and effectively used to improve patient care.

"I'm honored to be chosen to be among a strong group of fellow panelists who are dedicated to improving healthcare by bringing patient, caregiver and advocate voices to medical research," said Smith, Professor in the Department of Communication and Director of MSU’s Health and Risk Communication Center.

The 21 panelists were selected from 135 applicants based on their experience, expertise and ability to contribute to the panel’s advisory tasks and responsibilities. Panelists also were selected to ensure representation of a broad range of healthcare stakeholder groups, including people with health conditions, family caregivers, clinicians, drug and device makers, and researchers.

"PCORI’s efforts to improve how clinical research results are communicated will benefit greatly from the insights of this stellar group of individuals with such breadth and depth of expertise in this area," said Jean Slutsky, Director of PCORI’s Communication and Dissemination Research Program. "Through her contributions to this multi-stakeholder advisory panel, Sandi Smith will help us identify and prioritize research topics and ensure that our work remains patient-centered."

PCORI is an independent, nonprofit organization authorized by Congress to fund research that will provide patients, caregivers and clinicians with the evidence-based information needed to make better-informed healthcare decisions.

Smith will travel to Washington, D.C., for the advisory panel’s first meeting on Thursday, May 28. A list of the new panelists as well as the charter for the Advisory Panel on Communication and Dissemination Research is available on the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute’s website.

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Takahashi Elected Vice Chair of ICA's EC Division

Posted on: October 28, 2014

Bruno Takahashi mainBruno Takahashi, Assistant Professor in the School of Journalism and Department of Communication  and Research Director of the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism, has been elected to serve as Vice Chair of the Environmental Communication (EC) Division at the International Communication Association (ICA) beginning May 2015.

Takahashi, who says he is pleased to be recognized and appointed as EC Division Vice Chair, said, "It is one of the fastest growing divisions at ICA."

The ICA is an academic association for scholars interested in the aspects of human and mediated communication. The EC Division's goal is to expand research on human relationship with the environment through communication. Since its start in 2011, the division has expanded from 40 attendees to 230 members.

As Vice Chair, Takahashi will plan the submissions as well as the reviews of papers and presentations at the ICA annual conference.

He will serve two years as Vice Chair and then will move to the position of Chair for two more years. As Chair, he will head the ICA annual conference and represent the interest group on the ICA Board of Directors.

"I have been involved with the division since the beginning and know most of the people involved," said Takahashi, who also is involved with the International Environmental Communication Association, the National Communication Association's Environmental Communication Division and the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication's ComSHER (Communicating Science, Health, Environment and Risk) Division. He said his appointment as EC Division Vice Chair will help him build relationships with these groups.

"It also means that I will be able to influence the field not only with my research but also with my leadership," he said.

Takahashi said he is most looking forward to helping environmental communication interest grow and working with leading scholars around the globe.

"As someone from Latin America, I expect that my contacts and knowledge of the region will help grow the membership to incorporate people from other regions outside the United States and Europe," Takahashi said.

Takahashi will begin his role as Vice Chair on May 26, 2015, following the ICA annual conference in Puerto Rico.

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Ph.D. Candidates Receive Excellence-In-Teaching Honors

Posted on: February 11, 2014



Two Ph.D. in communication candidates, David Keating and Evan Perrault, are among a select group across campus chosen to receive MSU's Excellence-In-Teaching Citation for the outstanding work they have done as graduate teaching assistants.

Up to six Excellence-In-Teaching Citations are awarded by MSU each year to recognize the best graduate teaching assistants and the contributions they have made to the undergraduate program.

To be nominated, teaching assistants must have assumed a significant measure of responsibility for the conduct of undergraduate courses, whether in lecture, recitation or laboratory sections.

Both Keating and Perrault are CAS alumni, having each received their Master of Arts degrees from CAS in 2011. Keating earned his master's in communication in December 2011, while Perrault earned his in health and risk communication in August 2011.

Winners of the Excellence-In-Teaching Citation receive a $1,000 stipend and were recognized at the annual awards convocation. This year's ceremony, which included the President's State of the University remarks, was today at the Wharton Center.

David Keating

web-award-winnerKeating has been a graduate teaching assistant for 10 semesters.

"I am incredibly excited to be one of the recipients of the Excellence-In-Teaching Citation. I am very passionate about teaching and mentoring students, and being in the classroom is one of the best feelings in the world," Keating said.

He was nominated for the Excellence-In-Teaching Citation by Sandi Smith, Professor of Communication and Director of the Health and Risk Communication Center. Smith was Keating's M.A. adviser and now his Ph.D. adviser. Keating also was a student in one of Smith's classes and the two have worked together on research projects and grants.

"The outstanding quality of his instruction, his demonstration of fine scholarship, and his contributions across the university, in the state of Michigan, and in our field make him an ideal candidate for this prestigious award," Smith said in her nomination letter.

Keating has taught or served as an assistant in a variety of courses at all levels, including classes in introductory organizational communication, family communication and all three interpersonal communication courses for undergraduates.

"The fact that he has served as a solo instructor in all but two of these courses attests to the fact that our department acknowledges Dave's acumen in the classroom," Smith said. "Dave is a teacher who spends a lot of time thinking about the best way to teach students about various aspects of communication. He embraces the principles of cooperative and experiential learning."

Beyond the classroom, Keating is busy conducting research and has authored four refereed journal articles. He has presented his work at national and international conferences and engages undergraduate students in his research.

Evan Perrault

awards-2-facultyPerrault has been a graduate teaching assistant for 12 semesters.

"I am honored to have received this award and to be placed in the same company as some truly great scholars and educators in the field of communication arts and sciences," Perrault said.

He was nominated for the Excellence-In-Teaching Citation by Kami Silk, Associate Dean of Graduate Studies, Director of the M.A. program in Health and Risk Communication, and Professor in the Department of Communication.

Silk has been Perrault's adviser the entire time he has been at MSU. Perrault also has served as both a teaching and research assistant for Silk.

"Evan excels in the classroom. He masters course material, creates a positive classroom culture, is responsive to students (and they respond to him), and is innately interested in creating effective learning experiences for students," Silk said in her nomination letter.

"Evan is approachable, accessible and determined to help students learn. He tackles every class with energy, poise and high standards. He recognizes that his job is to engage students in the learning process any way that he can, and he communicates material so that students grasp concepts easily."

Perrault is working on completing a teaching certificate offered by the graduate school and participated in the 2013 Preparing Future Faculty for the Assessment of Student Learning Institute, a three-day, university-wide, intensive teaching and learning institute to improve ways to assess student learning.

He also has been awarded competitive research funds through the College of Communication Arts and Sciences and a Dissertation Completion Fellowship for his research, which focuses on how doctors can best present themselves through online biographies. This research aims at identifying the characteristics patients value knowing about in a biography and those that ultimately inform their decision-making. He has already had a manuscript accepted for publication, with others under review.

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