Penn State Schuylkill students present research at ECA-USC 2024 conference

SCHUYLKILL HAVEN, Pa. — This spring, 12 student researchers had original research accepted into the Eastern Communication Association's James C. McCroskey and Virginia P. Richmond Undergraduate Scholars Conference (ECA-USC) held in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Each of the 12 students who submitted projects had at least one project accepted. Eleven of the students are Penn State Schuylkill students and one is a Penn State Hazleton student taught by Valerie Schrader, professor of communication arts and sciences, through the Corporate Communication Consortium. To be accepted, all research goes through a blind review process by faculty scholars in the discipline.

At the conference, the students presented a total of ten papers and seven poster projects. The projects were completed under the guidance of Schrader, and most were completed as part of the following classes: "CAS 101N: Introduction to Human Communication," "CAS 204: Research Methods in Communication," "CAS 252: Business & Professional Communication," "CAS 296: Independent Study," "CAS 403: Interpersonal Communication," "CAS 455: Gender Communication" or "CAS 496H: Advanced Honors Independent Study."

"I am so proud of this team of student researchers and their accomplishments at ECA this year,” Schrader said. “I'm impressed with not only their research and presentations, but also their support for each other, their intellectual curiosity, their work ethic and the kindness they showed towards others at the conference. They are all outstanding representatives of Penn State."

Faculty and alumni present top papers

In addition to the students' successes at ECA this year, faculty mentors Janelle Gruber, lecturer in corporate communication, and Schrader had their paper, "You Are More Than Just Your Gift: Facework and Idealization in Disney's ‘Encanto’,” selected as a top paper in the media communication interest group at the conference. Gruber also presented a work-in-progress with the rhetoric and public address interest group, and Schrader presented a paper derived from her book chapter on rhetorically analyzing performance elements in musical theatre to the interpretation and performance studies interest group.

Sophia Bates, who graduated in 2023 with a bachelor of arts in corporate communication and two minors in biology and in communication arts and science, received two awards at the conference. She was selected for the prestigious Centennial Scholarship, which will help fund a research trip to Japan for her thesis research, and she also earned a Top Graduate Poster Award. Bates is now a graduate student working toward a master's degree at James Madison University.

Top student paper award

Hayley Salen's paper, “Learning from the Past: A Rhetorical Analysis Applying Blair, Dickinson, and Ott's Assumptions of Public Memory to the Film ‘Escaping the Madhouse: The Nellie Bly Story,’ ranked second out of all undergraduate and graduate submissions to the rhetoric and public address interest group.

Student presenters at the Eastern Communication Association-Undergraduate Scholars Conference

"This year's team of student scholars represent almost every one of our four-year majors at Penn State Schuylkill, and most of them are pursuing one of our three communication minors,” Schrader said. “This was also the first year that we had a Penn State Hazleton student join the team. I love how the interdisciplinary environment of Penn State Schuylkill, the flexibility of our communication minors, and the shared courses of the Northeast Corporate Communication Consortium allow me to work with and mentor talented and hardworking students in different majors and even at other University College campuses."

  • Maleeha Banoa senior majoring in cybersecurity presented a paper titled “A Tale of Two Realities: A Rhetorical Analysis of Social Constructionism of Feminism in Social Media.” 
  • Karandhir Flora, a senior majoring in nursing with a minor in communication arts and mass media presented a paper titled “Finding Meaning through Game Play: Narrative Theory and Burkean Identification in the Video Game ‘The Last of Us.’
  • Kyla Guillermo, a senior majoring in nursing with a minor in communication arts and mass media presented a paper titled “Emotional Odyssey: A Rhetorical Analysis of Pixar's ‘Inside Out’ and Understanding Mental Health through Social Constructionism,” as well as a poster titled “Narratives of Power and Persuasion: Exploring Burkean Identification and Narrative Theory in ‘The Hunger Games’.”
  • Mikayla Kupstas, a third-year student majoring in nursing with a minor in communication arts and mass media, presented a paper titled “Gratefulness, An Additional Cognitive Dissonance Strategy: A Rhetorical Analysis of Cognitive Dissonance Theory in the Film ‘It's a Wonderful Life,’" as well as a poster titled "A Rhetorical Analysis of Novice Nurses' Identification through Cognitive Dissonance in ‘Call the Midwife.’”
  • Lily McDonald, a third-year student majoring in biology with a minor in communication arts and mass media, presented a poster titled “Social Constructionism and Conspiracy Theories: An Analysis of Mike Smith's ‘Out of Shadows.’”
  • Gretchen Pucklavage, a senior majoring in corporate communication at Penn State Hazleton, presented a poster titled “Exploring Male Communication Patterns in College Students' Interactions: An Observational Study.”
  • Hayley Salen, a senior majoring in psychology with three minors: communication arts and sciences, communication arts and mass media, and criminal justice, presented a paper titled “The Face of Grieving: An Autoethnographic Study of Grief,” as well as a poster titled “The Power of Messages in Music: A Rhetorical Analysis of Suicidal Ideation in the Song ‘45’ by Shinedown.”
  • Haley Sekellick, a senior majoring in corporate communication, presented a paper titled “Social Media's Impact on Mental Health: An Autoethnographic Study and Thematic Analysis.”
  • Poetic Session, a senior majoring in psychology with two minors: communication arts and sciences, and communication arts and mass media, presented a paper titled "My Dog Stepped on a Bee!: An Analysis of the Memeification of Domestic Violence through the Case of Amber Heard Using Social Constructionism, Framing, and Agenda-Setting,” as well as a poster titled, “The Rights of the ‘Uncivilized:’ Applying Social Constructionism and Agenda-Setting to Dehumanization Rhetoric in the Current Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.”
  • Sarah Tran, a third-year student majoring in biology with a minor in communication arts and mass media, presented a paper title “Sylvia Rivera's Contribution to Pride in America: A Rhetorical Analysis of the Rhetorical Situation in ‘Y'all Better Quiet Down.’” 
  • Marshaya Tucker, a third-year student majoring in nursing, presented a poster titled, “Exploring Social Constructionism in ‘I, Tonya’ through Rhetorical Analysis.”
  • Brendan Welsh-Lowe, a senior majoring in business, in the marketing/management option, with a minor in corporate communication, presented a paper titled “The ‘Face’ of Defense: Applying Goffman's Facework to the Wander Franco Allegation Situation.” 

Participating in the ECA-USC

Penn State Schuylkill encourages students to engage in undergraduate research as early as their first year of studies, across almost any discipline. Those interested in learning how to create conference-ready work for the ECA-USC can contact Schrader at [email protected].

Founded in 1910, ECA is the oldest professional communication organization in the country. The Undergraduate Scholars Conference was created in 2011 in honor of James McCroskey and Virginia Richmond, who strongly supported undergraduate research. Schrader has been taking Penn State Schuylkill students to the ECA-USC since 2013, and to date, Penn State Schuylkill has had 39 students present 85 original research projects at the USC alone. Several of these students have also been recognized with Top Paper and Top Poster Awards at the conference.

For more information about academic programs other scholarly opportunities available at Penn State Schuylkill, visit online or contact the Office of Admission at 570-385-6252.