Searching for ways to engage their students and show the variety of applications for communication studies and professional writing degrees at Oregon Tech, associate professors Franny Howes and Amber Lancaster created two unique summer research projects.

While brainstorming ways to offer their students hands-on opportunities, they developed summer internship opportunities for a gender-neutral pronoun app and a video/print media project.

Howes received a grant to “research, build, and test a fully-functional version of Parlare, an app that teaches gender-neutral pronoun use.” The grant is an extension of one she received in 2019 to design the first proof of concept version. With the continued funding, Howes hired two student co-investigators, Brennen Thacker and Haley Werst, who are both able to work on the project remotely — Haley from Astoria and Brennen and Howes from Klamath Falls.

“Summer grants give students a chance to take on roles that closely mirror what they would be doing in creative industries,” said Howes. “I’m excited for them to get to shape how this app project becomes a part of their professional portfolios.”

The team is using the educational license of the Unity platform to create the app, which will have both text and audio lessons to teach people how to use singular they as well as several “neopronouns” like e and xe.

The software requirements document is complete, and the team has some components of the back end of the app worked out, and they are currently working on developing content.

As program director of professional writing, Lancaster is always looking for ways to apply classroom knowledge to hands-on projects and showcase the endless opportunities available to students with professional writing expertise. With the grant, Lancaster was able to support five student interns (Terrik Allman, Lindsay Bullock, Brooke Harshbarger, Jordan Munoz and Brennen Thacker) to work on video and print media to promote the professional writing degree and conduct user research on the effectiveness of media messages.

The summer project included deeper learning of video and print media production, then applying that knowledge to create content and conduct user research to assess audience response. Student interns participated in a week-long drone and video production course led by Klamath Film Director, Kurt Liedtke. The course included detailed instruction about drone operations and FAA regulations, followed by a crash course in aspects of film production, lighting, gimbals, green screens, audio, editing, and more. Each student was given an opportunity to operate both an aerial and submersible drone, along with extensive use of professional film equipment.

The team also completed eye tracking training to test how audiences respond to their video. Using Tobii Eye Tracking software, they will be able to track how media messages are received and which portions of the video create excitement about the professional writing program.

Both projects will have concepts ready by fall term, which is when audience testing will begin.