Standing outside Seventeenth Ave in the heart of Denver, Colorado. The cold was certainly a nice change!

Hi! My name is Sarah Downey and I am currently a student in the 4 + 1 Masters of Health and Strategic Communication program. This specific program allows me to integrate the Master’s courses with my undergraduate work. The program has turned into a 3 + 1 program for me since I am graduating early. If you read my Student Advisory Board blog spotlight, then you know I aspire to get my Ph.D. in Communication and become a research professor at a university! One of the great things about the School of Communication here at Chapman University is that undergraduate students get to work with faculty on real research that can often get published in academic journals and be presented at national conferences. With my goal of becoming a professor, I decided to take full advantage of this opportunity and learn first-hand if I would enjoy being a researcher.

My journey with research began Spring of 2019 with Dr. Sara LaBelle in the School of Communication. After discovering I had an interest in one of her fields of study, Instructional Communication, I approached her about conducting research together, and she happily agreed to mentor me through the process.

I agreed on the topic of instructional communication in the K-12 setting. Dr. LaBelle guided me through the entire research process from gathering the data to analyzing and interpreting the compiled data. During this process, Dr. LaBelle taught me how to come to conclusions using grounded-theory through comparative analysis. By doing so, themes emerged from the research without any previous framework. Once the research was complete I created a poster and presented it at the Undergraduate Poster Symposium. This was a great experience and I took it as an indication I am moving in the right direction with my career.

Myself and one of my panelists interacting before presentations started.

Before my third year started, I had the graduate orientation for the 4+1 program where Dr. Keith Weber mentioned the difference conferences to which we could apply to present research we do in the program. The Western States Communication Association (WSCA) was one of the conferences that accepted undergraduate research. Before the end of the orientation, I had emailed Dr. LaBelle and said applying to this conference was something I wanted to do this semester. With an enthusiastic response, Dr. LaBelle told me this was doable and would help me through the process of writing my first 25-page research paper.

On December 1, 2019, I submitted my paper entitled Instructional Communication in the K-12 Setting: Setting an agenda for future research. While this is the longest and most tedious paper I have ever written, it was also the most rewarding. In January, I learned my paper was accepted, and I would be presenting at the WSCA conference in February. 

After I found out I was accepted, I began looking at my grant options because I knew the trip would be expensive. Fortunately, after applying for funding, I received grants from the University’s SGA and the School of Communication! I didn’t previously know the School of Communication offered funding for students, but because of this additional resource, I was able to attend the WSCA without the financial worry.

When the morning of my presentation finally arrived, I was nervous but more than anything I was excited. Both Drs. Andi & Keith Weber were among the audience and seeing their familiar faces eased some of my nerves! The undergraduate portion of the conference was conducted on a smaller scale than the rest of the conference. Nonetheless, it was still a great experience, and I even had the opportunity to see Dr. Hannah Ball and one of our alumni present their research! I was also able to network with faculty from other schools, giving me a taste of other graduate programs and faculty research being done at other Universities. I also had the opportunity to represent Chapman at the Graduate Fair and talk about our program with other potential students.

My biggest takeaway from this experience is knowing that opportunity is everywhere in our field of study! All it takes is a step in the right direction with the proper support around you to help, which the School of Communication provides. Knowing I am capable of seeing things come full circle makes me feel satisfied and confident in my work moving forward because I was able to take all the necessary steps to further myself in our field.

I would personally like to thank SGA and the School of Communication for providing me with the opportunity to attend with the grant money and the faculty of SoC for being so supportive throughout my journey thus far! Next year I’ll be a full Master’s student with the title of Graduate Research Assistant, so if you see me around campus come say hi!  If you want to learn more about my experience or have questions about how to get involved in research, feel free to reach me at or sarah.downey777 on Instagram.