Assistant Professor of Journalism, Department of Communication
What year did you start working at NIU? 2015.
Where is your hometown, and where do you live now?
I have lived many places in my life, but the closest I have to a hometown is Lockport, IL. I currently live in North Aurora.
Where did you attend college and what degree(s) have you earned?
Truman State University, B.A. in Communication with an emphasis in Journalism. Northern Illinois University, M.A. in Communication Studies. University of Illinois at Chicago, Ph.D. in Communication.
What do you like about working at NIU?
My entire collegiate experience from my undergraduate studies through my Ph.D. program was at a public university. I would not be where I am today if it were not for affordable higher education and support from scholarships and other financial resources. What I like about NIU is its commitment to the mission of a public university and its efforts to make higher education more attainable to a diverse group of people. I have experienced this commitment and these efforts as both a graduate student and now as a faculty member.
What advice would you give to students currently attending NIU?
I always encourage my students to think of learning as an ongoing process. No major sports figure or musician rose to be the best at what they do on the first day they started playing a sport or instrument. Learning is work, hard work. My job as an educator is to help guide students in their understanding of how to learn, so that when they graduate, they have the critical thinking and other necessary skills to continue learning and growing.
Tell us about a research or engaged learning project you have led.
I love my research because it is so much fun: it involves robots and artificial intelligence. My area of specialty is human-machine communication. Most people think of communication research as the study of how people interact human-to-human, either face-to-face or via a technology, such as a mobile phone. I focus on understanding how people communicate human-to-machine and how people make sense of emerging technologies, such as Apple's Siri, as a communicative other. I also am interested in technologies that we interact with indirectly. For example, in automated journalism, specialized software produces basic reports from data that is then distributed to an audience. Beyond the details of how people interact with these technologies and think of these devices as communicators, I also consider the larger implications for our society and the relationships being formed and reconfigured among humans and machines.
What do you hope students take away from your class?
The way that many people understand artificial intelligence, robots, and technology more generally is heavily influenced by the media. A great deal of what I focus on, particularly regarding AI and robots, is helping students get beyond the "myths" surrounding these technologies. What I hope they take away is that technology is more than a tool made of physical pieces: technology is constructed and enacted socially with implications for individuals and society.
What is your favorite campus event?
It is not really an event, but I do like listening to the campus bells.
What is your favorite memory of NIU?
My husband graduated from SIU, and one of my favorite memories is attending a football game with him when NIU was playing SIU.
Who has influenced your professional path?
I have been lucky that numerous people from many different aspects of my life have had a huge impact on my professional path. Key influences include my late grandmother, who was always learning something new, and my husband, who helped me on my journey through graduate school. Faculty in NIU's Department of Communication also encouraged me to continue my graduate studies after I completed my master's here, and that is one of the key reasons I returned after obtaining my Ph.D.
What did you want to be when you were growing up? Are you currently doing it? If not, what changed your path?
When I started my undergraduate studies, my goal was to become a researcher either in oncology or epidemiology. I was fascinated by biology and other sciences, but I just wasn't into the lab research. I thought I would prefer teaching high school science or math, and began taking additional math classes. I soon realized that teaching in high school was not for me. I didn't really know of any non-academic careers in math or science; this was 20 years ago before STEM initiatives for women. I had always liked public speaking, so I took a few communication courses and chose that as my final major. After graduating, I worked as a newspaper journalist for several years before returning for my master's here at NIU. My initial goal was to update my professional skills, but then I had the chance to teach and conduct research at the collegiate level. Long story short, what I am doing today allows me to draw from my various educational and professional experiences, and I enjoy it immensely.
Are you a member of or hold a position within a professional organization? If so, what organization? What is the purpose of that organization and how does being part of this organization benefit you in your role at NIU?
I am currently the inaugural chair of the Human-Machine Communication Interest Group of the International Communication Association. This is an exciting position because this group is the first of its kind within the study of communication and includes scholars from more than 28 different countries. I also am a member of the Association of Internet Researchers, the National Communication Association, the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, the SIGCHI for the Association for Computing Machinery, and the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence.
What do you do to relax or recharge?
I love to travel, but that is impossible right now. I'm focusing on my other hobbies: gardens, British mysteries, and food. I have even found a way to combine my hobbies by listening to audiobooks of British mysteries while gardening and cooking.