Communication field study takes students to Comic-Con
School of Communication Director Matthew Smith channels his love of comics and pop culture into an experience that continually redefines what can be done in the field of communication.
Eleven years ago, Smith created the one-of-a-kind field study, which he leads to Comic-Con International in San Diego each summer. The 2017 trip was sponsored by the International Education Center and supported by the College of Humanities and Behavioral Sciences and the School of Communication.
The field study, open to 10 students each summer, requires each participant to conduct and present their own unique research in a span of just a few days.
One of the two Radford University students who participated in the field study was Jesse Booker, who arrived at Comic-Con with a vague idea of what she wanted to study.
The open-ended opportunities led Booker to attend Comic-Con, but she quickly focused her topic on why people chose to wear or embody Wonder Woman at the convention.
“That was a trend we noticed this year,” Smith said. “She was attracted to that visual as she was walking along and decided that was what she was going to explore.”
Other students arrived at the convention knowing exactly what they wanted to examine.
“A young woman from Arkansas looked at how Harley Quinn has been adapted from comics, video games and films,” Smith said. “She wanted to study how Harley was embodied by people on site and what were their motivations for wanting to emulate a particular interpretation of Harley, so she was going around and talking to every person she saw dressed as Harley.”
While at the conference, the young woman got to meet the creators of Quinn, a fictional supervillain appearing in publications by DC Comics. She discussed the reasoning behind the varying portrayals with the character's creators.
“When students come in working on their own project, or discover a project, but they are always studying things I hadn’t anticipated them studying,” Smith said. “They discover aspects of the Comic-Con experience that I’m not necessarily focused on, or even in a position to really understand.”
In addition to the research, participants in the study presented at their own panel at Comic-Con. After the students’ presentation, a visitor – who had attended Comic-Con for 15 years – walked up to Smith and said he was “blown away” by what the students did.
“I took that as high praise, someone who didn’t have to come and certainly didn’t have to come up to me and say anything, went out of his way to compliment this program and the work the students did,” Smith said.
Similar to many of the study abroad opportunities available at Radford University, there is a screening process for Smith’s field study.
The goal is to get students to experience Comic-Con and have them think critically about pop culture, Smith said.
“Since that’s the goal, it’s not about credits – it’s about getting students to the experience,” Smith said.
The field study is a one-credit course offered during the summer through Radford University.