Graduate student’s thesis selected as top paper at NCA

Submitted by on March 23, 2012

Sara Colabella, a graduate of Fairfield University’s M.A. in Communication program, traveled to New Orleans last November to present a research paper at the National Communication Association (NCA), the oldest scholarly speech association in the U.S. In addition, her paper was selected as one of the top papers in its category, a great honor for the Fairfield alumna.

Sara Colabella and her thesis advisor, Dr. David Gudelunas


“To be honest, I was shocked,” said Colabella, whose paper explored Cultivation Theory, which originated in the 1960s and looks at how images on TV influence the perceptions of the viewer.


“The department couldn’t be more proud to have one of our first graduate students win a prestigious top paper award,” said Dr. David Gudelunas, associate professor of communication and Colabella’s advisor. “The honor demonstrates the quality of Sara’s thesis research as well as the strength of our program in mentoring students to produce top-quality research that is among the best in our field.”

The opportunity to present at the NCA occurred when Colabella, who also has a B.S. in marketing from Fairfield’s Charles F. Dolan School of Business, completed her thesis last spring. “Dr. Gudelunas encouraged me to submit a shortened version of my work,” she explained. Colabella submitted her paper to the Future Division of the scholarly association, where paper topics discuss where further research in the field is needed.


Cultivation Theory argues that the penetration of television has changed the way people learn about the world. Colabella’s study employed in-depth interviews with major cultivation and media scholars and an online survey measuring new media usage. Her results suggest that long-term exposure to new media technology has the same (or an increased) influence on the viewers’ perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs.


While Cultivation Theory is not a new idea, Colabella argued that it is still an extremely relevant theory. “We’re constantly surrounded by and exposed to media messages,” she explained. “The theory needs to be reexamined, adapted, and redefined since people are using media more than ever. In addition to TV, we are around media messages all day through our cell phones, iPads, and computers.”


Following the completion of her Master’s degree, Colabella applied to several Ph.D. programs in mass media including the University of Massachusetts Amherst, American University, and University of Florida. And it was Fairfield’s program that ultimately helped her decide what to do following her degree completion. “I developed a passion for teaching during this program,” she explained. I thrive on [academia] and I think it’s a really rewarding field to pursue.”


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