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PhD Students

Fall 2015 PhD Students

Aras Coskuntuncel 

Aras Coskuntuncel is a PhD student at American University in communication with a focus on the commodification of information, surveillance, the privatization of governance, the struggle over control of the flow of information in the digital era, and how these processes are playing out in Turkey. He graduated with his master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s media studies program. In his master’s thesis, he conducted an ethnographic study of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s unique transition from a general-purpose newspaper to a watchdog-centric journal. Before coming to the United States, he was the diplomacy and foreign news editor at the Hurriyet Daily News, an English-language newspaper in Istanbul, Turkey. Aras received his B.A in Political Science and Public Administration at Dokuz Eylul University in Izmir, Turkey. He has presented and published his research both in English and Turkish.

Dorian Davis

Dorian Davis earned his MA from CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and BFA from New York University. Before joining the Ph.D. program at American, he taught undergraduate journalism at Seton Hall University and Marymount Manhattan College. As a freelance reporter and columnist, he's contributed to BusinessWeek and The New York Daily News, and blogged the 2012 presidential election for WNYC's "It's A Free Country." His coverage of protests against Harlem gentrification, along with his engagement in social media, inspired his research interest in digital activism. A recurring TV guest on that topic, he's analyzed stories from Facebook's role in Occupy Wall Street to Twitter's part in promoting Sharknado. This past summer, he presented on the #CancelColbert campaign to Social Media & Society's international conference in Toronto. He's talked politics and pop culture on Newsmax, MTV, NY1, WNYC, and more.

SOC Louisa Imperiale


Louisa Imperiale is a fundraiser, political operative, and tech entrepreneur. Her research centers on innovative uses of technology in fundraising and the impact of digital and social media on political communication and philanthropy. As the founder and CEO of Photox, she created the first-ever on-demand professional photo editing service. 

Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, Louisa coordinated major donor fundraising for the Republican Party, serving as the Director of the Republican Regents and Team 100 programs for the Republican National Committee and as Director of Development for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. In addition, Louisa has extensive campaign experience, having served as Finance Director for a $30M Senatorial race and a $100M Gubernatorial campaign, and as Deputy Finance Director for a Presidential campaign in 2012. As a consultant, she has advised many other political campaigns and committees. Prior to working in politics, she worked in fundraising for the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the National Gallery of Art. 

She holds a Master of Business Administration and a Bachelor of Arts degree from The University of Alabama and attended the Executive Masters in Leadership program at Georgetown University. She is also an alumnus of the American Council of Young Political Leaders and the Women’s Campaign School at Yale University. Louisa serves as an Advisory Committee member for Running Start, which works to inspire and train the next generation of young women political leaders, and is a Board member of the Aged Women’s Home of Georgetown and Metropolitan Nursery School, both in Washington, DC. She is a frequent public speaker and commentator on the topics of politics, entrepreneurship, technology, leadership, strategy, marketing, communication, fundraising, and philanthropy. 

After 15 years of living in DC, Louisa considers herself a proud Washingtonian, and enjoys taking advantage of the District’s cultural institutions with her husband and two young children.

SOC Mariana Leytón-Escóbar

Mariana Leytón-Escóbar

Mariana Leytón-Escóbar, originally from Bolivia, holds a MS in Communication from the University of Twente in the Netherlands and a BA in Legal Studies from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. In her master thesis, she explored how member participation in online community activities is influenced by cultural narratives and a sense of community. She joined the PhD program in Media, Technology & Democracy to further explore her main research interests, which include collective action in the age of rapidly evolving digital information and communication technologies, internet governance, and civil liberties. Mariana has also worked as a consultant in digital communications, developing and implementing social media strategies for knowledge sharing projects. She is part of the GobApp group at Inter American Development Bank, a Laboratory of Ideas that explores ICT use for development, including online platforms and big data. In this line, she has also explored the emergence of online collaboration and civic engagement through emerging technologies in Latin America, which includes the use of online platforms that emerge under an open government paradigm to promote citizen participation.

David Proper

David Proper’s research interests include the use of online social media for political speech by advocacy groups, activists and politicians. David received a MA in Communication from the University of Colorado Denver in 2012.  While at CU, he completed the graduate certificate in public relations and explored LGBTQ representations in popular mass media. Additionally, he has worked in PR and communications for nearly 10 years.  He most recently served as the director of communications for the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies.  Before joining the Korbel School, he oversaw digital advocacy and communications for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains and Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado. In this position he became deeply interested in how advocacy, activism and politics are done in the U.S., and the ways these might be improved to invite greater political participation and prevent ideological polarization--interests he hopes to further explore while at American University and beyond. 

SOC Fernanda Rosa

Fernanda Rosa

Fernanda Rosa holds a BA in Sociology from the University of São Paulo and a Masters in Public Management and Policy from the Getulio Vargas Foundation. Her thesis, approved with honors, was focused on digital literacy and the formulation of an index to measure it. Fernanda is currently pursuing her doctorate degree in American University’s School of Communication, where her research focuses on the interplay between national policies and the global Internet governance, and its implications for the Internet ecosystem as well as for central values to the exercise of citizenship, such as privacy, freedom of speech and the public understanding of technology.

Before joining AU, she was previously a research associate at both the Center for Brazilian Studies and the Institute of Latin American Studies at Columbia University in New York, where she conducted research on the policy dimensions of the adoption of mobile technologies in education in Latin America, with special focus in Brazil.

She also worked as a researcher at IBOPE (Brazilian Institute of Opinion Public and Statistics) and also as an adviser to the cabinet at the Department of Education for the city of São Paulo. As a consultant, she worked for the NGO Article 19, the Organization of Ibero-American States for Education, Science and Culture (OEI), in partnership with the Human Rights Secretariat of the Presidency of the Republic and the National School of Public Administration (ENAP) in Brasilia.

She is the author of Mobile Learning in Brazil: management and implementation of current policies and future perspectives (2015), with Gustavo Azenha, available in Portuguese and in English, here. Her publication record also includes the Sur - International Journal on Human Rights, which can be read here.

Arthur Soto-Vásquez

Arthur D. Soto-Vásquez is a proud native of El Chuco Town - otherwise known as El Paso, Texas. His academic, professional, and civic endeavors focus on political communication among Latino populations in the United States. His research focuses on the social and racial integration of U.S. Latinos into American democracy through political communication efforts by official and non-official actors. Politically, Arthur has worked on the communications team for the Center for Public Policy Priorities. During the 84th Legislative session in Austin, Texas, Arthur helped organize opposition to SB 1819, a repeal of the Texas DREAM Act and was successful. He has also served on numerous progressive political campaigns including serving as the Deputy Campaign Director of the Hector H. Lopez for Mayor of El Paso in 2013. Civically, Arthur has served on several nonprofit boards, including Texas Student Media and The National Hispanic Institute. Arthur also began his primary civic engagement with the National Hispanic Institute eight years ago and has served at numerous leadership experiences every year since, including one-term as the President of the Collegiate Leadership Network in 2012. Arthur received his M.A. in Media Studies from the Department of Radio-Television-Film at the University of Texas at Austin in 2015 and his B.A. in Political Science from St. Edward's University in 2012.

Fall 2014 PhD Students

SOC Kara Andrade

Kara Andrade

Kara Andrade is a PhD student at American University’s School of Communication. She is a researcher, journalist and entrepreneur who focuses on Latin America, media, technology and society. She has more than ten years of experience working in the United States and Latin America as a bilingual journalist, entrepreneur and multimedia producer for a variety of leading media organizations including Al Jazeera America, Americas Quarterly, Associated Press, Christian Science Monitor, France 24, Global Post, The Huffington Post, The New York Times and others. She consults as a technology trainer for the U.S. State Department, as well as for the U.S. Institute of Peace. She has presented in fifteen countries at conferences including the Ashoka Future Forum, Campus Party Mexico, Commonwealth Club of California, Fulbright Annual Conferences, Guatemala Scholars Network, more than ten U.S. State Department organized TechCamps, four consecutive South by Southwest (SXSW) panels, various PeaceTech Exchanges organized by the United States Institute of Peace, the World Social Science Forum and many others. Personal website:

SOC PhD Katerina-Eva Matsa


Katerina joins American University's School of Communication as a doctoral fellow, while working as a Research Analyst for the Pew Research Center. At the Pew Research Center, she researches and writes about the American media landscape, news consumption in the U.S., news coverage and the elections, as well as the role of news in social media. Earlier in her career, she worked at the office of Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV), interned at the public relations firm, Ketchum, and served as a trainee for the European Commission's DG for Communication. Katerina graduated from Georgetown University, earning an MA in Communication, Culture and Technology. She also holds an MSc in Politics and Government in the EU from the London School of Economics, and a BA in Political Science and History from Panteion University of Athens, Greece. Katerina speaks English, Greek and French fluently. She is a member of the Georgetown Alumni DC Club and the LSE Alumni Association, a board member of the Washington European Society and a founding member of Stonewalls, a nonprofit supporter club for Georgetown Men's Basketball.

Ogla Khrustaleva


Olga Khrustaleva is a journalist and editor. She is interested in researching the connections between journalism and visual arts relevant to the evolution of documentary film in the digital age, exploring the ethical issues central to documentary filmmaking. She plans to focus on the question of whether interactive documentary, with its non-linear storytelling and greater viewer involvement can be used in the educational process –teaching students about social and political issues at home and abroad. Olga is seeking to explore how changing digital journalism landscape can affect and benefit documentary filmmaking, and how new multi-media technologies, such as interactive documentary can be effectively used to bring truthful and interesting stories to people.

Fall 2013 PhD Students

SOC Andrea Hackl


Andrea Hackl’s research interests stand at the intersection of human rights and Internet governance. In her dissertation, she examines the mediation of LGBT expression in the digital public sphere. Together with her advisor, Prof. Laura DeNardis, Andrea co-authored the article "Internet governance by social media platforms", published in the journal Telecommunications Policy. Before starting her Ph.D. journey, Andrea conducted research on the media representation of LGBT issues. Her research on the evolution of media language around same-sex marriage was published in Sexuality & Culture, another article on the gendered representation of Chelsea Manning was published in the Journal of Homosexuality. Previously, Andrea also served as research fellow for the LGBT Technology Partnership & Institute where she wrote a White Paper on the technology needs of homeless LGBT youth. The paper helped the organization develop a cellphone program for at risk youth. Andrea has presented at the International Communication Association conference in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Capitol and the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in New York. Personal website

SOC Faith Jegede 2


Faith Jegede’s research focuses on the intersection of social entrepreneurship and online communication. Her work explores the tensions between online visibility and online vulnerability that are experienced when seeking to create sustainable positive changes in society. Her research aims to provide insights, best communication practices and policy recommendations for social entrepreneurs.

Faith is originally from the United Kingdom, and received a BA (Hons) in International Politics from the University of Surrey and an MSc in International Management from the University of Reading.

Prior to joining the doctoral program, Faith worked within the radio broadcasting industry. For over two years she presented and produced her own lifestyle radio show on a national UK station.

Faith is more globally recognized as a public speaker and advocate for autism awareness. In 2012, she shared her most intimate tale through her TED talk titled “What I’ve learned from my autistic brothers”. To date, her talk has been viewed almost a million times and has been translated into 38 different languages.

SOC Sindhu Manjesh 2


Sindhu Manjesh’s research interests surround the evolution of news production and consumption globally with a specific emphasis on India, her native country. Her dissertation examines and analyzes the impact of citizen journalism on the news media and the public sphere in India. The ongoing research has potential implications for journalism and democratic dialogue in the global South, where India has traditionally played a leadership role. It also contributes to a revision of normative Western assumptions about journalism in society. Sindhu has presented her research at the Multiple Publics: Sites, Boundaries and Contestations workshop at the Indian Institute of Technology, New Delhi (2015).

The areas that inform Sindhu’s scholarship are the comparative history of journalism and the impact of information and digital technologies (ICTs) on the mediation of information. She investigates the implications of contemporary media dynamics for deliberative public discourse. She is also invested in research that explores the intersections of socio-cultural and political dialogues in constructing nationalist communication narratives. 

Prior to joining the PhD program at SOC, Sindhu worked for a decade as a professional reporter, writer, and editor in news television, print, and digital media in India. Her career roster includes The Times of India, CNBC, NDTV, and CNN-IBN. She is the recipient of the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association’s award for exceptional news feature reporting in 2004. 

Sindhu was a Fulbright Humphrey Fellow at the University of Maryland, College Park (2011-2012). In 2004, she received the Chevening Scholarship to read for an MA in Social Anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Sindhu holds a Master’s Diploma in Mass Communication from the Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication and a BA from Mount Carmel College, both in India. 

SOC Todd Newman Comm Studies PhD


Todd Newman’s research focuses on the communication and media processes that shape debates over science, technology, and the environment. He is particularly interested in examining the roles of cultural, social, and psychological factors in shaping risk perceptions, policy preferences, and forms of political behavior, as well as examining mass mediated discourses on science and environmental issues. The goal of his research is to develop new knowledge and strategies to help scientists, media professionals, and advocates effectively communicate across different media about complex issues. His dissertation research examines U.S. partisan news media coverage of climate change through integrating the frameworks of cultural theory, framing, and narratives. His dissertation also examines how ideological predispositions and worldviews interact with forms of selective media use and communication behaviors to shape risk perceptions and policy preferences on climate change.

Todd received his M.S. in Policy Studies from DePaul University's School of Public Service, and his B.S. in Public Affairs from the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University - Bloomington. His research has been published in peer-reviewed journals, including Public Understanding of Science and Environmental Education Research, as well as in edited volumes, including The Routledge Handbook of Environment and Communication.

SOC Isabelle Zauagg


Isabelle Zaugg’s research interests include language, culture, and representation in the digital age.  Zaugg’s dissertation research investigates the relationship between digital communication technologies and rapid declines in language diversity worldwide by focusing on the case study of the Ethiopic script.  Her research will shed light on the wide-reaching implications for the public good of digital design and standards governance, and their impact on global language diversity.  Zaugg received a Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad Fellowship to pursue her fieldwork in Ethiopia from 2016-2017. 

As part of ongoing research on image, representation, and Africa, Zaugg co-authored a journal article in 2015 entitled Angola and Kenya Pavilions in the 2013 Venice Biennale: African Contemporary Art and Cultural Diplomacy in the "Olympics of Art” in the Journal of Arts Management, Law, and Society.  She also presented her research at the Social Theory, Politics, and the Arts conference in 2014.

Zaugg has an MA in Film & Video from American University and a BA in Art Semiotics from Brown University.  She received a Fulbright Student Fellowship to teach digital filmmaking courses in Addis Ababa from 2012-2013.  She wrote and directed the narrative short The Strong Force (2016), the documentary short BF Superstars (2012), and the long-form documentary At Home in the Valley (2006). 

Zaugg attended and presented her dissertation research at the Annenberg-Oxford International Media Policy Summer Institute in 2015.  She studied at Addis Ababa University from 2004-2005 in the Brown in Ethiopia program.  She is also an alumnus of United World College of the Adriatic.

Fall 2012 PhD Students

SOC PhD student Kenneth Merrill


Kenneth Merrill's research focuses on the politics of internet architecture and its effects on society and culture. His masters thesis examined the privatization of intellectual property enforcement. As a research assistant for the Tully Center for Free Speech at Syracuse University he concentrated on the intersection of law, politics, and the media providing frequent commentary on the Tully Center's Free Speech Zone blog. His other research interests include media and diversity, the social-psychology of computer mediated communication, cultural memory, and ethnographic research. He received his bachelors degree from The University of Virginia where he studied foreign affairs with a concentration on South Asian politics. A native of Miami, Florida he worked as a contributing editor for Home Miami Magazine where he covered art, architecture, politics, sports, food, and culture.

SOC PhD student Tatevik Sargsyan

Tatevik Sargsyan

Tatevik Sargsyan’s research interest is the influence of media technologies on young people’s political behavior, engagement/disengagement from civic life, and perceptions of dutiful citizenship. In her native Armenia, Tatevik worked for a USAID funded program where she managed election initiatives and implemented projects geared towards media independence, professional and financial development, and on-line presence. Tatevik also has experience in executing polling and marketing projects, reporting for magazines, and teaching. She taught oral Italian and Russian at Fairfield University and worked as a TA of an internet culture course at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for four semesters. Tatevik has a Diploma in English and Italian from Yerevan State Linguistic University and a Master’s degree in Media Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

SOC PhD student Tijana Milosevic

Tijana Milosevic

Tijana Milosevic’s research interests revolve around the studies of media effects. She is currently working as a research assistant on media framing of climate change in the US mainstream media under the guidance of Prof. Lauren Feldman and Prof. Sol Hart. Tijana’s MA thesis at the George Washington University looked into media framing of geostrategic outcomes of the Iraq War. Dignity studies is an emerging area of interest that Tijana is hoping to develop in the field of communication as she looks into framing of cyber-bullying in the mainstream media, as well as the issue of online censorship. She has previously worked at the Public Diplomacy Council in Washington DC, and has lectured in media psychology at a private university in Belgrade, Serbia, her home country. In her free time Tijana blogs at the Huffington Post and is finishing a documentary film - The House that Jack Built - about underground urban dance culture in Washington DC.

SOC Theo Plothe PhD

Theo Plothe

Theo Plothe’s research focuses on the intersection of video games and remix culture. His current projects include an investigation of gaming culture as represented through video remixes and in the television program The Big Bang Theory. Other academic interests include social media, mimetics, and sports communication. He currently works as a research assistant for Dr. Deen Freelon's big data and social media projects. For his master’s thesis at Northern Illinois University, Theo investigated NFL players’ use of Twitter. Theo has previous training in linguistics at Ball State University and has taught English at Ball State as well as in Japan and Korea.

Fall 2011 PhD Students

SOC Jan Lauren Boyles PhD student


Jan Lauren Boyles joined American University's School of Communication as a doctoral fellow in 2011, after spending the last five years as a faculty member at West Virginia University's P.I. Reed School of Journalism. Her current research at AU centers upon how crowdsourcing changes internal routines within newsrooms, while also shifting the external business model undergirding journalism. During her tenure as a doctoral student, Boyles has presented her work before the International Communication Association and at University of Oxford's Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism. In 2012, she also served as a summer researcher at the Pew Internet & American Life Project, where she co-authored six reports on mobile technology and the future of higher education. Her work was featured in The Washington Post, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Los Angeles Times and Poynter, as well as on CNN and NBC News. An award-winning professor and academic advisor at West Virginia University, Boyles taught numerous courses in media ethics, reporting, narrative journalism and news writing while also serving as the college's Director of Advising. Boyles also was an elected member of the University's Faculty Senate. A native of Fairmont, W.Va., Boyles graduated summa cum laude with undergraduate and master's degrees in journalism from WVU. She was selected by WVU officials as a Rhodes Scholar candidate and as a member of the WVU Order of Augusta, the highest University-wide academic distinction bestowed annually to eight graduating seniors. She is also a former newspaper reporter for The Dominion Post (Morgantown, W.Va.), Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette and Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail, and the author of "Cancer Stories: Lessons in Life, Loss and Love," published by the WVU Press.

SOC Luis Hestres PhD student


Before joining the PhD program, Luis Hestres worked as an online organizer at various nonprofits, and was most recently the Internet and Communications Manager at the 1Sky climate campaign. He was also the Web and Media Coordinator for Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez and worked at PBS TeacherLine as a content specialist. A native of Puerto Rico, Luis holds a BA in Communication from the University of the Sacred Heart in San Juan, an MA in Communication, Culture and Technology from Georgetown University and an MFA from AU's Film and Media Arts program. While at Georgetown, Luis was awarded a distinction for his thesis titled Peace for Vieques: The Role of Transnational Activist Networks in International Negotiations, which he presented at the International Studies Association's annual conference in 2007. Luis' research will focus on how nonprofits can use online communications most effectively to bring about social and political change.

SOC Faizullah Jan PhD student


Faizullah Jan is pursuing a PhD in Communication at American University’s School of Communication (SOC). He has been teaching at the Department of Journalism & Mass Communication (JMC), University of Peshawar, Pakhtunkhwa- Pakistan, since 2000. Before joining the JMC he worked with The Frontier Post, a national English daily—initially as Sub-Editor—for six years. He was Editor In Charge when he left the daily to join the university as faculty. He has also worked as Public Relations Officer for the University of Peshawar. At the JMC, besides teaching he used to edit a fortnightly newspaper of the University of Peshawar, The Campus Bulletin. Before coming to the U.S., Faiz was a regular contributor to English daily Dawn writing op-eds on topics like journalism, war on terror, militancy, the Taliban, tribal areas, and Afghanistan. He has been monitoring the Pakistani media with special interest in the jihadi (radical) media pulished by the different jihadi groups in Pakistan.

SOC Lucy Odigie PhD student


Lucy Odigie's fields of interest include Cultural Anthropology, Diasporic studies (specifically the Nigerian diaspora), Cultural Communication theory and online community and identity building. She hopes to concentrate her research on the intersections between, cultural, social and online identity and community formation in the new media age.

Prior research focused on nationalist rhetoric in global communications, ethnic minority press in the UK, and the Internet as a forum for transnational community building. Originally from the United Kingdom, Lucy gained her BA in English from the University of London, Queen Mary, and her MA in Social & Cultural Analysis from New York University.

SOC Paula Orlando PhD student


Paula Orlando’s research focuses on alternative and activist media, social movements and state violence in Brazil. Her previous research examined the visual representations of HIV/AIDS in Africa utilized by international development organizations, and the relationship between women’s rights violations and HIV/AIDS prevalence in Zambia. Paula's professional background includes experience as a newspaper reporter and magazine editor in her native Brazil as well as work in international development in Zambia. She received a B.A. in Journalism from São Paulo State University (UNESP) and a M.S. in Political Science from Illinois State University (ISU). Her doctoral research has been supported by the Tinker Foundation through Center for Latin American & Latino Studies at American University.

SOC Jamie Schleser PhD student


Jamie Schleser joins SOC after five years as a publishing professional, most recently working as a Senior Editor specializing in cookbooks at an international firm near Chicago. She has also spent time as a food stylist during the production of a regular series for the Food Network and various national morning news show segments. Schleser's research interests include the intersection of food culture and media as well as the role of Internet Communication Technologies (ICT) in the processes of collective memory, historical narrative formation, and memorialization. Past research has included historiographical film studies, rhetoric of advertising, and virtual communities. Degrees: B.S. Media Studies, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; A.A.S. Culinary Arts, Kendall College; M.A. (with Distinction) Media, Culture & Society, DePaul University