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SoCJ Graduate Students Present Capstone Projects

2024 socj masters students pose for a photo
2024 socj masters students pose for a photo
Back row: Brenda Hoffman, graduate programs director; Ishita Sharma; Josef Moses; Kelsie Radziski; Ashley Pavlakis; Samantha Rutt; Laura Lindenfeld, dean of SoCJ. Front row: Menka Suresh, Jessica O’Connor, Abigail Bender, David Despain.

This spring, eight soon-to-be graduates from the School of Communication and Journalism (SoCJ) presented their master’s capstone projects to an audience of their peers, faculty and staff. The projects ranged from online social science research to a newsletter focusing on reproductive health.

This is the first year the SoCJ has had graduates from both of its graduate programs: the Master of Science in Journalism and the Master of Science in Science Communication. 

“These capstone experiences give our graduate students the opportunity to synthesize everything they’ve learned in their degree work and apply it to real-world situations,” said Laura Lindenfeld, dean of the SoCJ and executive director of the Alda Center for Communicating Science. “Their projects explore what factors influence how people get information, and which strategies will best reach those audiences. As media and technology continue to change how information travels through society, I’m proud that our students are thinking creatively and trying new approaches.”

The students collaborate with a faculty mentor on a project of their choice. For students in the science communication program, projects can take the form of original academic research or content developed to engage a specific audience. Journalism graduate students’ projects often consist of an in-depth, far-reaching piece of journalism.

 

Master of Science in Journalism Candidates

Kelsie Radziski: Period Pulse

Radziski recognized a need for accessible, quality information about uterine health, and created Period Pulse, a Substack newsletter designed for young adults and full of accessible, engaging information. As news consumption changes and people increasingly look to tailor their news experience, subscription-based newsletters like Radziski’s are growing in popularity. 

“I am definitely continuing Period Pulse,” said Radziski. “I have put so much time, thought and effort into it, and my passion has grown tenfold since the start. My future career plans are to become a reporter or editor, but if I can turn my newsletter into a financially feasible career opportunity, that would be the dream!”

Samantha Rutt: The Job Journal

Rutt decided to challenge traditional notions of career success by highlighting the impact and importance of the roles that make up the middle class workforce, something she claims is overlooked by mainstream media. 

“The media, driven by imperatives of engagement and market forces, has a natural gravitation toward the sensational,” said Rutt. “A bias towards the sensational skews our understanding of American life, painting a picture where struggle and opulence dominate while the ordinary triumphs and anxieties of the middle class fade into the background. The Job Journal seeks to bring some attention back to those in the middle, the middle working class.”

Rutt incorporated the data she collected into a limited-run Substack newsletter featuring interviews with middle-class workers and a detailed analysis of her approach to the topic. She serves as managing editor for Times Beacon Record News Media, a role she will continue after graduation. 

Ashley Pavlakis: A Look at Long Island

Pavlakis channeled her interest in multimedia journalism into a digital magazine that showcases Long Island’s hidden gems, many of which Pavlakis discovered are not marketed well to the public.  

“I wanted to take what I’ve learned and apply it to my love for LI by creating something really special,” said Pavlakis. “I loved getting to learn about the history of Long Island and the amazing things it has to offer, especially because I didn’t know about some of the places I visited.”

Pavlakis says she plans to expand the magazine to include topics such as food and nightlife, and bring it to Instagram to share content with a wider audience. 

Master of Science in Science Communication Candidates

Ishita Sharma: Effective Science Communication on Social Media for Astronomy and Physics

Sharma, who has a bachelor’s degree in physics and astronomy from Stony Brook, explored effective science communication on social media, focusing on physics and astronomy content. She sought to fill a gap in existing research by comparing people’s perceptions of social media content about the two subjects. 

Her research offers suggestions for creating content about astronomy and physics, particularly the importance of incorporating visuals and making accessible, short-form content like Instagram Reels or YouTube Shorts. 

Menka Suresh: Science Communication on Tik Tok

Suresh started making science content on Tik Tok in 2021 to help people learn about COVID-19 and its vaccines. The videos did well, and led Suresh to discover the field of science communication. For her capstone, she explored two facets of science communication on Tik Tok: comparing the performance of narrative-based and informational videos, and whether videos tended to perform better when they featured a female or male scientist.

Suresh says she plans to continue creating science content on social media and is working with her fellow classmate, Abigail Bender, and some friends to create an environmental podcast. 

Abigail Bender: Theater as a Science Communication Tool

Bender, who has a background in theater, explored the power of theater in science communication. Using recent climate research, she wrote three versions of a script for a 90-minute play, customizing each version to provide a different level of detail about the research. 

Bender’s project was in part inspired by her collaboration with associate professor of English, Ken Weitzman, on Science on Stage, an Alda Center program that brings together scientists, playwrights and professional actors to create scientifically accurate, engaging 10-minute plays. 

“I have been working to combine scientific research and theater performance since I was an undergraduate,” said Bender. “I was so incredibly excited when I found out that Ken Weitzman was working on Science on Stage not only because I would get to work on something I am passionate about but I would have the opportunity to work with someone who is interested in using theater for science communication.”

David Despain: Optimizing Nutrition, Diet, and Lifestyle Communication in GLP-1 Medication Therapy for Weight Management: A Qualitative Research Study with Registered Dietitians

Despain works as a nutritionist for Nestle Health Science and tailored his capstone to complement his job. He created a 10-episode podcast, based on findings from research he conducted for the capstone, discussing how communication about nutrition, diet and lifestyle could improve the performance of weight management drugs like Ozempic and Wegovy for patients with obesity.

He says he will submit his study to an academic conference or journal.

Jessica O’Connor: Health Literacy on COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy: A Meta-Analysis

O’Connor spent two semesters researching COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy with Ruobing Li, assistant professor of mass communication, and built off of that work for her capstone. She analyzed data from multiple studies to understand how health literacy influences vaccine hesitancy. She found that overall, increased health literacy leads to individuals being more willing to take the COVID-19 vaccine.   

O’Connor is continuing to work with Li, and the pair will submit their research for publication this summer. She is seeking a job in medical writing or science communication and plans to apply to medical school. 

 

The past few years have seen tremendous growth for the SoCJ, including new degree programs. The science communication master’s program launched in Fall 2021. The journalism master’s program enrolled its inaugural cohort in Fall 2022. 

“Our students are not afraid to ask the tough questions, explore innovative and sometimes controversial topics, and go above and beyond to promote positive changes in society,” said Brenda Hoffman, graduate programs director and associate dean for academic affairs. “I’m so proud of the work and care our students take in producing their capstone projects. These projects give us a glimpse into the many ways that our students will go on to make a difference in the world through communication and journalism.”

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