Molly Bauer ’19 and Heather Deiner ’19, accompanied by Associate Professor Amanda Sturgill, traveled to the University of Oklahoma March 3-4 to present their respective research topics.
While the School of Communications hosted prospective Communications Fellows last weekend, two current students were halfway across the country, sharing their undergraduate research – a hallmark of the Fellows program.
Accompanied by Associate Professor Amanda Sturgill, Molly Bauer ’19 and Heather Deiner ’19 presented their respective research topics at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication’s Midwinter Conference. The two-day event held March 3-4 at the University of Oklahoma draws communication faculty and graduate students from all over the world to present original communications research.
The sophomores both led 15-minute presentations in sessions where the other participants were either graduate students and professors.
Bauer presented research stemming from her paper titled “Equity through technology: Do school districts provide information in a useful way?” The strategic communications major co-authored the paper with Sturgill and Sarah Maben, an assistant professor of communications studies at Tarleton State University.
The trio evaluated the websites of the 100 largest by enrollment school districts in the United States for mobile friendliness, compliance with disabled accessibility guidelines and usability. They concluded that the parents of a substantial portion of 11 million children who are lower income or are disabled would have challenges getting information on school districts and schools.
Bauer emphasized the importance of their research by noting that 10 percent of Americans are smartphone-dependent for internet access and 20 percent of Americans have a disability.
“If parents in these groups aren’t able to access the same information that other parents can, it will only set these students further behind their classmates and deepen digital and educational divides,” she said. “Every parent should have the same ability to access the information they need to help their child succeed in school.”
While the sophomore said she expected to encounter some issues with the school websites, Bauer said she was “shocked when we found that three quarters of them have accessibility problems.”
Deiner also presented findings from a paper she co-authored with Sturgill titled “Je Suis Slactiviste?: Sending support across borders through profile photo change on social media.” The duo examined listener responses to an NPR query about why people adopted or did not adopt the French flag filter that Facebook offered for profile pictures following a terror attack in France.
Deiner and Sturgill concluded that even relatively small engagement with social movements causes a lot of internal and external questioning of motives.
Sturgill applauded the two Communications Fellows for their “polished presentations” and emphasized the significance of their conference participation.
“It’s a big deal for a sophomore to get up and present in front of dozens of faculty and graduate students from top universities,” the professor said. “It’s a credit to the strength of our students and our undergraduate research program that Elon is able to do this.”
This is the second time Sturgill has accompanied an Elon undergraduate to present at the AEJMC Midwinter Conference. In 2015, the professor and strategic communications major Mattie Gainer ’15 shared their joint research paper, “Tweeps as sources: A comparison of legacy and new news outlets.”
Having already traveled to Iowa, Florida and Georgia with different Elon programs, Bauer has been avid traveler during her two years on campus. And she relished the opportunity to visit Oklahoma, noting “I never get tired of exploring and learning about a new part of the country.”
Likewise, she’s come to enjoy the challenges of research and tackling a subject she’s captivated by.
“This whole experience has made me love the research process – something that I previously knew very little about,” she said. “Anyone in any field can love research if you have a topic that you’re interested in and passionate about.”
The students also found the conference and presentation setting far more inviting than intimidating.
“Everyone at the conference was so friendly and genuinely interested in learning about and improving each other’s work,” Bauer said. “Heather and I especially felt a ton of support since we were the youngest ones there. Even though we were the least accomplished presenters, we felt so welcomed by everyone, which made presenting feel so easy and comfortable.”