Friday, September 26, 2014

On Writing a Masters Thesis, pt. 001: Introduction

An introduction to my graduate thesis work on social media identity development


The school year is well underway and seeing as I am in my second year of #SAGrad, I am turning a lot of my focus on two things: my integrative thesis paper, and my eventual job search. However, for now, I must focus on creating my thesis! And I figured, what the hell?
Why not blog my progress! Note: Much of this first post is very preliminary—sort of a collection of thoughts, angles, potential. I am still working through many aspects of what this final paper will look like, I simply wanted to offer a working progress report on how this thesis writing process will take place for me.

The analytics from #NASPA14 were very impressive!

 Mission/Purpose: Let's talk about what I hope to accomplish with this thesis. In my heart, I have faith that institutions can engage with its students in a congenial, jovial manner—a manner in which students WANT to see what their institution is up to on social media. I have faith that institutions can establish policies of developing stronger relationships with their students through social media, which could influence retention, campus climate, and campus involvement. Sure, I can have faith I these things, but how do I go about proving or even discussing these things in a thesis. Social media are still relatively unproven in the eyes of the public, let alone in the scholarly world. So it would seem as though I have an uphill climb in some regards in trying to establish a Masters thesis about social media. However, I am determined. I know that our students are on social media.
I engage with our students on social media.
There is active learning and development happening on social media. Sure, some engage differently than others—I attribute this to the fact that students are constantly in different stages of identity development than others. Thus, since students are at such different stages, institutions and student affairs professionals must recognize that some students will not respond to certain modes of communication. If institutions/professionals don't make an effort to meet students halfway on social media, there will always be a disconnect. I currently work and study at an institution (UMass Amherst) that has a massive disconnect with social media and its student population. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, because I would argue that the vast majority of institutions are terrible at engaging students through social media. So, UMass is not alone in this. Yet, there is hope! Many administrators at UMass have placed trust in me to go forward in this research in hopes that it can influence and educate how we approach engaging students online, as well as how we develop policies around social media! Therefore, I am quite thankful that I have faith from my institution. Yet, it is also kind of intimidating. But here we go!

It's all about student development in social media.

Theory & Identity: Much of my mission in conducting this research for my thesis is rooted in my belief that social media can and does support the identity development of students. danah boyd (2014) discusses a phenomenon known as context collapse, which can be best described as instances when generations collide—e.g. parents feeling out of touch, youth feeling as thou older folks don't understand them. These collapsing contexts are the basis for why the mainstream media constantly harps the negative aspects of social media use among my generation and younger—the so-called, digital natives, These collapses not only harm the benefits of social media, they also create barriers between generations, which can be equally harmful if we ever want our society to coexist functionally online. My hope in developing this thesis will be to prove ways in which students utilize social media platforms and online technologies throughout their development—for better or worse. In doing this, I anticipate that these data will provide administrators, professionals, and faculty with useful information on how to support their students through social media instead of approaching the subject from a place of fear and confusion. If you have suggestions for lenses and/or perspectives for me to gauge this research through, please let me know! I am all ears!

Been reading that danah boyd book under the best circumstances.

Research: You must be wondering how I hope to obtain all of these data for my thesis work.
Or you aren't, in which case, GET READY TO LEARN ANYWAY! I am currently creating a social media survey that I hope to not only spread around to students at UMass Amhest, but also on the INTERNET! So, if you would like to be data in my thesis, please take part in my survey once I post it. Trust me, you'll know when it is posted. My primary assistantship is in the Center for Health Promotion at UMass, where I work on peer health messaging. This is my beacon of social media work this year. Through this work, I will be able to collect specific data on the many platforms our offices utilize on campus. I also have access to TAing a course on Embracing Diversity, which has over 125 students for potential surveying. Pretty excited to see how this goes. I am also doing a number of smaller pieces of research collection like utilizing a few focus groups with students here at UMass, as well as tracking a number hashtags during my research. There are also some books! Oh, you bet there are books in this research! Like many who are reading higher education books, I am going through Rey Junco's new release, "Engaging Students in Social Media: Evidence-Based Practices for Use in Student Affairs," for the purposes of this research. So get ready for some posts about his work. I am also going through danah boyd's latest release, "It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens." This book takes a more qualitative approach toward how social media and technology can function to benefit the development of student identity. In addition to boyd and Junco, I am reading Erving Goffman's 1959 book, "The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life." These three books, among many other articles, will contribute to how I develop my literature review for my thesis.

Excited for a book that can teach us
so much about how to support our
students through social media!

Questions Moving Forward: I have very high expectations for this thesis. And I realize that I’ve left much to be desired in this first blog post, but I look forward to filling in some of the gaps with the next post! I am very aware that this is going to be a challenging thesis to work on. I like challenges. I like creating new conversations and developing new data in he field of higher education. Here are some of the preliminary questions that have come up during the early stages of my thesis writing process:
- How do we differentiate between the factors that necessitate social media usage--i.e. person, process, service/platform, outcome/interaction?
- How can this research influence the development of social media policy on college campuses?

- How do social media platform challenge and transcend each other?

- If people aren’t interacting with an account is is still “social” media?

- Is active interaction a basis for definition of “social” media?

- Why should institutions invest in social media if there is no profit?

- What theories support students development through social media?

- How do students prefer to interact on social media?

- How do we maintain anonymity in an arena where we don’t have privacy?

- How do we manage past versions of ourselves?
So, there is my initial brainstorm about all of the chaos I am trying to work through in order to create this thesis. I am excited to continue blogging through this thesis writing process because I feel this will be a fun, transparent way to shed light on final projects in student affairs/higher education graduate programs. Hope you are all well. Get ready for part two shortly! - Craig.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Charm City Summer

Looking back at my time as a NACA Summer Intern

Now that my NACA summer internship at Towson University has been over for a month, I decided I should compile some final thoughts on the experience.

Granted, I have shared a lot over the course of the summer through my Twitter account and my video blog, which you can view here! Yet, there was much more to my experience than what was shared on social media.

Note: You can easily watch this handy dandy video—my last of the summer—that showcases some of my final thoughts and images from my summer experience.

Baltimore: The Charm City

When I got into Baltimore, I met up with my fellow intern colleague, Kristen Vega (@KristenVega4), who is from the University of Miami (Ohio), and she is a fireball! So much energy. I love it. So we got along from the get-go. And certainly made the most of our summer.

Here we are showing some love to the steps
of the Supreme Court in DC.
Being able to spend the summer alongside someone as passionate about student affairs as her was quite invigorating. We both came from the west coast originally, so life in Baltimore definitely took some adjustments.

However, that didn’t stop us from exploring the city together and on our own throughout our stay.

By a stroke of luck and genius on behalf of our supervisor, we were housed on the University of Baltimore-Maryland campus, which placed us in the middle of the city! It was a wonderful location for getting the Baltimore city experience.

I ate this huge apple turnover. All of it.

Yet, Baltimore is very charming—hence, its nickname, the Charm City. There are some absolutely beautiful villages and neighborhoods. AND THE FOOD! I loved running though the town, exploring and adventuring through a nearly endless tour of American culture.

Okay—enough about Baltimore.
Onto some of the lasting experiences from the internship itself

Towson University

Through all the chaos of arriving to a new institution, I came to recognize very early on that Towson University is a really neat institution. There are a lot of young professionals with very eager goals for their organizations. Every administrator and staff member has been incredibly warm and eager for fresh blood to be in the mix. And the initiatives on campus are very enlivening and innovative.

John Cena and I had a lot of fun exploring the Towson
campus this summer! Here is Stephens Hall.
 Towson isn’t a massive institution—around 22,000 students—yet, it is growing rapidly. It is just outside of Baltimore, so it is still somewhat of a commuter campus. Yet, within in seven years, enrollment has increased by 6,000 students. The campus is booming and there are many plans to build multiple new residence halls on campus very soon. So, you know…JOBS!

Towson is one of the fastest growing mid-size public institutions on the east coast, which allowed me to learn and work in a different institution that is quickly becoming a powerhouse in the Mid-Atlantic. It was refreshing to meet so many administrators who are dedicated to progressing high education, instead of reinventing the wheel. I felt like everyone I worked with actually gave a shit about their work and the students that worked in our offices.

Towson Flag and Maryland Flag!

I was granted an opportunity in Student Activities at Towson, which was a nice return to my event planning roots during my undergrad experience at Oregon State University. This return to form showed me that maybe going the student activities route is possible for me!

I never really considered going the route of Student Activities, but after learning a lot about social wellness and how the role of activities can benefit a campus community in many ways, I was hooked.

It was great to work with the Summers at Towson initiative.
Cannot wait to see how far it grows next year!
However, I’m still not sold that it is the route I will take—I’m still quite smitten with going the university relations route—yet, gaining the experience and the transferrable skills will surely help me in the long run.

Especially for job searching. Hooray. JOB SEARCHING!

Alas, I had a A LOT of fun doing student activities—as expressed through my video blog. We did a lot of different activities this summer and I’m so glad I was able to facilitate a fun summer for the Towson students this summer.

Took many students to see the Orioles play baseball!
NOTE: If you haven’t followed along with my Twitter or Instagram action, we put on so many events this summer! I have included many pictures throughout this blog, and here are the posters for both months that was had events this summer!


My supervisor was a badass named, Dirron Allen. He has been at Towson for nine years and has climbed his way up being the Director of Student Activities. Dirron is very straightforward—yet, chill. Dirron was equal parts motivational and challenging.

And I definitely feel that he shaped me a lot this summer.
He was honest, up front, and genuine.
He, and the rest of his staff, made sure I never felt alone in this job.

I was supported the entire way.
I recognize this isn’t a common experience for most folks in summer internships, so for that, I am grateful to have had such a positive experience.

So thankful to have had the support of such a brilliant
role model of supervision this summer.
Dirron was more than willing to answer my blunt questions about the landscape of race and gender in higher education. He was also very open throughout my time at Towson when discussing the realities of navigating higher education politics. I am thankful that I had such an open and honest supervisor to learn from this summer.

Dirron, practices the Building Blocks of Social Wellness in his supervision style—or, “The Nine” as he calls them. These nine facets comprise his personal version of Odidson’s Interpersonal Wellness System Model, where fun is simply the byproduct of student activities work. Dirron feels the worth of student activities is proven to Towson University through dedication to social wellness—so these nine fundamentals serve as the building blocks for his department to create a solid foundation as leaders and agents of change.

Final thoughts

Do a summer internship.
Especially if you are serious about entering the realm of student affairs and/or higher education.

I honestly went through NACA because it was the least invasive of the three internship programs (others: NODA & ACUHO-I). I also knew I didn’t want to do orientation work or housing over the summer, so being able to do student activities for the summer certainly shaped my experience quite a bit!

Baltimore on the Fourth of July was magical.
This summer—my first summer away from home—was highly valuable in a number of ways. Having a mental break from school was nice because year one of graduate school was certainly a mind-blowing in a number of ways. It was also quite freeing to be on my own with my recently acquired knowledge.

Living in Baltimore was definitely a social experiment for me. I’m not a big fan of cities; however, Baltimore was a great warm up to city life for me. Being in a completely different social environment opened my eyes to many alarming issues that are still incredibly rampant throughout our country—namely poverty, racism, and ridiculous elitism.

Finally, working at an institution like Towson was very refreshing because it had an ACTUAL diverse population of students. This was a nice change of pace for me since I’ve only worked at/attended predominantly white institutions (PWI). My perspective was changed in hearing many stories from student populations I would’ve never had access to if I hadn’t have this internship.

John Cena didn't want to leave.
Back to Mass!

All in all, leaving Massachusetts for the summer and being somewhere other than Oregon for the summer made this one of the most challenging and exhilarating summers of my life.

And now I am eager to return to work and class at UMass with a fresh set of eyes. I am ready to approach this year with revitalized excitement for the challenges in my way as I attempt to create some new research, as well as perform in an unconventional assistantship.

I get to pilot a series of mental/physical/sexual health marketing campaigns for the Center for Health Promotion this year. That should be fun! I also get to help in the development of the UMass Social Media policy committee as well as Social Media Wellness Week—so, needless to say, I am stoked to create some new things this year!

Hope you enjoyed this! And I hope it helps paint a picture of the experience of one #SAGrad during a summer internship!

Best of luck with the upcoming year!