Grant Sobetski, a junior studying Journalism and Mass Communication, and Jack Nassetta, a junior studying Political Communication, are the 2018-19 Manheim-Sterling Undergraduate Research Prize recipients.
The prestigious prizes support outstanding faculty-mentored research and creative works by an SMPA undergraduate student from each major.
Last year, Sobetski spent part of his summer volunteering at Casanicolás, an organization that provides free housing, medical assistance and other services to migrants in Monterrey, Mexico, near the U.S. border.
For the organization's recordkeeping, he interviewed dozens of migrants with painful stories behind the difficult decision to leave everything behind for the hope of a better life. Many migrants he spoke with were fleeing poverty and gang violence in Honduras to seek work visas and a new life in the United States.
During spring break, he will return to Casanicolás and record video interviews with migrants housed at the organization for a short-form documentary focused on the journey and plight of Honduran migrants who face years-long waits for citizenship application processing and a difficult process for obtaining a U.S. work visa.
Sobetski says the prize will allow him to purchase airfare, video equipment and a professional translator to complete the documentary project.
“I'm excited to be working with Grant on this important and timely project. Sharing stories of migrant families seeking refuge and safety is one of the most pressing issues of our generation,” his faculty mentor, Imani M. Cheers said.
Nasetta's research reevaluates a core political communication theory known as “framing,” or how information is communicated to and perceived by the public, in the era of social media and disinformation where individuals have control over networked groups with enormous online reach and influence.
Working with Professor Steven Livingston, Nasseta is examining data collected from Twitter and Facebook during an April 2018 chemical weapon attack in Syria to show how a network of fake accounts sought to dispute that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the attack and cloud any justification for a U.S. strike.
“Framing remains one of the core theories of political communication, explaining how those with agency are able to shape the focus of public discourse. In the era of social media and disinformation, this model requires a reformulation,” Nassetta said. “This project attempts to construct a new model where individuals, who previously had little control over the national conversation, are able to form networked groups that exhibit enormous influence.”
Last year, he published preliminary research and presented at Harvard University’s Carr Center for Human Rights to receive feedback from leading experts in disinformation and human rights. Nasseta will use the prize to finish processing the data in an effort to show concrete examples of how the theory plays out.
“One of the sources of great joy for me in teaching as long as I have been at SMPA is the opportunity to meet exceptionally bright young people every semester, year in and year out. In addition to being smart, our students are often motivated to do good in the world, to think big and be ambitious. Jack Nassetta fits that profile perfectly,” Livingston said about his mentee.
Nassetta and Livingston plan to co-present their findings on March 29 at the International Studies Association Convention in Toronto, Canada, and then submit their findings for peer-review and publication in an academic journal.