Engaged scholarship in communication (ESC) is scholarship that puts academic resources of the university to work in solving pressing public problems, contributing to the public good. Within this broad field, projects usually focus on (A) public engagement and service learning courses, and/ or (B) community-based and applied research.

Engaged research and learning projects developed at the UMass Amherst Department of Communication encompasses a broad range of theoretical and methodological approaches connected by their shared concern with (A) dialogic modes of knowledge production; (B) reflexive practices that bridge theory-praxis divides; and (C) increased public deliberation, participation and problem-solving.

Project Areas

  • Media Literacy and Education

  • Media Literacy and Violence Prevention

  • Community Dialogue and Social Justice

  • Digital Community Media and Social Change

  • Communication and Sustainable Development

  • Film Festivals, Community Screenings, and Arts Events

  • Documentaries and Community Media Productions


Media Literacy and Education

  • Media Watchdog Project: Media literacy, race and identity. Graduate and undergraduate students worked with sixth graders in Peck Middle School, Holyoke to learn about media literacy and the construction of race and ethnic stereotypes. Creative productions that demonstrated their learning shown on cable access stations. (Faculty: Leda Cooks)

  • See-Hear-Feel-Film, Visual literacy for 3rd graders (In collaboration with Amherst Cinema). (Faculty: Allison Butler)

  • Digital and social media curriculum for girls ages 5-12 (In collaboration with Girls Inc. Holyoke). (Faculty: Allison Butler)

  • Curriculum development, teacher training and policy advocacy for Mass Media Literacy. (Faculty: Allison Butler)

  • Student workshop (and teacher training) in media literacy for Williston-Northampton School. (Faculty: Allison Butler)

  • From Miss Representation to Mass Representation: Educating for Change, curriculum for  (In collaboration with UMass Dartmouth). (Faculty: Allison Butler)

  • Mixed methods assessment of critical thinking exercises regarding advertising and commercial culture among 4th and 6th graders. (Faculty: Erica Scharrer)

  • Qualitative analysis of the ways in which a sample of 6th graders approach an exercise in which they are asked to write letters of praise or protest to media companies regarding gender depictions and violence. (Faculty: Erica Scharrer)

  • Qualitative analysis of the ways in which a sample of 6th graders envisions the Internet in terms of risks and opportunities, through a Draw the Internet activity. (Faculty: Erica Scharrer)

  • Media literacy curriculum development and teaching at a social justice public middle-high school in Springfield (Faculty: Joel Saxe)

  • Media technology policy literacy and youth (Faculty: Martha Fuentes-Bautista)


Media Literacy and Violence Prevention

  • Media Literacy and Violence Prevention Program. Undergraduate students worked with sixth graders in area schools to teach and learn about the dynamics of interpersonal conflict and mediated violence. Students create media literacy PSAs which are shown on local cable access TV. (Faculty: Leda Cooks)

  • Flirting with Danger community screenings and public discussions with teachers, students and parents on media and cultures of consent and coercion in adolescents' and young women's sexual experiences, in partnership with the Media Education Foundation. (Faculty: Lynn Phillips)

  • School and community workshops for parents and teachers on the culture of “hook-up, consent and coercion” among teens (Faculty: Lynn Phillips).

  • Action research project on implementation of Title IX regulation in public universities. (Faculty: Lynn Phillips)


Community Dialogue and Social Justice

  • Community Dialogues on Access to Food gather community concerns about food access in springfield and fosters deliberation on potential options to address these concerns. In partnership with the Center for Community Deliberation and New England Public Radio (Faculty: Leda Cooks)

  • Community Dialogues on Race and Identity. Created, organized and managed University-High School Dialogue Partnership. Developed social justice and identity dialogue programs on and off campus, trained facilitators, partnerships with 9 high schools in South Hadley, Springfield, Northampton, Amherst, Wilbraham and Turners Falls. (Faculty: Leda Cooks)

  • Pioneer Valley Community Breadhouse. This project explores the intersections of gender, culture, identity, and new social movements with the material practices of organizing, cooking and sharing bread with others in the community. Website: (Faculty: Leda Cooks)

  • Community action and community food system involves students in work to promote racial equity, social justice and food security through service projects for PVGrows, HCACoalition, Rachel's table, Craig's Next Door, Garden the Community, Seeds of Soldarity, Help YourSelf, Amherst Survival Center, and many more. (Faculty: Leda Cooks)

  • Facilitation and training for intercultural dialogues on social justice issues. Groups of teachers, community members, high school, undergraduate and graduate students trained and now conducting dialogues. (Faculty: Leda Cooks)

  • Community oral history of the civil rights era in Springfield, anchored at the Mason Square Library (Faculty: Joel Saxe)

  • “System Change Not Climate Change,” Western Mass study group on climate change issues and their impact in the region. (Faculty: Joel Saxe)


Digital Community Media and Social Change

  • Western Mass Media Justice Network: facilitating dialogues, events and community discussions on media justice issues (Faculty: Mari Castañeda, Martha Fuentes-Bautista, Demetria Shabbaz)

  • Feminist Media Justice Seminar: students engage in a wide variety of community-based learning projects collaborating with social justice organizations and activists exploring the intersections of social advocacy and media justice. In collaboration with the Amherst Media, Prison Birth Project, Free Press, Nueva Esperanza Center (Faculty: Mari Castañeda, Martha Fuentes-Bautista, Demetria Shabazz)

  • Local information needs and digital community media, this project engages local publics and community media practitioners in reflection, discussion and action research on citizen news and information needs of their communities. In collaboration with Amherst Media, Northampton TV and Greenfield TV. (Faculty: Martha Fuentes-Bautista)


Communication and Sustainable Development

  • Research on how communication mediates relations between people and nature (Faculty: Donal Carbaugh)

  • Cultural discourses in communication systems in automobiles in field studies in the US and China, in partnership with General Motors (Faculty: Donal Carbaugh)

  • Facilitating experts and public dialogues on biodiversity, climate change and energy in collaboration with the Boston Museum of Natural Sciences for the World Wide Views project (Faculty: Henry Geddes)


Film Festivals, Community Screenings, and Arts Events

  • Massachusetts Multicultural Film Festival (MMFF) seeks to cultivate an public appreciation of film and the moving image, to inspire audiences to a deeper understanding of the world's cultures through film, and to celebrate past, present and future achievements of international filmmaking. (Faculty: Shawn Shimpach and UMASS Interdepartmental Program in Film Studies)


Documentaries and Community Media Productions

  • Bread & Roses Radio (Producer), weekly program exploring issues of social justice and creating a fair economy on Valley Free Radio, WXOJ, 103.3FM. (Faculty: Joel Saxe)

  • Western Mass Media Justice, conversations with activists, media practitioners and scholars on current issues of media democracy and social justice, in partnership with Amherst Media. (Faculty: Demetria Shabbaz, Martha Fuentes-Bautista, and Mari Castañeda)

  • Layers of Pompeii, documentary film which engages local Italians as translators, interpreters, guides, and promoters of the tourist industry and the archaeological site of Pompeii, Italy. (Faculty: Kevin T. Anderson)

  • Tokunbo, documentary film that deals with issues of class, ethnicity, and entrepreneurship and post-colonialism in the Nigerian used-car industry, otherwise known as "tokunbo." A particular curiosity is the absence of automobile manufacturing in Nigeria, and the specific appeal of owning cars previously owned by Western Europeans and North Americans. It has been shown at multiple conferences around the country.  (Faculty: Kevin T. Anderson)

  • Distant Mirrors, documentary co/produced with UMass students based on Douglas Valentine's anthology of international poetry expressing love-hate thoughts and feelings on "America," engaging youth in reflections about struggles of the world's outcasts, immigrants, and working classes in the new American century. (Faculty: Kevin T. Anderson)

  • Media production and Left cultural history from the 1930s to the present. (Faculty: Joel Saxe)