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James Bingaman and Allie White, the first UD students to earn doctorates in communication, owed their success to teaching and research opportunities.
Ahead of its 50th academic year, the University of Delaware's Department of Communication celebrated a new milestone. On May 27, James Bingaman and Allie White became the first students to earn doctorate degrees in communication since the department launched the Ph.D. program in fall 2019. The new grads expressed their gratitude for the supportive faculty, who provided the resources and opportunities they needed to succeed.
“When people ask, 'How is UD? What's the program like?' My reply is 'opportunity,'" said Bingaman. “My best friend is in a Ph.D. program, and he hasn't had nearly the opportunities that I've had, both teaching and research," said Bingaman.
“And second to that is the support to pursue those opportunities. I've never not had funding for conferences," said White. The program's team science orientation helped. “I've really appreciated that exposure to other faculty members and other students and their ideas through the research teams."
As the students progress through the four-year program, they develop their specializations and interests. First-year graduate students teach the department's public speaking course — a requirement for several undergraduate academic programs across UD. They also take on roles as teaching and research assistants.
As quantitative scientists, Bingaman and White use statistical analysis to understand the relationships between a complex society and communication processes. Bingaman studies media effects, strategic communication, and public opinion across sports and science. White specializes in health and strategic communication, with a focus on individual-level behavior change and prediction.
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A native Australian with a lifelong interest in sports, Bingaman earned his M.A. in Mass Communication and Sports Media from Texas Tech University. Bingaman wanted a strong teaching background so he could find a job as an assistant professor. Between his time at UD and his prior experience at Texas Tech, he developed a robust record with six years of teaching under his belt.
Bingaman taught three undergraduate courses and one graduate course at UD. “It got to the point where I could build my own classes. That helped me build a foundation to get a professor position," he said. This fall, he begins a new role as a tenure-track assistant professor with the College of Agriculture, Food, and Environmental Sciences at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo.
Bingaman has been recognized for his research. In 2022, he won the Top Student Paper Award in the Sports Communication Interest Group at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication conference. In the same year, he earned the Top Paper Award in the Media Communication Division from Eastern Communication Association.
When he applied to UD, Bingaman requested to work with Paul Brewer, Ph.D., a professor of communication and political science. “I was super interested in the idea of media effects and public opinion. And I don't think I know anybody better to look at that stuff than Paul Brewer," said Bingaman.
Bingaman expanded his initial sports media focus with research on science, technology, political communication, and environmental communication. He teamed up with Brewer as his research assistant and worked with fellow Ph.D. students on several grant-funded projects to study artificial intelligence. The team published journal articles on public opinion and attitudes about artificial intelligence, facial recognition technology, and CRISPR images. Bingaman also worked with Brewer to study public opinion about space exploration and paranormal beliefs.
In other projects, Bingaman partnered with Scott Caplan, Ph.D., a professor of communication, on an analysis of former President Donald Trump's social media behavior. He worked with John Crowley, Ph.D., an associate professor of communication, on a study to protect consumers against misleading sustainability claims and greenwashing by apparel and footwear marketers.
“Merging sports and science is the next opportunity that I have, looking at technology, environmental issues and climate change in the world of sport," said Bingaman. “Increasingly what we're seeing is sports are becoming far more technologically driven. What does that look like for consumers and athletes?"
White holds an M.S. degree in Health and Strategic Communication from Chapman University in California. At UD, she spent three years as a research assistant for Department Chair and Rosenberg Professor Kami Silk, Ph.D., and Amy Bleakley, Ph.D., a professor of communication who also served as White's advisor. In addition to her research work, White taught two undergraduate courses and served as a teaching assistant for three courses.
Through a grant awarded to Bleakley from the National Institute of Health, White and cohort members researched COVID-19 masking behavior and intentions to comply with public health policies. “Through my research assistantship, I trained undergraduate coders for the COVID-19 grant," said White. “I managed them for a year-and-a-half."
White worked with Silk on a chapter in the International Encyclopedia of Health Communication on scholarly investigation of measures to prevent suicidal behavior. She also collaborated with cohort members on a study of college students and how they seek support from peers to manage their mental health.
For her dissertation, White studied the impact of media on the sexual identity development process of emerging adults who identify as queer. “Once I started doing some digging, I found queer populations are largely underrepresented in communication research. That was more incentive for me to go that route," said White.
To understand how media can provide positive support for emerging adults, White surveyed 341 college students to investigate which media they used most often to learn about sex. Her research was published in the journal Sexuality & Culture. She found that participants learned about sex most frequently from television. This suggested a relation between television content and support of sex-positive scripts (the interactions that underlie sexual relationships). These scripts have been associated with more open sexual communication.
White hoped future studies will replicate the results with a predominantly LGBTQ + sample. “Especially with the queer community, if they are turned away from their family and they don't have supportive parents, they can get that support through that normative messaging and media."
“I'm looking at user experience researcher jobs because they incorporate the skills that we've learned throughout this program and apply them in real-world contexts," said White. She hoped to work for a nonprofit organization that serves the queer community, such as the Human Rights Campaign or the Trevor Project. “With the user experience research, you can have immediate input and influence decision-making for very timely developments and help people through their media."
Bingaman and White credited Silk with setting a collegial tone early on. Jobs in academia may be scarce, but Silk reminded the cohort they weren't in competition with each other. “We are each running our own race, we've got our own interests, our own topics," said Bingaman.
“We really did all prioritize being friends and friendly and supportive over trying to get opportunities from each other," said White. “We created an environment because there was nothing that existed before us." The collegiality was evident to peers outside UD when the cohort attended the National Communication Association Convention in November 2019. “We went to each other's conference panels," said White. “I remember being really proud of us for cultivating solidarity."
Bingaman and White remained focused despite the sweeping effects of COVID-19. “Our program's first year was when we all ended up at home," said James Angelini, Ph.D., the department's associate chair. “They were a very special group, and we were very lucky to have them as our inaugural cohort in the program."
“Even during the pandemic, they were performers and accomplished a significant amount of research and teaching during their time with us," said Silk. “I think about both of them moving on and it is hard to imagine the program without their steadfast presence."
“One thing that really stands out about both Allie and James is their work ethic and love for research," said Silk. “I think they are going to be trailblazers in our discipline, and I can't wait to see their future scholarship."
UD's Department of Communication is committed to the study and practice of human communication in a wide variety of contexts, including interpersonal communication, media communication and public relations. Beyond the classroom, the department puts student learning into practice through internships, experiential learning on and off campus, and access to a vast alumni network. Learn more at www.communication.udel.edu.
Article by Stephanie Doroba, images courtesy of Department of Communication, graphic by Stephanie Doroba
Published June 12, 2023