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Student Spotlight February 2011

Richard Slawsky

"Richard has turned a devastating experience into a productive one.  His life in New Orleans was thrown completely upside down by Hurricane Katrina.  He has used his experiences during Katrina as a focus for his research and has presented at several academic conferences.  He not only successfully juggles his graduate work but works full-time, has a family, and teaches in the Communication Department."

Dr. Jennifer Gregg, Department of Communications



February's Student Spotlight, Richard Slawsky, grew up in Louisville and graduated from Valley High School. He attended Murray State University as a freshman in 1978-79 and then transferred to the University of Illinois the following year.  After attending U of I for a year and a half, Richard ended up dropping out due to the financial strain. At the age of 25, he packed up and moved to New Orleans. Richard ended up homeless after Katrina so he moved back to Louisville where two of his sisters and several friends lived. He then applied and was accepted as an undergraduate student in the Department of Communications. After completing his BS in Communication in the spring of 2009, he applied for the graduate program in communications and was accepted. Richard is currently in his second year of completing a MA in Communications.

Specific areas of research (how you chose this research, why it interested you):
In the period immediately following Katrina, the population of New Orleans and surrounding areas were scattered to the four winds. We had no way of knowing where our neighbors were and how to deal with problems such as insurance, FEMA, jobs, and so forth. People spontaneously adopted online discussion boards as a way to rebuild their community and to get back in touch with friends and family. I saw through that experience the potential for computer mediated communication in disaster situations. Social media tools have grown tremendously since Hurricane Katrina and these tools and computer-mediated communication are my primary area of interest for research.

How would you describe your area of study/ specific research to your grandmother?
I research how people use the computer to maintain their sense of community after disasters.

What was your favorite part of the graduate school experience?
The camaraderie. It's a much smaller group of people than in the undergraduate program, and there is a much bigger sense of "we're all in this together."

Awards, honors, publications:
I was named Distance Education student of the year in my senior year as an undergrad. I've also had papers accepted at the annual Kentucky Communication Association conference, the Southern States Communication Association conference, and the International Conference on Social Science Research.

What accomplishment, academic or otherwise, are you most proud of?
I am most proud of being able to finish my undergraduate degree after a 25-year break. My diploma is hanging on the wall in my bedroom and I look at it every day.

How do you think this advanced degree will change your role in society?
Dealing with any sort of disaster is a tremendous shock and it's made much worse when you are separated from friends and family and forced to move to a strange place. Using computer-mediated communication to help make those situations easier to cope with would be of tremendous benefit to society.

Describe your family life:
I'm married, live in Fern Creek, and have four adopted children.

Fun Facts

A talent you have always wanted:
The ability to play the guitar. I keep trying but haven’t gotten too far. 
Favorite book: The Stand by Stephen King. 
Favorite quote: "plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose"  - The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Role Model:That's a difficult one. I'd say Congressman John Yarmuth. He strikes me as a common-sense guy who says what he believes, no matter what the popular opinion might be.
Pet Peeve: People who talk on cell phones while driving. 
If you weren’t in graduate school, what would you be doing now? I'm a bit of a workaholic, so I'd probably be working a second job.


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