Dr. Flores Speaks on Equity: CSUF Communications Department

By: Alexa Valdez, Alonzo Floriolli, and Alan Ruelas

On October 28th, 2022, we conducted an interview with Dr. Robert Flores, Assistant Dean for Student Affairs at California State University, Fullerton regarding his dissertation, Career Development Through An Identity-Conscious Lens: A Framework to Engage First-Generation and Underrepresented Students. Our objective in conducting this interview with Dr. Flores was to get a better understanding of his research process for his paper on first-generation and underrepresented students. We asked him ten questions regarding the way he conducted his research along with his thoughts and findings throughout the process.

Question 1: Why is this study important and how does it differ from similar studies (if there are any)?

Dr. Flores first stated that his primary concern for the study was that career development supports the first generation, and underrepresented students need to progress beyond just a focus on skill attainment. He pointed out that it is not just about talking on how you take what you learn and turn it into a job, but also about strengthening students’ inclusion of identity-based methodologies. In other words, who they are as a person, also informs their career development decisions. The other piece Dr. Flores found is that we need to help students understand the multiplicity of their identities, due to the fact that the different components of our identities form our values, and our decision-making process, and ultimately can be key factors in our career trajectory. Dr. Flores then went on to explain how it differed from similar studies by stating that this was an action research study where “we look at how we, as practitioners in higher education, can create change in our current environment, and how we, as a practitioner and an individual, are positioned in that study as well,” as opposed to an empirical study, where you have a cause and effect. He concluded his answer by pointing out that it is not just about what happens to the participants in the study, it is also about the change that occurs in you as the researcher, and what you learn about yourself. 

Question 2: What do you find to be the most efficient research/sampling methods?

Dr. Flores first pointed out that the most efficient research/sampling methods varies depending on the research type. He explained that when he first started his research project, he had both quantitative and qualitative data collection. As he got further into his research, he learned that when reporting it out in later chapters, the qualitative data had the most impact and connection to his research question. The quantitative data had some importance but was not needed as much as the qualitative. He went on to explain that in his experience with this research, he found that focus groups were most useful and was where he got most of the “heart and soul” of his dissertation. 

Question 3: How do you start your research process when looking for articles?

Dr. Flores explained that he started his research process very broadly. He understood his main focus as examining career development practices, therefore analyzing career development theory. After all, theory informs practice, and that he was also looking at identity development. With that, he then selected a few keywords that were part of his research question that helped guide him along the way. As was deeper into his research, he then realized he was also examining underrepresented first-gen students, and added “Underrepresented” and “First-Gen” to his word search. After taking what he had already identified and combining words and mixing them up a bit, he was able to find a lot of great material. Something that Dr. Flores pointed out that really was a big takeaway when he was talking about “gaps” in research. He stated that “I also found that when there was a lack of information on a certain component, that to me, as a researcher, helped me understand that there’s a gap in the research, right, and so I’m onto something really great. So instead of being frustrated, it tells me, I’m looking for something that no one else has probably done yet or hasn’t published. So this is a great position to be in because you’re being a contributor to the literature that’s out there to support the groups that you’re working with.”

Question 4: What are the most important factors to consider when conducting research?

Dr. Flores immediately answered this question by flagging the importance of research guided by individual passion because of the countless and arduous hours spent looking into a topic. He pointed out that the topic should really resonate with a part of who you are as a person and something you are deeply passionate about if you are doing real in-depth research. Flores also went on to point out that another factor to consider is the amount of access you have and your current position– whether it is a student, practitioner, employer, employee, etc. “Think about your circle of influence, and connection, and how you can maybe utilize some of that in your research. Because that will help you so you’re not just starting from scratch, in some cases.” By considering these things, you can understand if what you are researching is as attainable as you would hope it would be. 

Question 5: How do you brainstorm for your research topics?

Dr. Flores mentioned that you can document your thoughts in whatever way you prefer– whether it is journaling, drawings, blogs, etc.  He went on to explain that for this research process, he would use audio recordings. For example, after class, he would record himself on his phone during his hour-long car ride home. During this time, he would debrief the day, talk about themes that had impacted him, times that made him stop and think, or even ask himself questions. By doing this he was able to go back and listen to those recordings to remember what exactly was really striking him at that moment and point out some key things that he could use.

Question 6: What are some experiences that have led you to this topic of research? Was there a moment that inspired your research?

Dr. Flores explained that his research initially started with him examining his own journey to his career. He realized that there were certain things that happened in his life that contributed to the decisions made by him. He then took this and then looked at how other students with similar identities were embarking on that journey and how they can create a structure that supports them to understand their identity, values, and strengths in order to put that together and form a career roadmap. 

Question 7: Do you have any advice when it comes to choosing a topic that interests you?

Dr. Flores answered this question by first pointing out that it is not always the best idea to pick the “hot” topic at the moment, even though it might be tempting. This can be because a lot of people might be drawn to that topic as well. He says it is best to push yourself out of your comfort zone to try and get the most out of what it is that you want to research. He explains this is because if we choose things that are a little too close to home, we have a tendency to be comfortable and be blinded by our own biases and own experiences. With this, do not be afraid to tackle something that is new and remind yourself that you are not an expert (yet) and give yourself grace for not knowing the answer at that moment, but be determined to figure it out. 

Question 8: What was the most challenging part of this research study? 

Dr. Flores pointed out that the launch of his study was set to be in August 2020, which happened to be a few months after COVID-19 had hit. With this, it made it difficult to continue with his research because they were supposed to be in-person workshops. Along with the switch to Zoom, came uncertainty if students were still interested in being a part of the study. Although there were lots of changes that had to be made on short notice, Dr. Flores pointed out that something positive came out of this challenge. He explained that since the pandemic brought such isolation to everyone, students missed being together in person and connecting with one another. So in the study, students reported that they enjoyed coming together every other week with their group of people to talk about something so personal in a space where they felt safe.

Question 9: In other research studies what is usually the most challenging part of the research process for you?

Another challenging thing, aside from the answer to the last question, Dr. Flores pointed out that getting access to subjects or participants. It can be difficult finding people who are willing to participate, and also endure the duration of the study. He explained that doing more in-depth research is most difficult because it requires multiple time commitments, which is often the biggest challenge, because “you are going to see some, you’re going to see a little bit of a melt, you might start with a really high number of participants, and then that’s going to kind of fade off and you will need to account for that and your finding.” So it is always important to consider the number that you started with, and then any attrition that happened over time, and how that might have an impact on what it is that you’re reporting.

Question 10: What was the most shocking part of this study and how did you find it?

The most surprising part for Dr. Flores was the level of advocacy that the students reported having gained as a result of this study and that came from the exit interviews. During their interviews, participants went over goals based on career plans they had developed, and a high percentage of the students were able to articulate that they had learned certain advocacy skills for themselves and for others as a result of this. Dr. Flores had not expected this because he was really focused on this being about career development and your identity and its understanding, he did not think at the time that this advocacy awareness would come into play. 


After interviewing Dr. Flores, we have a better and more complete understanding of his research process for his paper on first-generation and underrepresented students. We learned about the easy and complex parts of conducting a rigorous research project on equity within education. The biggest takeaway from our interview with Dr. Flores is understanding the reward of conducting a research study in any field will ultimately be contingent on the discoveries made that can exponentially grow our understanding. 

Professor Elise Assaf on the Fundamentals of Research: Enthusiasm, Engagement, Execution

By: Vanessa Vuong, Maddy Monroy, and Niko Morales 

Professor Assaf works in the department of Communications at California State University of Fullerton. We asked her questions regarding her writing process behind her dissertation, Hidden Power: Journalistic Representations of Mental Health Labels.

Elise Anguizola Assaf | Department of Communications | Cal State Fullerton  - Department of Communications | CSUF

Professor Assaf explained that a big catalyst that inspired her research was her brother and his schizophrenia diagnosis. While it isn’t a mental health diagnosis like depression or anxiety, schizophrenia still came with similar negative stereotypes. Assaf explains,

“There were a lot of stereotypes that were communicated to me. People would question, ‘Oh is he dangerous?’, ’Is he violent?’ … In my mind, it was like, ‘Where are these [stereotypes] coming from?’ And why do people have these assumptions, because they are very far from the truth.”

Professor Elise Assaf

Assaf was also inspired personally by the increase of mental health becoming a more prevalent problem in the college setting. She recalled a specific article from the Daily Titan about test anxiety and witnessing it herself through her students. 

Assaf mentions that she wishes she had included more of this information about what inspired her in the positionality statement of her publication. A positionality statement is a part of qualitative studies where you explain what inspired your research, your perspective, and any other biases you may have related to the research. However, with this particular study, Assaf had an advising team that helped her decide what she should include. During the time of the publication Assaf was working towards tenure and Assaf and her advisors decided that including too much information about her personal mental health diagnoses could potentially harm her chances of getting a tenure (especially based on what the research was studying).

Because of her career in public relations, education in mass communications, and disability studies, as well as personal experiences with mental health stereotypes— she demonstrates the importance of picking a topic that interests you. However, she also warns that a challenging part of choosing a topic you like is ensuring it is not only interesting, but that it also provides an opportunity for advancing the field with your own studies, or,  “growing the research that is already out there” as Assaf puts it.

Professor Assaf’s Rules of Thumb

Assaf explained narrowing down her publications proved to be one of the most challenging parts behind her research process. A personal rule of thumb Assaf follows is finding publications that are similar in their consistency, size, and importance to the subject being discussed. One might find difficulty comparing a short publication to a longer one as short ones are more condensed. Assaf found the top ten articles in the U.S. surrounding her subject of research and picked her sources from those based on their relevance, importance, and length. The importance of staying neutral and being aware of any conflicts of interest is crucial as well. Assaf explained that a woman from her dissertation committee had a husband who worked for the L.A. Times, and it prevented her from using them as a source. She recommended that it is important to go into the writing process knowing what your research goal is and having an idea on what topics you will compare, as doing such is the key to writing an in-depth, intellectual piece.

The 5 Step Writing Process Every Writer Should Know | thinkwritten.com

Her Own Work

We asked Professor Assaf about her personal thoughts on her dissertation and whether or not she wished to condense it or hoped to expand upon it. Assaf explained that her dissertation is more of a broad publication that she has been able to submit fragments of to various areas. She recalled being told to write something that she could pull about two to three sources from. The dissertation she wrote had to be a bit longer as she explained that proving her knowledge on the subject itself was the most important part, as there was not a lot of current or past research on the topic. Her goal was to get at least a conference paper or journal article out of the dissertation; after publication, her dissertation was picked for a conference discussion, and a piece of it was submitted for a chapter of a book being written by a professor. 

Free Editable Graphic Organizer for Writing Examples | EdrawMax Online

Bridging the Gap

In building the foundations for forming productive conversation on research, Professor Assaf illuminates the importance of providing context for the intended audience, explaining that “it was something I specifically worked on” in regards to her own dissertation on mental health. Pertaining to the research that she conducts, Professor Asssaf mentions that it is targeted towards those that produce content, such as reporters, and therefore it is her responsibility to ensure that the content she writes can be reproduced in an easily digestible form by the general public. Essentially, because reporters are communicating her research on widely discussed topics like mental health in mass media channels, it is necessary to make the information as accessible as possible so that societal changes and perceptions can be positively affected. 

Paramount to research as a whole, Professor Assaf further highlights the process of disseminating content and always holding in consideration to whom the information will be received by: at a conference, for publication, to journalists, and above all, “knowing who my target audience is” so that she can present it “in a format that makes sense for the group I’m reaching out to.” For Professor Assaf, she aims to address groups such as advocates for mental health, and focuses upon adjusting the language to make the biggest impact within communities. 

Reinventing Research

Because research is a saturated field of varying perspectives and analyses, we brought up our concerns for “double-dipping” or being repetitive in putting together our own research. Responding to these inquiries, Professor Assaf stated that in this industry, you must be “cognizant” of becoming “pigeon-holed…or in your echo chamber of what you expect to find within research.” To do so, researchers should always consider alternate perspectives, and avoid leaning into established biases and expectations for the subject areas that they explore. Assaf advises us to stay current and aware of the information circulating on our topic, so that we can consider all points of discussion.

Moreover, when working with sources, Professor Assaf states it is imperative to, “look at other research as the building blocks to your study.”

Professor Elise Assaf

In doing so, one can find where there is a lack of research, and formulate their studies based on those guidelines instead of regurgitating information; essentially, we are filling in the gaps. Assaf also reassures us that it can take time to uncover where there are unsupported ideas, and to find what research hasn’t been done, while simultaneously being cautious about redundancy. A method of implementing this involves “tak[ing] a study that was done a decade ago, two decades ago, and…apply[ing] it again to see if that is still accurate or if things have changed,” and in that way, “you could potentially be looking at the same thing, but seeing if it’s still a current finding.” 

Ultimately, Professor Assaf encourages us as researchers to find topics we’re interested in, invested, and passionate about, and to be realistic about executing our research based on our timeline, the intended target audience, and within the parameters given to us.

Effects of Humorous Heroes and Villians in Violent Action Films

By Fynn Chester, Juan Pablo Sepulveda, Andrew Gutierrez, Jacob Ishikawa

Dr. Cynthia King

We conducted an interview with Dr. Cynthia King, a very well known professor of Communications at California State University, Fullerton. The Interview was based off of one of her publications called the Effects of Humorous Heroes and Villains in Violent Action Films.

Dr. King worked in a media violence research field prior to conducting this study. While working on media violence, she then took a course to elaborate on humor theory. The similarities between the two intrigued her enough that she combined the two during this study. During this time, however, there were movies coming out such as Pulp Fiction, and one liner Arnold Schwarzenegger movies where violence was at the forefront, but humor was a close second. Dr. King decided to research the effects that humor plays in these violent, and sometimes grotesque, action films. King goes on to describe how her curiosity was what attracted her to the topic and how presenting this to some of her classes gives students an understanding of the commitment, curiosity, and thinking process one must have as a research professional.

Pulp Fiction (1994)

Dr. King describes how the background information is based on what we already know. Reviewing articles, other studies, and using key information to obtain a plethora of knowledge and information as the cornerstone of your research. King describes how you may already find an answer to a question you’re thinking about using as a hypothesis altogether and your understanding of the question at hand may be resolved before starting. By using this information to your advantage, you can refine and redetermine your hypothesis in a more quality manner. King studied how humor and violence wasn’t a new theory and that her previous knowledge on the topics had been short stemmed. Learning to love the process of examining an entire history of feelings and emotions among certain aspects of life. Designing a study that is well rounded is key and the goal of all researchers and publishers. Then having others review your research and study and giving you very helpful feedback, even about information that you may have already seen and adapted into your study. King compares her study to mystery movies and foreshadowing. A good mystery movie will leave you at the end looking back and saying you already had the answers, and you just had to finish the movie to see it. A bad mystery movie will leave you with open ended questions that have no result from the movie itself. The study should come to an answer at the end, whether it is negative or positive, but it shouldn’t end in more questions.

Dr. King states that her study was completely experimental, which allowed her to manipulate whichever part of the process she’d like. A survey, King says, is really only correlational, and cannot create causality. Taking films and editing the movie to have no humor at all allows for the manipulation in her survey, which resulted in varying answers for her study. The main difference between the control groups was that each viewed a different version of the same movie because of the editing. One control group viewed a movie which had been edited to show no humor for the hero, another was edited to show no humor for the villain. These manipulations created vast differences in the outcomes of how the viewer interpreted the film. In the bigger picture, the study aims to show what the effects on society may be, and that maybe violence mixed with humor can desensitize something that is wrong or not seen in everyday life. The true test of the experiment came after the movie when Dr. King had the control groups watch short videos of actual violence. King played two videos, one of the show Cops, where a squad car pulls up to two men in a violent altercation, and another video from Face of Death, a video compilation of people being hurt or hurting themselves.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day 1991

Villain humor made the movie more distressing for all viewers, and hero humor made the movie less distressing only for men. Women still had the distressing factor to the movie based on the perception of the movie. Also, finding a film that not everyone had seen was key to the experiment, because bias did not want to be included if participants had viewed a film before. The implication of using humor in violence actually may have worked better because it can make people view it in a more materialistic view. The idea that humorous cues in violent films indicates that whatever is being watched is “just a movie” and not reality allowed audiences to enjoy and appreciate the films.. The second aspect of the study showcases actual violence, but without any humor at all, because it is real life. Without humorous cues to precede the violence, audience reactions were different than expected. Being able to decipher the media research that happens and the effects it can have on populations was of utmost importance.

At the time the experiment was conducted, technology and programs were still in their infancy, so paper and pencil were the instruments used. While inputting the results and coding the participants to have statistical analysis is difficult, it used to be much harder due to the lack of technology at the time. The brainstorming and designing of the study will take much more time to prepare then actually putting it into action.

In Dr. King’s experience with film editing, it became much harder to actually learn a completely different skill just to be able to conduct a study. Without the technology to “point and click”, it was tedious and difficult and the study took quite some time to complete in full. In total, the experiment took one year from start to finish. Dr. King states she had a great, sometimes frustrating, experience. King found a new love for video editing, considering she had never edited film before. King also had to build her own code to gather the statistics. It was an experience that allowed her to grow as a person, instructor, and doctor.

If one is to take anything from this interview, it should be that perseverance and understanding should be at the forefront of one’s goals during an experiment. There will be times when one cannot fathom moving forward, finishing a task, gathering the right partners, or building an experiment…but if the motivation and determination is there, one can endure. Create, learn, and share. That is the true nature of experimentation.

Women, Comedy, and How Far We’ve Come

Professor Heather Osborne-Thompson is a scholar and associate professor at Cal State Fullerton within the Radio/TV/Film department. Having been awarded her Bachelor’s in English with a concentration in Journalism from the University of New Hampshire along with her Master’s and Doctorate in Cinema-Television Critical Studies from the University of Southern California, our team found her to be a qualified expert on the topic of gender and genre in television; both contemporary and historical. As such, we had the opportunity to sit down with Professor Thompson to discuss her own work of research within the scope of women’s comedy entitled: “Routine Adjustments: Re-Viewing Women’s TV Comedy Genres, 1950-1969”. According to Thompson, the idea for this graduate program dissertation research stemmed from a desire to bring more attention to women who would not conform to society’s set expectations for them. In other words, the women who strayed from the typical stay-at-home mother and wife role that was broadcasted and encouraged across the nation in the 50s and 60s. Thompson stated that she wanted to find more information on not only these kinds of women, but also the “funny women who say things you’re not supposed to say, and behave in ways that are different from the cues we get about how we [women] are supposed to behave”. As a result of deciding upon this research topic, Thompson was certain that the next steps of developing this subject would be to take a closer look at the traditions from which female comedians had come from, as well as examine different types of historical evidence in regards to the way these women were understood and portrayed by the media (newspapers, radio, television, etc). Ultimately, this meant delving deep into the early feminist movement and looking at the way performances done by female comedians impacted the difficult and often sad issues addressed within comedy at the time.

Continue reading “Women, Comedy, and How Far We’ve Come”