Hi! I’m Ava Francesca! (but, that can be a lot, so feel free to call me by my initials, ‘a f ‘, for short)

I am an Information and Media doctoral student and University Enrichment Fellow at Michigan State University in the Department of Advertising and Public Relations, under the advisement of Dr. Kjerstin Thorson. My course of study also includes an in-progress graduate certificate in Community Engagement, under the guidance of Dr. Diane Doberneck.

As a working-class, non-traditional student, my path to a Ph.D. program has been circuitous. My highest level of completed education until I was 29 was high school. Sometimes life just throws roadblocks at you. After three attempts at community college, in two states, I earned my associate degree from Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

In 2017, I moved from Duluth, Minnesota to Chicago and was Loyola University Chicago’s School of Communication’s first dual-degree student. Working my way through school, I concurrently completed my Master of Science in Global Strategic Communication (2020) and my Bachelor of Arts in Advertising (2019).

My journey has shown me the importance of both formal and informal education. I also now have a sense of why it is so difficult for people without a traditional educational journey to find their way to graduation. Most importantly, this path drives me to be a community-engaged researcher and public scholar.

So what do I actually DO in terms of research? (that’s why you’re here, right?)

My research explores the entanglement of civic infrastructure, information accessibility, and media ecology. My focus is on rural, remote, and deindustrialized communities, primarily in the Upper Great Lakes and Canada, with an emphasis on socio-spatial and cultural-historical perspectives.

What does that mean in non-academic-ese? I am interested in how the built environment influences communication practices, like information seeking and sharing. Specifically, I am curious how one’s concept of “home” and changing community structure shape social identity, both individual and collective. In turn, I want to understand how people come to construct individualized media ecosystems, both online and offline, to share news and civic information about what is going on in their communities.

Recent work that I have been a part of includes research on digital civic infrastructure in the Great Lakes, along with work on the quantity and quality of news and political content that young adults were exposed to on social media sites, leading up to, during, and following the 2020 US Presidential Election.

My research interests are a direct result of the time that I spent in former single-industry communities in the Lake Superior region, including Northwestern Ontario, along with growing up in a small rural town. During that time, I observed a relationship between history, industrial infrastructure, and current community narratives, often manifesting in political discussion. Overall, I became interested in understanding how people make sense of their world, through observing, participating, and listening.

Exploring was my entry into critical ethnography. Though primarily a qualitative researcher, I aim to incorporate computational methods to inform research decisions. One of the benefits of being in an interdisciplinary Ph.D. program is that I get to lean into my natural tendency to draw from several areas. Though I am mainly interested in non-urban spaces, much of my work is motivated by Chicago school urban sociology. I tend to mix an ecological communication approach with political communication, political science, human geography, anthropology, and industrial heritage.

Previous creative and activist work includes collaborating with and coordinating distribution for a feminist Zine collective, designing, producing, and managing a size-inclusive, femme vintage reproduction apparel line, and several years, on-call overnight, as a crisis hospital advocate for survivors of sexual violence.

When I’m not studying, my interests include volunteering as a public history and industrial heritage tour guide(think “grains and trains”), social activism, rail-fanning, biking, alternative print media, sewing, and photography. Also, I’m a proud cat- and plant-mom (2 sassy geriatric cats and 95 plants… thankfully, not the other way around). I love having picnics with my pod. My pronouns are they/them/theirs (femme but still a them).

I am always open to talking about my research or discussing ways to collaborate. Also, if you are a non-traditional student wondering where the “didn’t have any post-secondary education until really late and now are in a PhD program” corner of Academic Twitter is, feel free to shoot me a message. I’m wondering the same thing. The best ways to reach me are through “Contact.”