Meet the frank 2018 Prize Finalists

The University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, in partnership with the Joy McCann Foundation, announces top three finalists for $10,000 public interest communications research prize

The University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications will award two $1,500 prizes and one $10,000 prize to peer-reviewed academic research that informs the growing discipline of public interest communications. Three finalists will present their work at frank, a gathering for social change communications practitioners, academics, philanthropists, business leaders and advocates who use strategic communication to drive social change. The event will take place in Gainesville, Florida, Feb. 6-9, 2018.

The audience will vote for the winner of the $10,000 Prize for Research in Public Interest Communications, sponsored by the Joy McCann Foundation. The finalists were selected from a pool of 44 applicants by a review committee of scholars and practitioners. Papers were considered based on their applicability to the field, contribution to public interest communications as an interdisciplinary academic discipline, methodological rigour and insight that can be used to innovate the social sector.

Meet the frank 2018 Prize for Research in Public Interest Communications finalists

Erica Ciszek

Name: *Erica Ciszek, Ph.D., University of Houston
Paper: Activist Strategic Communication for Social Change: A Transnational Case Study of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Activism
Journal: Journal of Communication
Discipline: Strategic Communication

Abstract: Drawing from critical public relations research and communication for development and social change, this article argues activism is a form of cultural intermediation that often engages in strategic communication for social change. This study explores how lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activists engage in public relations, operating as cultural intermediaries (Bourdieu, 1984) to make, remake, subvert, communicate and circulate cultural identities, representations and imaginations by way of strategic communication for social change. Over a 4-year period (2012–2016), multiple sources of data were used in this study including digital texts (websites, blogs, social media content, articles) as well interviews with 40 activists representing 15 countries.

This research sheds light on activism as a form of cultural intermediation, positioning activists as strategic agents for global social change. Rather than emphasizing outcomes or effects, the focus of this study is an examination of how activists come to describe, explain, and account for the world in which they live and the processes through which activists bring about and contribute to shared understandings. Through symbolic work, activists, like public relations practitioners, have the potential to challenge and redefine cultural discourses, employing strategic communication for social change. These efforts work to influence public opinion and policy about issues impacting the lives of sexual and gender minorities around the world. This research takes a transnational approach to strategic communication for social change, requiring attention to the flows of people, goods, and knowledge and how this produces relationships and linkages between and among disparate people and places. This transnational research points to social change that has been made possible through global connectivity and digital communication.

About the Presenter/Author: Erica Ciszek, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in Integrated Strategic Communication. She is a New England native, hailing from Boston where she worked as a strategic analyst for Mullen Advertising and Public Relations. She has worked in strategic analytics, market research and has contributed to LGBT newspapers and magazines in New England. Dr. Ciszek’s research is focused on the intersections of identity, communication and technology and how organizations communicate with marginalized and minority populations. Her research has been published in peer reviewed journals, including Public Relations Review and the Journal of Public Relations. She has a chapter in the first ever book on LGBT issues in strategic communication.

Follower her on Twitter @elciszek


Hana Shepard
Hana Shepherd

Name(s): Elizabeth Levy Paluck, Ph.D., Princeton University, *Hana Shepherd, Ph.D., Rutgers University, and Peter M. Aronowc, Ph.D., Yale University.
Paper: Changing Climates of Conflict: A social network experiment in 56 schools
Journal:  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Disciplines:  Sociology, Psychology, Political Science

Abstract: Theories of human behavior suggest that individuals attend to the behavior of certain people in their community to understand what is socially normative and adjust their own behavior in response. An experiment tested these theories by randomizing an anti-conflict intervention across 56 schools with 24,191 students. After comprehensively measuring every school’s social network, randomly selected seed groups of 20–32 students from randomly selected schools were assigned to an intervention that encouraged their public stance against conflict at school. Compared with control schools, disciplinary reports of student conflict at treatment schools were reduced by 30 percent over one year. The effect was stronger when the seed group contained more “social referent” students who, as network measures reveal, attract more student attention. Network analyses of peer-to-peer influence show that social referents spread perceptions of conflict as less socially normative.

Despite a surge in policy and research attention to conflict anti-bullying among adolescents, there is little evidence to suggest that current interventions reduce school conflict. Using a large scale field experiment, we show that it is possible to reduce conflict with a student-driven intervention. By encouraging a small set of students to take a public stance against typical forms of conflict at their school, our intervention reduced overall levels of conflict by an estimated 30 percent. Network analyses reveal that certain kinds of students (called “social referents”) have an outsized influence over social norms and behavior at the school. The study demonstrates the power of peer influence for changing climates of conflict, and suggests which students to involve in those efforts.

About the Presenter/Author: Hana Shepherd is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Rutgers University. She received her Ph.D. from Princeton in 2011 and she was a Postdoctoral Research Associate and Lecturer at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the Department of Psychology at Princeton University from 2011-2013. She studies social networks, culture and cognition, and organizations. She is interested in how different types of social processes contribute to social change. She uses diverse methods such as network analysis, lab and field-based experiments, interviews, and archival research. Her recent projects include a year-long field experiment in 56 middle schools that used theories about social norms in relation to social networks to change school-level behavioral patterns. Her current projects examine the relationship between organizational context and network structure; how organizations implement new law in schools and in local labor enforcement offices; and how social networks can best be leveraged for social change in workplaces.

Follow her on Twitter @hs329


Chelsea Schein
Chelsea Schein

Name: *Chelsea Schein, Ph.D. candidate, and Kurt Gray, Ph.D., University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Paper: The Unifying Moral Dyad: Liberals and Conservatives Share the Same Harm-Based Moral Template
Journal: Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin
Discipline: Social Psychology

Abstract: Do moral disagreements regarding specific issues (e.g., patriotism, chastity) reflect deep cognitive differences (i.e., distinct cognitive mechanisms) between liberals and conservatives? Dyadic morality suggests that the answer is “no.” Despite moral diversity, we reveal that moral cognition—in both liberals and conservatives—is rooted in a harm-based template. A dyadic template suggests that harm should be central within moral cognition, an idea tested—and confirmed—through six specific hypotheses. Studies suggest that moral judgment occurs via dyadic comparison, in which counter-normative acts are compared with a prototype of harm. Dyadic comparison explains why harm is the most accessible and important of moral content, why harm organizes—and overlaps with—diverse moral content, and why harm best translates across moral content. Dyadic morality suggests that various moral content (e.g., loyalty, purity) are varieties of perceived harm and that past research has substantially exaggerated moral differences between liberals and conservatives.

Political polarization is rampant.  One reason for this division is that our intuitions–and popular theories of morality–suggest that liberals and conservative rely upon fundamentally different moral considerations.  Here we show that the moral minds of liberals and conservatives are fundamentally the same, relying on the same harm-based mental processes.  Emphasizing this moral similarity across the political divide provides a potential way to reduce polarization.

About the Presenter/Author: Chelsea Schein is a doctoral candidate in social psychology at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Schein is committed to contributing to the scientific understanding of morality. In her research, she adopt methods of social cognition to explore how people form moral judgments and how understanding our moral psychology can increase well-being and create a more tolerant society. Her work has been published in many top academic journals, including: Personality and Social Psychology Review, Emotion, Psychological Inquiry, Journal of Experimental Psychology, and Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. As a doctoral student, she works alongside Dr. Kurt Gray, assistant professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, in the Mind Perception and Morality Lab. As a graduate student, she developed and taught courses on applying principles of social psychology to pressing social concerns.

Follower her on Twitter @ChelseaSchein

*Presenting at frank2018

For more information, contact Annie Neimand, research director, frank at


Posted: January 22, 2018
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