The Department of Communication has added a new faculty member whose teaching focus spans the curriculum. Sara Stifano (Ph.D., University of Connecticut, 2016) joins the department as an Assistant Professor in Residence teaching interpersonal communication and multimedia production. Stifano will begin teaching in the department for the Spring, 2019 semester.
A native of Kentucky, Stifano began her academic career at the University of Louisville, gaining her bachelors and masters degrees while teaching Public Speaking and Gender in Communication. Stifano moved to Storrs to complete her doctoral work at UCONN in 2011, where she taught a host of courses over five years, including research methods, interpersonal communication, and small group communication among others. After completing her Ph.D., Stifano worked as a postdoctoral teaching associate at Northeastern University, where she taught several courses and aided in the development of online summer classes in the Communication Studies Department.
Stifano provides a unique approach to multimedia production as she joins the program. A former copy editor of the Louisville Cardinal independent student newspaper, Stifano has frequently found ways to merge the creation of media with her course assignments, including challenging research methods students to create effective public service announcements and distribute them online, and having students in her gender and communication course reimagine entire advertising campaigns that reinforce difficult gender stereotypes. “These kinds of projects are a practical application of the skills and theories being taught in the class,” Stifano says. “Today’s students are constantly connected, so these projects are a great way to use that to our advantage in the classroom.”
As part of her dissertation research, Stifano created film scenes to test the effects of varying different elements of safe sex narratives on audience reception. Eight variations on the scenes were created, with each subtly tweaking the story being told. The resulting experiment showed how viewers react to being “told what to do” in a narrative, compared to an expression of the feelings associated with a decision. Other tweaks adjusted the credibility of the protagonist when discussing normative behaviors for college students – comparing what viewers think when the narrator sounds like a knowledgeably social person, vs. when the narrator sounds like an outsider. Stifano thinks these kinds of research are important, because they help content creators know how to most effectively reach audiences with important messages. “Public Service Announcements often tell people what to do with little explanation why, and that can create a huge boomerang effect, especially if the people delivering the message aren’t relatable. We need to learn how to do a better job creating these messages.”
As she joins the multimedia production program, Stifano brings her diverse experiences merging research and multimedia to the program, looking for even deeper connections between the expansive research profile of the department of communication and our forward-thinking approaches to creative media. “There’s a lot we can do to connect our research to production,” Stifano says, “and we’ve already tossed around a few ideas that could really help to bring out the best in both. I’m excited to help.”
Stifano will begin contributing to the direction of the multimedia production program immediately, and is slated begin teaching sections of our fundamentals of digital production course this summer.