Faculty Feature: Associate Chair Discusses Research and Love of Discipline

by Jennifer Shaskan

Faculty Feature:  Associate Chair Discusses Research and Love of Discipline

Dr. Xiaomei Cai currently serves as professor and associate chair for the Department of Communication. In this role, she functions as the voice for both students and faculty and assisting Department Chair, Dr. Anne Nicotera, in running the department. This requires Cai to take on a lot of day to day responsibilities such as assessing the department for accreditation, student appeals, organizing faculty and staff meetings and coordination of department events. Cai says she sees herself as “the channel for different constituents within the department…to make sure everything works well and connects well.”

Cai’s main goal for the department in her current position is to have the department run smoothly with common goals across the board within the department. Additionally, she hopes to be the channel for students and faculty when needed. Cai claimed that she hopes to act as a resource for support, guidance, and feedback for students, faculty and staff when encountering problems or troubles within the department.

Cai’s area of research is focused on children and media but, has recently taken a dive into health communication research as well. In 2019, she and Dr. Xiaoquan Zhao received a grant to study vaping among adolescents and are currently leading a study for designing effective anti-vaping messages. This study aligns her passion for children and media with a relevant application that she finds interesting and practical. Her passion for children and media was sparked from curiosity and her experience as an international student in 1997:

“Children’s websites back in 1997, when I started the program, were so dynamic, so colorful, and so interactive. Being an international student,  I was not familiar with the websites so when I looked through everything, children’s websites were the ones that were most attractive to me…From a researcher perspective I started to notice the problem of information collection from children and that’s how my research started. Nowadays I’m a mom and the issue has become more and more salient to me.”

Cai expands this research passion by teaching our children and media course to undergraduate students. Growing up with parents who worked at a university, Cai always saw herself as a teacher and wouldn’t change that. Regarding the field of communication, Cai loves studying and teaching in the field because it is so useful and practical. She explained:

“Nobody lives without communicating. You have to communicate. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about interpersonal communication or your communication with your device… Communication is part of your life. Nobody can say I don’t communicate.”

Cai explains that teaching provides such an internal sense of reward and satisfaction to her life and that graduation day is always her favorite day of every year because,  “I feel like it’s the happiest day of my life too because when I see how happy they are when they graduate in their cap and gown, walking through the lineup, and they’re all smiles, and congratulating them. It’s really rewarding.”

When it comes to job hunting, research, or other obstacles, Cai recommends to students to be proactive. During undergraduate years, be proactive in reaching out to your professors—don’t be afraid of them. Be proactive in looking for opportunities to apply your skills and knowledge whether that it is in student organizations, internships, or research.