Category: CIS News

Ribbon Cutting SEC

C&IS Approves SEC Proposal for Microwave

SEC vice president, Alyssa McGee, cuts the ribbon for the microwave in the Hub.

When C&IS student, Alyssa McGee heard a request for a microwave from a fellow student, she didn’t wait around; she acted. As vice president of the C&IS Student Executive Council (SEC), she knew her student organization was in the perfect position to help.

“After I heard these requests being voiced by students in the College, I drafted a proposal to present before the council,” said Alyssa McGee, Vice President of SEC. “Through this process, we received valuable feedback and suggestions from other members. It really was a team effort”

McGee then presented the proposal to Dr. Sara Hartley, assistant dean of undergraduate studies and external relations at C&IS. Hartley took the request before the Dean, who approved the SEC’s purchase of a microwave oven to be housed in the Hub (Reese Phifer 103).

In addition to the benefit for students who wish to save money by bringing food from home, the accommodation also answers a more specific need.

“Many students dietary restrictions limit their options on campus,” said McGee. “One student told me her allergies kept her from eating in the dining halls, from the food trucks and from the restaurants at the Ferguson Center. Now she can warm and eat food from home.”

The microwave proposal is the first-ever proposal from the SEC, but according to McGee it won’t be the last.

The Student Executive Council is a student leadership organization in the College of Communication and Information Sciences that promotes collaboration across C&IS student organizations, current students, faculty, staff and administration. They accomplish this mission by developing and maintaining strong relationships with the C&IS departments to assist in identifying and implementing opportunities within the College, building strong relationships with faculty and staff and making sure they know how to direct student related issues to the SEC, raising internal funds to support the C&IS Student Organization Fund by creating and maintaining college fundraisers, and overseeing student organization funding requests.

SLIS Graduate Student Jillian Sico

Graduate Student Spotlight: Jillian Sico

This story is one in a continuing series of C&IS graduate student spotlights. These spotlights give insight into the academic and professional lives of master’s and Ph.D. students as they advance knowledge in their respective fields of communication and information sciences. The questions serve to highlight the many aspects of the graduate student experience as well provide guidance for prospective students. To nominate a current C&IS student or graduate for a spotlight, email Cole Lanier at

Jillian Sico, a current graduate student in the MFA Book Arts program, discusses switching careers at age 34, her proudest moments and greatest challenges. When not studying in Gorgas Library, Sico can be found outside: hiking, camping and collecting plants. With the help of another graduate student, Sico started a community garden plot in Tuscaloosa where they grow papermaking and dye plants. Here is what she has to say about her experience in C&IS:

Tell us about your experience in graduate school.

I came to the MFA Book Arts program after earning an MA in Anthropology at UGA and working for several years in the non profit world. Being in the Book Arts program at UA has allowed me to pursue my dream of a second career in art, while also doing academic research on papermaking and book arts traditions. I feel very privileged to be here learning new creative skills, including letterpress printing, papermaking and bookbinding.

What are some of the highlights during your time in graduate school? 

I was excited to be supported by SLIS, the Graduate School, and Capstone International Center to do research on papermaking and book arts in Mexico last summer. Last fall, I made an artist book edition about amate, a traditional type of bark paper from Mexico, using paper made from mulberry bark I harvested here in Tuscaloosa. I was incredibly honored (and surprised!) to receive the C&IS and University-wide award for Outstanding Research by a Master’s Student this spring, as well as the SLIS Faculty Scholar Award and the Raymond F. McLain Book Arts Award.

What are your plans after graduation? How does this degree fit into your life plans?

I hope to teach university-level and workshop classes in book arts and papermaking, continue to research papermaking, and make artist books. I would also like to do some community outreach, especially related to papermaking. I really feel I have found my calling in book arts, so I hope I can make a successful career out of it.

What has been your greatest challenge?

The creative process is always inherently challenging, especially after being removed from it for so many years.

What is your favorite part about the program?

I love making artist book editions, especially ones that involve handmade paper, writing and some form of research. The Book Arts faculty, Anna Embree and Sarah Bryant, are also amazing artists and people who have been incredibly supportive; I feel lucky to know them.

What advice do you have to students about to enter graduate school?

Try not to overbook yourself, but be very proactive about finding opportunities both within and outside the University. Be open to new ideas, but make sure to keep to your ideals, values and vision.

Why did you choose UA for your graduate studies?

UA has one of the best, most well-regarded and oldest Book Arts programs in the country. I was already living in the Southeast and glad I could stay in this region while studying what I love.

If you would like to learn more about Jillian’s graduate experience, you can follow her on Instagram at @jillianmarys.


APR News Director Pat Duggins and Malian reporter Ousmane Sagara with members of the APR staff.

Alabama Public Radio Wins Two Regional Edward R. Murrow Awards

APR News Director Pat Duggins and Malian reporter Ousmane Sagara with members of the APR staff.
APR News Director Pat Duggins (center) and Malian reporter Ousmane Sagara with members of the APR staff.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – The industry group Radio Television Digital News Association today named Alabama Public Radio (APR) the winner of two of its regional Edward R. Murrow Awards. APR news won best documentary for “The King of Alabama,” which examined Alabama’s role as one of the key battlegrounds in Dr. Martin Luther King Junior’s crusade for civil rights. News Director Pat Duggins also won best feature for his story “Make It Like a Butterfly,” which focuses on Dr. King’s barber, and how trimming King’s trademark moustache gave barber Nelson Malden a unique vantage point on civil rights history in Montgomery in the mid 1950’s.

The “King of Alabama” features reporting from APR’s international journalist exchange program participant Ousmane Sagara from Mali, who reported on his nation feels about Dr. King fifty years after his death. Sagara combined those observations with his own during his time in the APR newsroom, covering Alabama’s fight for civil rights. Duggins and Sagara used Facebook messenger to coordinate field production of the story from Mali. Former APR student intern Allison Mollenkamp also covered how Alabama is one of only two states that celebrates Robert E. Lee day on the same Monday in January as the national holiday for Dr. King.

“Ousmane and Allison played huge roles in the success of this documentary,” Duggins said. “Their stories about the impact of Dr. King in the West African nation of Mali, and the racial divides that are still present in the U.S., are both poignant and uplifting.”

APR now goes onto to compete nationally in both categories.

Alabama Public Radio is a network of public radio stations licensed by The University of Alabama and located in Bryant-Denny Stadium’s Digital Media Center. Its affiliation with the College of Communication and Information Sciences gives students opportunities for practical training in a variety of production activities.

Dr. Miriam Sweeney speaks at the Harvard Kennedy School.

SLIS Professor Discusses Latina AI at Harvard Kennedy School

The following is copied from the personal site of Dr. Miriam Sweeney, an assistant professor in the School of Library and Information Studies, a department of the College of Communication and Information Sciences:

I had a wonderful time presenting with my research partner Melissa Villa-Nicholas on one of our projects about Latina AI at the Harvard Kennedy School on March 25th. Our talk focused on “Emma”, the Latina virtual assistant used by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) as a part of their e-government services. This presentation explores the cultural affordances of Latina identity as a strategic design choice in the Emma interface that extends citizenship and nation-building projects for the state, while masking underlying information and data gathering capabilities.

​We were privileged to have Dana Chisnell, co-director of the Center for Civic Design, serve as a moderator for our talk.  We felt very welcome, thanks largely to all of the hard work and planning of Vanessa Rhinesmith, the Associate Director of digitalHKS. Thank you to everyone who came and talked with us about the politics and surveillance implications of digital technologies designed to gather information about Latinx communities.

*Watch for our paper, “Designing the ‘good citizen’ through Latina identity in USCIS’s virtual assistant ‘Emma'”, in Feminist Media Studies forthcoming this summer 2019.

Amy Fincher, of Firaxis Studios, Speaks on Leadership and Game Development

On Wednesday, April 17, Amy Fincher, of Firaxis Studios, spoke on leadership and game development, the role of communication studies and her leadership on the Civilization games to a group of C&IS students. She also gave a tailored talk to Dr. Britt class later that day. Fincher brings over a decade of expertise in development for one of the most celebrated video game series. As a producer, she bridges the gap between educating students on games and collaborating with faculty on research.

Fincher’s professional background in the industry presented a natural opportunity to share her expertise with students. She also spoke with students in Dr. Steve Holiday’s advertising course and Dr. Coral Marshall’s sports writing class — all of which have components that relate to mass media and video games. Fincher came to C&IS through a longtime friendship with Dr. Britt as they both share a love for video games and working with students.

“The opportunity for students to learn from professionals in the field is important for their professional development, as it presents potential networking opportunities and chances to receive critiques on their resumes and portfolios,” said Dr. Britt. “Individuals with experience like Amy provide a wonderful learning opportunity for students.”

Fincher’s talks and Q&A sessions provided a springboard for students to further discuss their questions about the industry from a respected professional. To learn more about C&IS, visit


UA Student Films About Justice & Injustice in Alabama to Debut April 23

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The University of Alabama (UA) department of journalism & creative media will host the 13th annual Documenting Justice film screening at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, April 23, at the Bama Theatre in downtown Tuscaloosa. The screening is free and open to the public.

The event will feature short documentaries created by students who dedicated a year to learning how to document and analyze culture and social experience — and communicate about issues of justice and injustice in Alabama — through nonfiction filmmaking.

The students, who are pursuing degrees in a wide range of fields, produced the documentaries as part of a two-semester course co-taught by award-winning filmmaker Andrew Grace, director of the Documenting Justice program and instructor in the department of journalism & creative media, and Rachel Morgan, creative director for Birmingham’s Sidewalk Film Festival.

“Documentary filmmaking gives out students an opportunity to immerse themselves in a world they might not otherwise come into contact with,” said Andy Grace, director of Documenting Justice. “To deeply research an issue or a problem, to go out and meet subjects, to develop relationships, to have frank and open conversations about the lives of other people, this kind of work required to make a documentary film is a unique experience in empathy that is hard to replicate in the classroom.”

UA has offered the Documenting Justice course since 2006.

Jason Senkbeil (left) and Darrin Griffin work with Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind Interpreter Gary Crook to prototype test their American Sign Language interpreting system.

When Messages Matter Most

Jason Senkbeil (left) and Darrin Griffin work with Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind Interpreter Gary Crook to prototype test their American Sign Language interpreting system.


Three C&IS researchers receive grants to discover new ways to communicate weather alerts

Severe weather emergencies affect millions  of people around the world every single year. In the past decade, storms like Irma, Sandy, Harvey, Florence and Michael have left lasting impacts from the damage they caused in local communities. Tuscaloosa, Alabama is no stranger to severe weather, still bearing scars from its tornado super outbreak in April 2011. Whatever the issue—flash flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes or hailstorms—communicating severe weather alerts is at the core of ensuring public safety and saving lives.


Understanding how weather alerts work and the varying levels of impact they have on different populations provides a challenge for meteorologists and municipalities alike. What is the most effective medium for their given constituency? And how do they reach less-represented, vulnerable populations within their citizenry? These are the kinds of questions researchers are asking at the College of Communication and Information Sciences, and now they have secured the funding to find the answers.

Dr. Darrin Griffin of the Department of Communication Studies is one
such researcher. In collaboration with The University of Alabama’s Dr. Jason Senkbeil (College of Arts and Sciences) and Mississippi State University’s Dr. Kathy Sherman-Morris (Department of Geosciences), Griffin’s team received a grant of more than $250,000 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to conduct research on the accessibility and comprehension of tornado warnings among Deaf, Blind and Deaf-Blind populations in the southeastern United States.

“Ultimately, what makes Blind and Deaf populations
different is their ability to receive messages,” said Griffin. “At the end of the day, our study is about effective messaging—determining what messaging is working and what isn’t working, and improving that messaging.”

Griffin works with professionals in the C&IS digital media center to pull together the multiple camera feeds

Because these populations receive messages differently, communicating severe weather forecasts presents a unique challenge. Visual charts and diagrams, as well as language commonly employed during broadcasts,
do not translate effectively. Griffin’s team wants to change that, making broadcasts more effective for all people.

Drs. Cory Armstrong and Chandra Clark (Department of Journalism
and Creative Media) are tackling a similar issue. Funded by the Alabama-Mississippi Sea Grant Consortium, their research is investigating the effectiveness of different types of weather alerts and how those messages motivate citizens to action in rural and urban communities.

In both of these studies, it is the way messages are communicated
that matters most. The difference between being in harm’s way or being sheltered and secure may come down to the ability of forecasters and
media representatives to understand how people receive messages and
what makes them take action.


Determining how to communicate in ways that best inform particular
audiences can be difficult. For each of these studies, the challenges begin
with understanding how the audiences process the information and discovering how to change the message in ways that improve their comprehension.

“The first thing we want to know is how people receive severe weather notifications—are they watching television, are they talking to their friends or are they checking social media?” said Armstrong. “Then we want to try and determine what specific words and visuals motivate them to action and what steps they take to prepare for severe weather.”

Clark developed six different visual elements of weather broadcasts that were shown to cross-sections of the population in Biloxi and Pearlington, Mississippi, and Mobile and Magnolia Springs, Alabama. From there, Armstrong asked the subjects to evaluate which models would most likely motivate them to seek shelter from a severe weather event, namely tornadoes and hurricanes. Now, Armstrong is analyzing this data to develop guides for broadcasters, media personnel and meteorologists about effective ways to reach rural populations during severe weather outbreaks.

“If we can point out the key words and methods for how to announce severe weather then ultimately we can help save lives.”

Armstrong (right) and Clark (left) reviewed multiple models and selected six different weather alert methods to gauge public response and their motivation to act for each model

For Griffin, the ultimate hope is to create a system that can utilize existing technology and provide live interpreting in American Sign Language (ASL). ASL is a complex language, grammatically different from English and not directly translatable in the way that many English-speaking people assume. During severe weather broadcasts, closed captioning can be unreliable and, even when it is reliable, still fails to appear in ASL users’ primary language. Added to that struggle, weather broadcasts often include scientific language common to English speakers, but less common
to ASL users.

Griffin’s idea would help bridge this gap between English-speaking meteorologists and ASL users during severe weather events, saving lives by creating better access to urgent weather updates for Deaf populations. The idea came to Griffin after viewing a video of a hearing ASL interpreter
who used Facebook Live to relay an ASL interpretation of
an audio weather broadcast to followers.

“I thought, ‘We could actually design that. Why not have
that in place for real?’” said Griffin. “At the end of the day, it will increase [NOAA’s] tools for communicating with a vulnerable population.”

The concept features a picture-in-picture broadcast that enables the Deaf population to view the broadcast alongside an ASL interpreter. However, the benefits for this study go far beyond building and testing this system. Researchers will conduct interviews with people in the Deaf community in the Southeast and use the information to offer valuable feedback to on-air meteorologists as to what language is most effective in communicating with a variety of audiences.

According to Griffin, the concept of universal design, or making the world more accessible to all kinds of people, benefits everyone. Hotels that place the thermostat in arm’s reach of the bedside do not sacrifice design aesthetics in the process, and make a big difference for people with limited mobility. All guests end up gaining an increased usability. In the context of Griffin’s research, universal design would mean keeping the video feed that can be understood by hearing audiences while at the same time dramatically increasing the accessibility of the message
for Deaf audiences.

“Can we tighten up the bolts on the verbal message?
That’s what we’re trying to do,” said Griffin. “We want to do universal design, to look at the Deaf, Blind and Deaf-Blind communities to increase effective messaging that benefits everyone whether or not English is their second language.”


Saving lives and improving their quality are important parts of any scientific discipline. Whether the issue at hand is communicating effectively about severe weather to rural and vulnerable populations or any number of other life-changing advancements in communication, researchers at C&IS are a crucial element in the scientific process.

And the College is growing in its impact. In 2018, C&IS had 17 funded Research Grants Committee (RGC) proposals making it the top RGC-funded college at The University of Alabama. These numbers reflect the disciplines’ significant influence as well as the role communication plays as a part of the greater research culture on campus.

“If you follow the philosophy and logic of science, you can use the same paradigm in communication as you can in biology, physics and chemistry,” said Griffin. “If I’m working alongside meteorologists, computer scientists and geographers to find a way to tackle common problems and showing that my methods are just as sound as theirs, that’s a benefit to the scientific community from an interdisciplinary perspective.”

Right now, C&IS researchers have active relationships with their colleagues across campus in the College of Engineering, College of Social Work, College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Human Environmental Sciences. These relationships fuel creative, multi-disciplinary problem solving to improve lives in the community for generations to come.

The research culture is evolving at C&IS and at its core is a group of dedicated scientists who are asking big questions, tackling global issues and securing the
funding to discover solutions.

The Alabama Forensic Council celebrates a fourth-place finish at the AFA-NIET in Tuscaloosa.

Alabama Forensic Council Finishes 4th at 2019 NIET

The Alabama Forensic Council celebrates a fourth-place finish at the AFA-NIET in Tuscaloosa.
The Alabama Forensic Council celebrates a fourth-place finish at the AFA-NIET in Tuscaloosa.

The Alabama Forensic Council finished in fourth place at the 2019 American Forensics Association National Individual Events Tournament (NIET) this past weekend in Tuscaloosa. This marks the third consecutive year that the Alabama Forensic Council has placed in the top five teams in the nation and UA’s third time hosting.

The tournament featured over 400 students from 60 schools and is centered around facilitating and celebrating speech education excellence at the intercollegiate level. The NIET is held every April and brings students from across the nation to compete for national championships in 11 events. Students reach the NIET through a rigorous at-large and district qualification system verified by organizational officers.

“It was a great honor for our program to serve as the hosts of this event and for our students to succeed the way they did. Most importantly, every student competing this past weekend earned points toward our team finish,” said Bobby Imbody, director of forensics at The College of Communication and Information Sciences (C&IS). “Being able to host our colleagues from around the country, show them our beautiful campus and earn fourth place as a team is a feat we will cherish for years in our program. This group is special and accomplished a great deal this season.”

In addition to placing fourth overall, the Alabama Forensic Council had its most successful tournament yet in terms of students advancing to elimination rounds 14 of 25, the number of overall events advancing to elimination rounds, 28, and the overall number of events in final rounds, 12. Among University of Alabama top finishers, senior Alexis Simmons (Montgomery) earned the National Championship in Poetry Interpretation, and senior McLean Stewart (Montgomery) earned the national championship in After Dinner Speaking and was named to the AFA-NIET All-American Team. Additionally, Danielle Pacia (Morristown, TN) finished second in Informative Speaking.

“With instruction from some of the most outstanding coaches, the speech I presented at the National Tournament was the culmination of months of research, draft edits and performance improvements,” said Stewart. “Preparing for the tournament was a challenging and rewarding process. Delivering my speech one last time in the final round, hearing my name announced next to the words ‘National Champion,’ and receiving such warm support from the crowd are moments I will never forget.”


Individual results:

Alexis Simmons          3rd Place Overall speaker

Danielle Pacia            11th Place Overall Speaker

McLean Stewart         13th Place Overall Speaker



National Champions through 6th place = National Finalist

Semi-Finalist = top-12

Quarter-Finalist = top-24



Pearce Barringer – Montgomery, AL

6th Place Extemporaneous Speaking


Currie Blackwell – Petal, MS

Quarter-Finalist Poetry Interpretation


Danielle Pacia  -Morristown, TN

2nd Place Informative Speaking

4th Place Communication Analysis

4th Place Duo Interpretation with Alexis Simmons

Semi-Finalist Communication Analysis

Quarter-Finalist Impromptu Speaking


Alexis Simmons – Montgomery, AL

National Champion Poetry Interpretation

3rd Place Informative Speaking

4th Place Prose Interpretation

4th Place Duo Interpretation with Danielle Pacia

Semi-Finalist Dramatic Interpretation


McLean Stewart – Montgomery, AL

National Champion After-Dinner Speaking

5th Place Informative Speaking

Semi-Finalist Extemporaneous Speaking

Quarter-Finalist Impromptu Speaking



Madison Hall – Montgomery, AL

6th Place Dramatic Interpretation

Semi-Finalist Persuasive Speaking

Quarter-Finalist Program Oral Interpretation


Caitlin Lofton – New Orleans, LA

5th Place Dramatic Interpretation

Quarter – Finalist Prose Interpretation


Jordan Taylor – Charlottesville, VA

Semi-Finalist After-dinner Speaking

Quarter-Finalist Program Oral Interpretation


Sydney Terry – Bulls Gap, TN

Quarter-Finalist Duo Interpretation with Isaiah McDermott

Quarter-Finalist Persuasive Speaking



Emma Capitanelli – Collierville, TN

Quarter-Finalist Communication Analysis


Isaiah McDermott – Morristown, TN

Quarter-Finalist Duo Interpretation with Sydney Terry


Cortland Stone – Poland, OH

5th Place Communication Analysis


First-Year Students:

Anna Kutbay – Morristown, TN

Semi-Finalist Persuasive Speaking

Quarter-Finalist Extemporaneous Speaking


Elizabeth Tagg – Tyler, TX

Quarter-Finalist Program Oral Interpretation


Founded in 1946, the Alabama Forensic Council is the oldest co-curricular organization at The University of Alabama. The Alabama Forensics Council boasts 21 forensic national championships and is housed by the College of Communication and Information Sciences and is open to UA students of all academic disciplines.  

Kiley Lord, C&IS Senior, Awarded Top Undergraduate Honors Conference Paper

Kiley Lord (fourth from left) received the Franklin Shirley Award for the Top Undergraduate Honors Conference Paper at the Southern States Communication Association (SSCA) Convention.
Kiley Lord, pictured fourth from left

Kiley Lord, a senior in the College of Communication and Information Sciences (C&IS), was recently awarded the Franklin Shirley Award for the Top Undergraduate Honors Conference Paper at the Southern States Communication Association (SSCA) Convention this past weekend in Montgomery, Alabama. The convention’s purpose is to promote the study, criticism, research, teaching and application of the artistic, humanistic and scientific principles of communication. SSCA is a nonprofit organization that exists for educational, scientific and literary purposes only.

Lord’s research specializes in a popular Youtube series titled “S— Southern Women Say” and examines gender roles and expectations for women in the south. She postulates her research on the idea that gender is something that people perform and points to examples in the Youtube series as being representative of cultural norms compared to other regions in the United States. Lord grew up in Connecticut but spent her summers with family in Mississippi. This upbringing sparked an interested in the duality of cultural norms in the south vs the east coast.

Lord first explored this topic in the Spring of 2018 in Dr. Jessy Ohl’s class and was encouraged to develop her research about ideological arguments more. Over summer, Lord spent time researching communication theory, reading both fiction and nonfiction accounts that documented women in the south and connecting how the Youtube series reflected expectations of the region. Her paper concluded that the series is not inclusive of the entire spectrum of southern women. It is limited to the life experience of wealthy, white, Christian women and does not account for other races, religions or genders.

“This conference was a great fit for my area of research, and I am grateful for Dr. Ohl’s assistance in editing back and forth,” said Lord. “So much of my enthusiasm for this research has come from Dr. Ohl’s encouragement and feedback. I was intimidated by the idea of doing undergraduate research, but now I am considering doing research at the master’s level.

Lord received a monetary award and a plaque in addition to presenting her research in the undergraduate research forum on April 6.

The College of Communication and Information Sciences’ faculty and students at The University of Alabama conduct cutting-edge research that creates knowledge and provides solutions to global issues across the full communication and information spectrum. To learn more about the College’s research initiatives, visit

Bama Blitz 2019

In striving to develop global leaders who do the extraordinary across the full communication and information spectrum, the C&IS passion project for Bama Blitz 2019 is the inaugural C&IS Student Leadership Retreat.

Starting with the central student leadership groups in C&IS, the College will launch the first-ever C&IS Student Leadership Retreat in Fall 2019. The C&IS Student Leadership Retreat will empower students through leadership programming that encompasses communication, diversity and collaboration. At this two-day retreat, students will become part of a network of peers who will understand their individual and group impact on the C&IS community and beyond.

To support student leadership development efforts, C&IS wants to fund 50 students to be part of the C&IS Lead Retreat and future student leadership workshops open to all C&IS students. The goal for Bama Blitz is $10,000.

Bama Blitz 2019 will kick off on April 10 at Noon and conclude on April 11 at 8:31 p.m. Students, Alumni and friends of C&IS can help by making gifts at the link below and using #BamaBlitz on social media to share the differences C&IS has made in their lives and careers.

Click here to give!