Communication Majors Complete 2020 Senior Honors Theses

Ten Communication majors completed senior theses this year. These Penn seniors wrote an honors thesis and/or a Communication and Public Service (ComPS) thesis. All will graduate with honors at Annenberg’s Communication major graduation ceremony next month.

Typically, students present their thesis projects in person to a group of faculty, staff, and fellow students; however, due to courses moving to a digital format in light of the coronavirus crisis, this year students recorded their presentations and shared them online.

The Communication thesis course lasts two semesters and is taught by Kim Woolf, Ph.D., and Eran Ben-Porath, Ph.D. For the first semester, the students write research proposals that contain a literature review and detailed methodologies for their theses. During the second semester, the students complete data collection and write the thesis.

From the Hong Kong protests to children's television and mental health to presidential impeachment, their subjects span the field of Communication:

Maria FaglianoMaria Fagliano

“Title Acquisition Culture in the Young Adult Fiction Book Publishing Industry: A Qualitative Approach from the Perspective of Industry Representatives”
Thesis Advisors: Susan Haas, Eran Ben-Porath

This study focused on the decision-making process of the Young Adult fiction sector of the book publishing industry. Through participant interviews, the study aimed to understand where the industry is right now, how its culture operates, what the challenges are, and where it might go in the future. The results cast light on how this genre has focused on the trends generated by the need to create bestsellers and revenue for publishing houses, as well as the need for diversity and the reality of a saturated market.

Maura FayMaura Fay

“The Children's Television Industry's Approach to Mental Health and Mental Illness: A Multi-Method Study”
Thesis Advisors: Kim Woolf, Eran Ben-Porath

The goal of this thesis is to shed light on the presence of mental illness depictions in children’s television and offer insight on the industry’s approach to topics of mental health problems. Through both content analysis and participant interviews, the study finds that depictions of coping skills, depression, and anxiety are present in children’s programming. It also investigates the tension between society’s view of mental illness and the children’s television industry’s progress on the topic of mental health issues.

Samantha FelgoiseSamantha Felgoise

“The Interplay Between Digital and Physical Spaces: Peloton as a Case Study of Community Creation”
Thesis Advisors: Elisabetta Ferrari, Eran Ben-Porath

This study explores the creation and existence of communities between virtual and physical contexts. To understand this phenomenon, this study investigates the digital community that has emerged from the fitness company Peloton as a case study. The study aims to understand how digital communities are formed and how they thrive. By understanding how members use the unbound nature of the internet as a tool for community formation, we can gain a deeper understanding of how the experience of community can be adapted to new contexts.

Lilianna GurryLilianna Gurry

“Transforming the Media Regime in 47 Volumes: The Pentagon Papers Case and the Rise of Partisan Media”
Thesis Advisors: David Eisenhower, Kim Woolf

Previous literature has focused on the Pentagon Papers’ political influence, the history of media monopolies, and the current factional media industry, and this study fills the gap in research that fails to connect these entities. This study analyzes salient historical moments, such as presidential speeches, Supreme Court cases, and television show transcripts, to demonstrate the changing nature of the media environment over the course of time. The documents follow the history of the media industry over several decades and demonstrate the overturn of the old media regime into the new media regime.

Kayle HeKayla He

“Examining the Effects of Chinese and Western News on Perception of the 2019 Hong Kong Protest”
Thesis Advisors: Yphtach Lelkes, Kim Woolf

This research examined the effects of international news such as the New York Times and the effects of Chinese state-sponsored news such as the People’s Daily on the perception of the 2019 Hong Kong protest. The results showed participants who read Chinese news were more likely to consider the protest as violent, while both Chinese and international news made readers less likely to support the protest. Moreover, significant moderate correlations were found between participants’ support of the Chinese government and their belief that western countries were directing the protest.

He virtually presented her work as part of Penn's Center for Undergraduate Research & Fellowship's Spring Poster Session.

Elena HoffmanElena Hoffman

“A Good Neighbor? Examining Presidential Rhetoric on Wilsonian Foreign Policy in Central America”
Thesis Advisors: David Eisenhower, Eran Ben-Porath

Though the nearly 50-year conflict known as the Cold War never erupted into a ‘hot’ war between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., it nevertheless brought violence and upheaval to other regions, including Central America. By reviewing and analyzing five speeches President Ronald Reagan gave, this thesis seeks to identify and understand the influential factors behind American foreign policy in Central America during the 1980s, as well as the ways in which Reagan vocally justified intervening in the region to both Congress and the American public.

McKay NortonMcKay Norton

“Maladministration, High Crimes, and Misdemeanors: America’s Unending Debate on Presidential Impeachment”
Thesis Advisors: David Eisenhower, Kim Woolf

This study seeks to draw conclusions from the history of impeachment and analysis of impeachment rhetoric that can be used to evaluate future impeachment inquiries, as well as offer some explanations that explain the outcome of Donald Trump’s impeachment trial. This study combines historical analysis of the impeachment clause and of Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton’s impeachments with analysis of six speeches, two from each of the three inquiries studied, to make characterizations about each process that can be used to assess future Presidential impeachments.

Hadeel SaabHadeel Saab

“The Influence of Identity Priming on Voter Turnout: An Experimental and Computational Approach”
Thesis Advisors: Emily Falk, Eran Ben-Porath

It is essential that citizens who cast their votes in elections are representative of the population that elected government officials will represent and affect. However, young people have had historically low voter turnout rates and missed opportunities to make their voices heard in political decisions affecting their lives. Drawing on a large body of research suggesting that the ways we perceive ourselves can greatly impact our behaviors, this thesis tests the possibility of successfully mobilizing young voters through an identity priming intervention.

Tiffany WangTiffany Wang

“East Meets West: Evaluating the Impact of American Films on Taiwanese Political Perspectives”
Thesis Advisors: Rosie Clark-Parsons, Kim Woolf

This thesis assesses the impact of American films on the political beliefs of Taiwanese college students through survey data and participant interviews. The results suggest that Taiwanese young people may feel empowered by American films to defy the older generation and stand behind their more progressive political beliefs. As a result, this may have far-reaching political implications on the rocky relationship between China and Taiwan. Additionally, this study sheds light on the effects of the United States’ soft power exports and its continued influence on young people from different countries.

Wang’s thesis was accepted for (virtual) presentation at the American Association for Public Opinion Research's Annual Young Scholars Conference, and she virtually presented her work as part of Penn's Center for Undergraduate Research & Fellowship's Spring Poster Session.

Karen YangKaren Yang

“Lonely in the Digital Age: The Impact of Emotional Chatbots on Loneliness in College Students”
Thesis Advisors: Jessa Lingel, Kim Woolf

This study focuses on the impact of chatbots on levels of loneliness in college students, who represent an understudied but vitally important age cohort. It used a mixed methods approach that combined an experiment and in-depth interviews to examine the quantitative impact of chatbots on loneliness and the qualitative nuances of human-chatbot interaction. The analysis found that the majority of participants experienced a decrease in loneliness through chatbot interaction.

Yang virtually presented her work as part of Penn's Center for Undergraduate Research & Fellowship's Spring Poster Session.