Students Serve on Panel at Pop Culture Conference

Students Serve on Panel at Pop Culture Conference

Students Serve on Panel at Pop Culture Conference
Attending the FWPCA conference, from left, were Gwendolyn Walton, Jessica Thuma, Dr. Gwen Hart, Alexandra Marcel, and Shelby Ripperger.

Four Buena Vista University students recently learned that valuable off-campus educational experiences are not exclusive to their academic majors.

The students — Gwendolyn Walton, Shelby Ripperger, Alexandra Marcel, and Jessica Thuma — attended the Far West Popular Culture Association (FWPCA) Conference in Las Vegas Feb. 24-26, where they presented their research papers in a panel entitled, “A Prime Time for Love: Portrayals of Sex, Love and Romance on Four popular Television Shows.” 

The opportunity to attend the FWPCA Conference stemmed from an assignment created by Dr. Gwen Hart, assistant professor of English composition, as part of the Written Communications II English general education course. The project involved investigating messages that are commonly depicted in the media using Dr. Mary-Lou Galician's 12 mass media myths (problematic messages) and prescriptions (healthy messages) about love. To do this, the students — who are all non-English majors — examined four popular television shows: Bones, Grey’s Anatomy, Friends and So You Think You Can Dance.

“It is very unusual for undergraduates, particularly non-majors, to produce the quality of work that will allow them to participate in academic conferences at this level,” says Hart, who accompanied the students to the conference. “I was so proud of our students; they became experts on their topics and were able to intelligently answer questions from professors from other universities about their research.”

Jessica Thuma, a junior international business, Spanish and management triple major from Woodstock, Ill., analyzed portrayals of sex, love and romance as presented in the medical drama television series, Grey’s Anatomy. “The conference helped me realize how much fun academic work can be and how hard work can be rewarded,” says Jessica. “I would love to go to another conference because it’s an extremely valuable experience.” 

Three of the students — Gwendolyn Walton, a sophomore biology and psychology double major from Granger; Shelby Ripperger, a junior exercise science – human performance major from Lee’s Summit, Mo.; and Alexandra Marcel, a junior psychology major from Stanton — used their academic conference allowance as a part of their Dean’s Fellowship Program membership to help fund the trip.

This was the first time BVU participated in the FWPCA Conference. Hart hopes to promote the opportunity and take other students to the conference in the future. “It’s so important for students to participate in the larger world of ideas,” she says. “There is no substitute for taking students out of their comfort zone to interact with researchers from across the country.”