Yuba City, California
Research Focus:How people interact with media
Mel Stanfill, PhD, didn’t set out to become a professor. As an undergraduate student studying English at the University of California, Berkeley, the California native aspired to become a creative writer. However, Stanfill realized that their strengths lay in a different area — analyzing texts. Upon this recognition, Stanfill decided to pursue a career in academia and become a professor, helping others understand how things work and why this matters. “That was a terrible plan, and it should, by all rights, not have worked out for me, for those keeping score at home,” Stanfill says. “But it turns out I was actually good at it, and the rest is history.”
After completing a master’s degree in Media and Cultural Studies at California State University, East Bay, a PhD in Communications and Media at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and concluding their postdoctoral studies, Stanfill began searching for jobs at different universities around the country. Stanfill received several offers but decided to take a position at UCF because it included working in the Texts and Technology PhD program. The prospect of working in such an innovative, interdisciplinary Digital Humanities program was very appealing to Stanfill, as was working with PhD students, who were the primary reason Stanfill took the job.
Stanfill now channels their love for education and passion for texts into their undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral courses. When it comes to teaching, the most gratifying aspect is watching their students grow. "The moments when students reach a new level of understanding are so rewarding,” Stanfill says. “There’s something really magical about the seminar where we talk through ideas together and try out different ways of seeing the world.” Stanfill also serves as an adviser and chair for doctoral students and organized the Digital Cultures Research Group, an interdisciplinary group of faculty and students that meet a couple of times a month to talk about research projects and hold workshops.
This year, Stanfill was recognized by the University for Faculty Excellence in Mentoring Doctoral Students. The award is an attestation to Stanfill's dedication to helping students succeed. “Mentorship is such an important part of what I do, it was great to be recognized for that,” Stanfill says.
In addition to teaching, Stanfill is currently engaged in research, looking at how people interact with media, particularly fans. Stanfill describes getting into fan studies as serendipitous. “I had been participating in fandom online for several years by the time I was in college, and so when I read these guys Adorno and Horkheimer for one of my classes, who basically argued that the media controls people's minds, it was out of alignment with my experience of fans taking TV shows and rearranging them to suit themselves through practices like fan fiction,” Stanfill says. “That experience of what I was reading in my class not matching what I knew from my own experience led me to want to research fans and their interaction with media.”
Stanfill’s research is significant in a world where people's lives are inevitably mediated. “Technology affects how we get our news, how we learn, how we do leisure activities, and how we maintain interpersonal relationships, and it’s vital to understand both the technical and the human aspects of that,” Stanfill says.
Stanfill aims to continue mentoring students, sharing their knowledge, and conducting research to ask questions that will help make our society a more inclusive place.
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