Communication Studies Students Excel in Undergraduate Research

Communication Studies Students Excel in Undergraduate Research

In February, communication scholars from all over the western US gathered in Phoenix, Arizona for the annual Western States Communication Association (WSCA) conference. Among them were two CSU communication studies majors, Olivia Birg and Izzy Henry.

Two women in professional attire smiling in front of a colorful wall mural
Olivia Birg, on the left, and Izzy Henry, on the right, in Phoenix for the WSCA Conference

Senior Olivia Birg, a member of CSU’s chapter of the National Communication Association’s undergraduate honor society, and Junior Izzy Henry received funding from CSU’s Communication Studies Department to travel to Phoenix and give their first ever research presentation at WSCA together. These dedicated students worked diligently over many months to conduct original research and prepare their paper and presentation.

Undergraduate research begins with serendipity and hard work

Birg and Henry’s conducted research through the Research in Interpersonal Communication Collaborative (RICC), run by Associate Professor Meara Faw. RICC helps communication studies majors develop knowledge and skills in the social science research methodologies that faculty use. Communication researchers like Faw, Henry, and Birg investigate how people relate, work, connect, listen, meet, govern, organize, love, lead, age, and more.

Both students first discovered RICC through Faw’s Relational and Organizational Communication course (SPCM 130). They then followed up with Faw at her office hours. Henry’s office hours visit was particularly serendipitous: “When I walked into [Dr. Faw’s] office and mentioned what I was there to chat about, she showed me that coincidentally she was writing an email at the same time inviting me to apply for RICC! It was perfect timing,” Henry recalls.

Through RICC, Birg and Henry researched Family Communication Patterns Theory and its influence on listening skills and communication competence in adulthood. Birg explains Family Communication Patterns Theory as “to what extent your family valued having open conversations and compliance as a child, and how that affects how well you listen and communicate as an adult.”

To enable their research, Faw granted Birg and Henry access to a preexisting data set she had developed for a separate study. First, Birg and Henry did some literature analysis to review existing communication research and ensure they wouldn’t duplicate anyone else’s work. Then, using Faw’s data set, Henry and Birg researched the correlations between communication competence and different types of family styles. Their research culminated in a paper they wrote together and submitted to WSCA, where it was accepted for the Undergraduate Scholars Research Conference portion.

Unexpected results fuel the fire to learn more

Neither Henry nor Birg expected the results they uncovered in their research.

“We were fairly confident we would have at least one statistically significant finding. But, unfortunately, we didn’t. This was a tough lesson for Izzy and me to learn as it was a bit disheartening, but that’s the reality of research.” Birg explains. “Dr. Faw and Kylie Johnson,” a communication studies Ph.D. student and mentor at RICC, “encouraged us to take a perspective shift and acknowledge that this was not the result we wanted, but it’s still an important finding.”

Henry adds, “It was definitely hard and frustrating, but overall, that’s what research is, and it really just fueled our fire to learn and understand more!”

A supportive community at WSCA

Birg and Henry gave a presentation together on their research findings at the annual WSCA conference. The entire experience was marked by support from CSU faculty and students.

“Presenting at WSCA was an incredible experience,” Birg says. “However, even though it was a bit intimidating having professors of ours whom we truly respect in the audience, I also felt incredibly supported. Izzy and I had compared them to proud parents as every time either of us would make eye contact with them in the audience, they would be smiling and offering encouraging nods.”

Henry and Birg also joined other members of the CSU community at a CSU reception one evening at the conference.

A group of four women in professional attire wearing conference lanyards and smiling
From left to right, Dr. Meara Faw, Olivia Birg, Izzy Henry, and Kylie Johnson at WSCA after Birg’s and Henry’s research presentation

For Henry, WSCA provided an exciting environment to network with other communication scholars. “It was so exciting to be surrounded by people who ‘get it’ and love to talk about the same things that you do! I got to speak with professionals from many different universities, make important connections, and listen to new communication knowledge and understandings firsthand,” Henry says.

Similarly, Birg was excited to rub shoulders with experts whose names she recognized: “I also had a few fan girl moments over the weekend watching panels and seeing people in various presentation audiences whom I have cited in papers for my classes.”

For both students, the opportunities provided by conducting their own research through RICC and presenting at WSCA’s Undergraduate Scholars Research Conference have been key to their education as a whole. “Research has easily been one of the most influential pieces of my education here at CSU, and has taught me so much about determination, problem-solving, and excitement within the unknown!” Henry says.

Together, Birg and Henry also plan to present their research at CSU’s annual Celebrate Undergraduate Research and Creativity (CURC) Showcase on Thursday, April 20, at the University Center for the Arts.