Sixteen Undergraduates Present Senior Honors Theses

This year, 16 Penn seniors wrote an honors thesis and/or a Communication and Public Service Capstone Thesis as a required part of their ComPS concentration. All will graduate with honors at Annenberg’s Communication major graduation ceremony this month.

On April 27, these students presented the culmination of their year of work on their Communication theses at a poster session held in the Annenberg School Plaza Lobby. The students had previously presented their theses to a panel of faculty and fellow students.

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 anti-Trump graffiti to long distance relationships to the opioid crisis, their subjects span the field of Communication:


Julia Becker
Street Art at the U.S.-Mexico Border: An Analysis of Anti-Trump and Pro-Immigrant Street Art Across Five States
Thesis Advisors: Marwan M. Kraidy, Kim Woolf

The U.S.-Mexico border region and immigration is a hot-button issue in American politics. By doing a textual, semiotic analysis of street art found in border communities, Becker explores how street art is created with both material and virtual audiences in mind. Strategically placed anti-Trump, anti-border wall, and pro-immigration artwork demonstrate the ways in which street art functions as a subversive and creative genre for dissent in the public forum, now increasingly shaped by digital media.


Jacob Gardenswartz
After Gawker: Lawsuits Against News Media in the Trump Era
Thesis Advisors: David Eisenhower, Eran Ben-Porath

Media are under attack in the court of public opinion, but should they also fear a crackdown from the court of law? After a number of recent court cases resulted in major payouts awarded to anti-media defendants, some are wondering whether the “golden age” of media law has come to an end. This thesis research employs quantitative and qualitative research methods to explore lawsuits against news organizations and their impact on the practice of journalism.


Evangeline Giannopoulos
The Comparative Effects of American and Norwegian Television Sexual Content on American Adolescent Sexual Intentions, Attitudes, and Knowledge
Thesis Advisors: Kim Woolf, Eran Ben-Porath

Through an online experiment, Giannopoulos sought to better understand the differing effects of American and Norwegian television sexual content on American adolescent sexuality. Though results were not statistically significant, descriptive trends were seen including that Norwegian content is associated with a higher perception of peer sexual behavior and higher familiarity with different forms of birth control while American content is associated with a higher perception of peer risky sexual behavior and higher knowledge of birth control usage.


Karissa Hand
"Americanism, Not Globalism": Working-Class White Support for Donald Trump as a Product of Cultural Angst in the Globalized Era
Thesis Advisors: David Eisenhower, Eran Ben-Porath

Through secondary data analysis of the Kaiser Family Foundation/CNN’s Working-Class Whites poll (2016) and a rhetorical analysis of Trump campaign speeches and advertisements, Hand finds that Working-Class White support for Donald Trump was fueled more by cultural and sociotropic concerns than economic concerns. Working-Class Whites primarily opposed globalization because they felt that members of their group had not been treated fairly in this new globalized system while other groups were unfairly benefiting at their expense.


Angela Ip
Making It Work: Technology & Conflict in Long-Distance Romantic Relationships
Thesis Advisors: Jessa Lingel, Kim Woolf

Given the high prevalence of long-distance romantic relationships (LDRRs) among college students, Ip explores how such couples use technology to communicate on a regular basis, and how they manage relational conflict when it arises. Among other findings, Ip found that couples rely heavily on video chat, and that distance between partners can either cause conflict, or improve conflict resolution.


Jackie (Eun Jin) Kim
Apps for Healthy Kids: A Study on Mobile Applications to Tackle Childhood Obesity
Thesis Advisors: Joseph N. Cappella, Eran Ben-Porath

Mobile applications offer a novel way to tackle childhood obesity and engage children in healthy behavior change. Through app content analysis and Twitter data analysis, this research assesses whether mobile apps targeting childhood obesity conform to best practice and to see whether they meet user expectations. This two-fold assessment provides insights into the types of apps that potential users might like and find useful as well as how future apps could be improved.


Youlim Lee
A Comparative Study of Attitudes Toward Online Privacy: China and the United States
Thesis Advisors: Guobin Yang, Eran Ben-Porath

Online privacy is a legally contested concept. Lee reviewed privacy literature in the US and spoke with ten WeChat users in China to gain a deeper insight into people’s attitudes toward data protection. She found that Americans show resignation whereas Chinese exhibit a lower level of perceived risk despite government surveillance and dominance by WeChat. She urges for a more contextualized definition of online privacy that bridges the cultural and historical gaps between the two nations.


Rebecca López
Perceptions & Petitions: Examining Online News Media Effects on Attitudes Toward Latinx Immigrants
Thesis Advisors: Emile Bruneau, Kim Woolf

Much pre-existing research details the historically negative framing of Latinx immigration in news media. López's study attempts to understand how this representation influences audiences in the current political climate. She conducted an experiment analyzing media effects, randomly assigning participants to a positive, negative, neutral, or no-video control group and then surveying their relevant attitudes toward Latinx immigrants as well as toward various immigration policies.


Haley Mankin
Side Effects of Sponsorship: Examining the Impact of Big Pharma Donations on Patient Advocacy Organizations' Websites
Thesis Advisors: David Eisenhower, Kim Woolf

Although hospitals have regulated interactions between big pharma and physicians for over a decade, there are currently no policies governing the relationship between the same industry and patient advocacy organizations (PAOs) that communicate directly with patients. How is the influence of pharma funding apparent on the websites of PAOs? Mankin found, through a textual analysis of 14 PAOs, that influence is visible through treatment recommendations, methods of soliciting revenue, and prominent visual branding.


Adam Mansell
Opioids Crisis and Rural Communication: An Ultrarapid Assessment in Overton County, Tennessee
Thesis Advisor: David Eisenhower, Eran Ben-Porath

In the state of Tennessee, the rapid increase of prescription drug abuse and addiction disproportionately affects rural areas. In this ethnography, Mansell uses the World Health Organization’s Rapid Assessment and Response modules to capture a community’s perspective on the communication efforts regarding the opioid crisis in rural Tennessee. In-depth interviews with ten key players in resolving the crisis in Overton County, Tennessee, reveal several organizational, physical, and engagement barriers to the communication of health information.


Ashley Marcus

Tell Me What Happened: An Evaluation of Forensic Question Strategies Used With Child Sexual Assault Victims
Thesis Advisors: Ken Winneg, Kim Woolf

Upon receiving a report of child sexual abuse, forensic interviewers speak with the child in question and attempt to elicit detailed information about the allegation. This information then aids in an investigation and, often, a legal proceeding. Marcus conducted and analyzed 13 interviews to examine the effectiveness of select question strategies, the cognitive and age-related considerations to modifying question strategies, and the barriers to children disclosing sexual abuse.


Fiorella Medina
Nixon, Trump, and the War Against the Press: A Comparative Analysis of Presidential Media Strategies
Thesis Advisors: David Eisenhower, Eran Ben-Porath

President Trump’s crusade against the press has become reminiscent of Richard Nixon’s war against the press in the late 20th century. By turning to previous lessons about Nixon’s presidential confrontation with the press, this study aims to provide further understanding of how changes in the media environment and socio-political context have transformed presidential media relations and the nature of presidential media strategies in order to address the future of the current Trump-Media war.


Leo Page-Blau
Orientalism in Western Coverage of Terrorism: Comparing the 2015 Beirut and Paris Attacks
Thesis Advisors: Barbie Zelizer, Kim Woolf

Focusing on a case study comparison between the 2015 Paris and Beirut attacks, Page-Blau's thesis is a qualitative and quantitative examination of how Western media reports on terrorist attacks based on whether they take place in Europe or the Middle East.

Casey Seivright (not pictured)
Communication and the Justice Gap in Domestic Violence: Conversations with Pro Bono and Pro Se Participants in Two Cities
Thesis Advisors: Susan Haas, Eran Ben-Porath

This thesis seeks to contribute toward a deeper understanding of the justice gap as it pertains to domestic violence cases by applying a communication lens. Data was collected through a two-pronged approach: in-depth interviews with providers of legal assistance (pro bono attorneys and staff) and a discussion with women who have navigated the court system without representation (pro se litigants). The findings revealed that meaningful attorney interaction is crucial in accessing justice.


Shelley Shim
Hashtag Activism in the March for Science: Network Mapping for Geographic Location and Community Detection
Thesis Advisors: Sandra González-Bailón, Kim Woolf

Shim's thesis employs network mapping to analyze the March for Science, which is a global social activist movement that primarily expanded online in the form of hashtag activism. It outlines the main hashtags in the network as well as the strength and connections between different March for Science locations, finding implications that were related to geographic proximity, varying communities of interest, and community detection.


Sally (Myung Jin) Shin
Going Viral: The Role of Emotions on Shares of Online Advertisements
Thesis Advisors: Eran Ben-Porath, Kim Woolf

Shin examines what types of emotions evoked by an ad predicts its virality. Through a content analysis of widely shared video ads and a 2 (valence: positive, negative) x 2 (emotionality: high, low) experiment, Shin reveals that ads that evoke positive emotions are significantly more likely to be shared than those that evoke negative emotions, and ads that are more emotion-laden are significantly more likely to be shared than those that are less emotional.