By Angelena Lufrano
December 6, 2018
For most students studying the social sciences and liberal arts, opportunities to conduct research are not available until graduate school. However, Dr. Matthew Savage of the School of Communication developed a program to change that.
“I developed the Research Apprenticeship Program (RAP) last spring and it was implemented this fall semester,” said Dr. Savage. “Before, there really wasn’t a systematic approach to recruiting and training undergraduate Communication students to get involved in faculty research. There tends to be high expectations for undergraduate students to be consumers of research, but less often are they given a chance to actually be involved in the process. RAP is designed to pair driven undergraduate students with faculty mentors, allowing students to choose from a wide range of topics that interest them.”
Students apply for the fall-only program and if selected are assigned an apprenticeship with a faculty member or advanced graduate student. The program currently serves eight students working on various projects that represent the wide range of topics investigated in the School of Communication. Many of these studies are done by faculty who work on projects in the new SDSU Center for Communication, Health, & the Public Good. Professors currently working with RAP students include Dr. Savage, Dr. Rachael Record, Dr. Tiffany Dykstra-DeVette, Dr. Wayne Beach, Dr. Heather Canary, Dr. Colter Ray, and Dr. Lourdes Martinez.
Dr. Savage’s apprentice is Katie Milne, a senior studying communication and psychology. Their research involves studying how perceptions of intimate partner violence are affected by how stories are framed in the media, the sexual orientation of the couple, the way violence is presented, etc.
“Graduate students are the ones expected to conduct research,” said Milne. “For a lot of undergraduates, like myself, you can’t really understand the ins and outs of it until you’re actually doing it. So, if I hadn’t had this experience, I would’ve never even known my interest in conducting research.”
Milne is also one of the very few undergraduate students to present her research at the National Communication Association (NCA) Convention, which she did at this year’s convention in November.
“My experience at the NCA Convention was amazing,” said Milne. “Dr. Savage introduced me to his former colleagues and I had the chance to pick their brains a bit about career paths and navigating the world of academia. Everyone was so encouraging and congratulated me on being able to present.”
At the convention in Salt Lake City, Utah, Milne presented the research she and Dr. Savage had conducted to a group of Health Communication experts, an impressive feat for an undergraduate student.
“It was such an incredible experience,” said Milne. “I can’t thank Dr. Savage and the School of Communication faculty enough for getting me involved. Seeing all the work we’ve done come to fruition by presenting at NCA was one of the best experiences of my academic career. I’ve been able to work on a topic I’m incredibly passionate about, and our research will hopefully assist journalists in how they frame news stories in ways that make all victims feel supported.”
Her experience in RAP has given Milne an entirely new perspective and appreciation of research, especially within the field of Communication.
“I think it’s really important for undergrads in the liberal arts to get involved with research,” said Milne. “It’s such an interesting intersection of hard science and the humanities, and oftentimes has a huge impact on people’s day-to-day lives. I think research within the liberal arts and humanities largely goes unappreciated, but it oftentimes dictates how we live our lives.”
RAP is currently only offered within the School of Communication, but with its continued success, Dr. Savage hopes to expand the program throughout the college, and to other social science programs.
“Our goal is to continue this program each fall with new cohorts of undergraduate students interested in research across a range of faculty expertise,” said Dr. Savage. “I hope this is something that can be implemented across PSFA and be extended to provide more SDSU students with opportunities to learn from faculty how to discover answers to important questions.”
The content within this article has been edited by Lizbeth Persons.News List