Last month, members of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHASS) at NC State met up at with employees from the Publications Division of SAS Institute in Cary for a half-day symposium to explore research opportunities of mutual interest. The gathering was a rekindling of sorts as the SAS-CHASS relationship that, while dormant of late, was once much more active (our own Dr. Carolyn Miller is the SAS Institute Distinguished Professor of Rhetoric and Technical Communication). Recent efforts to renew the partnership come from Dean Jeff Braden and SAS VP for Publications Kathy Council, who recognized a mutually beneficial opportunity to align the research ambitions of CHASS PhD students with the research challenges of SAS.

I went along to represent the CRDM program and to talk about my work in corporate social media analysis, which, along with topics like globalization and usability, is one of many topics SAS is interested in exploring. (In fact, the SAS Director of Media Intelligence Solutions Mark Chaves was our most recently featured speaker for the CRDM Colloquium, and he shared some fascinating insights on social media research challenges in regards to their new analytics tool.) I was joined by PhD colleagues in the Psychology and Sociology departments and by multiple faculty across CHASS.

Sure, my 7 minutes of public speaking was probably the most important discussion of corporate social media ever to take place relevant to some, but I was honestly much more interested in listening to SAS personnel talk about their research problems and how they might intersect with our methodologies and research specialties in CHASS. For example, our primary audience was the Publications division of SAS but we were joined by members of R & D as well, who later raised a laundry list of research project needs they had in the queue. Listening to their project descriptions, I realized that a manuscript I was working on with Dr. Jason Swarts lined up neatly with their research questions. From this initial curiosity came a conversation, an exchanging of improbably handsome business cards, and an email thread that produced a brownbag research forum on assessing instructional video content for technical communication. Dr. Swarts and I hosted around a dozen members of SAS who joined CHASS scholars in the audience on NC State’s campus as we presented our ongoing research. A lively conversation ensued. Lively, I say. Lively!

Screenshot taken of ELAN software program used in video coding project

Sample screenshot of our tutorial coding project (program pictured: ELAN)

Honestly, I was really impressed with the level of overlapping interest in a topic I thought for sure would be entirely esoteric to everyone outside of our collaborative writing process. The Q&A got us thinking about issues we clearly should have addressed during the writing process; at the same time, we took comfort in the reassurance that some of the most critical decisions we made about what not to include in the results or analysis were applicable beyond they typically insulated academic audience. The best part? We were just the first of many future collaborative brownbags, and I’ll be really interested to see where the fruits of a renewed town-gown relationship will take our program.

All told, things are looking up for the future of SAS partnerships. With a bit of luck and a lot of inventio, you should look for the “town-gown” tag to reappear on this blog in the future as we move the CRDM program forward into more SAS-CHASS collaborations, with or without the exchanging of handsomely designed business cards. Yes. Handsome I say!

~Matt Morain, Class of 2008


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