Penn State doctoral student brings international perspective to her efforts

Jonathan McVerry
November 28, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Giuliana Sorce wants to see the world, but the motivation for her latest journey — a doctoral dissertation — began at home.

Sorce, a third-year doctoral student in Penn State's College of Communications, was born in southwest Germany and grew up enjoying the fluid borders of her neighboring countries. Beginning at an early age, her family made frequent visits to her father's home country of Italy, and to other European nations. Sorce’s eagerness to travel continues today.

“The most I traveled in one year was in 2007 when I visited seven countries,” Sorce said. “It’s something I fundamentally enjoy and it was only natural that I’d use it for research purposes. There is nothing more stimulating than going someplace new and learning all about it.”

In just her second semester at Penn State, Sorce took a trip to South Africa as part of the COMM 419 World Media Systems honors section with Anthony Olorunnisola, professor of media studies. On that trip she met with representatives from Media Monitoring Africa (MMA), a non-governmental organization that promotes inclusive and unbiased media coverage of all individuals. The experience piqued her interest.

“They were a really friendly, colorful bunch,” she said of the MMA organizers. “I was fascinated in learning about the types of activism they do in the media and how they combat structural issues. I was looking for something that had real-life impact, and this did at an international level.”

South Africa’s media system has a trying history. In 1994, after abolishing its “apartheid” system, the government created a new constitution that embraced equality. Unfortunately, Sorce says, “legal statutes rarely translate into immediate culture change.” Twenty-two years later, South Africans continue to experience misrepresentations in media content — including gender and sexuality. After learning about this struggle, Sorce says she found her dissertation topic.

“Giuliana’s work is vital to ensuring that basic human rights are not privileges,” said Michelle Rodino-Colocino, Sorce’s adviser and an associate professor of media studies. “She is doing smart and strategically important work on how media monitoring can serve social justice.”

Over the summer, with grants from the Africana Research Center, the Don Davis Program in Ethical Leadership and the Arthur W. Page Center, Sorce returned to South Africa to study its media system. She examined how gender issues were not treated equally in the news during the nation’s latest elections. That type of framing is problematic.

“For example, every woman-focused story was about a rape case,” she said. “There’s something wrong with that. MMA is working to draft policies that input values and raise awareness of these issues.” Sorce contributed an op-ed piece for the Mail & Guardian, South Africa’s leading weekly newspaper, about her observations.

Sorce said MMA cannot just identify what’s bad and walk away. So the organization is creating apps and websites that will become resources for journalists to help them do their job with more integrity. MMA also offers courses on ethical reporting at a local university. These strategic interventions help media professionals cover issues of inclusion and diversity more consistently.

Rodino-Colocino said given the uncertain political and global climate, people around the world are concerned with human rights, women’s rights and equality. Because of these concerns, she added, Sorce’s work is as important as ever.

“We should be attentive to how media can serve in keeping people down or in strengthening the democratic process and human rights,” Rodino-Colocino said.

Prior to her life as a graduate student, Sorce was a translator for TS Global, a language service provider in Germany. She speaks seven languages and is fluent in three. She enjoyed the interactions and meeting new people, but after three years she wanted to be heard in a different way.

“I hosted shows and moderated different events,” Sorce said. “I enjoyed those things, but I had something to say, and as a translator I was saying other people’s words.”

It was time to find her own voice and the independent work of a graduate student was a natural fit, and a career in higher education was something Sorce had in mind since she was young.

“As an undergraduate student, I enjoyed the natural banter of academia and being intellectually stimulated every day,” she said. But “an advanced degree was never not an option.”

Sorce is earning a doctorate for her grandfather, who loved learning, but whose educational opportunities were limited due to a need to work at an early age. After just three and five years of schooling, respectively, her grandparents, who lived in Sicily at the time, had to work to support their families.

“I always did really well in school, and there was this implicit promise that I would make this happen. Growing up, my family called me ‘dottoressa,’ which is ‘doctor’ in Italian,” Sorce said.

Sorce brought her thirst for knowledge and lifelong motivation to the United States where she attended graduate school at Indiana-Purdue University Fort Wayne. She earned her master’s degree and completed a thesis on changing stigma through engaging media. In Fort Wayne, she gained another passion — a love for teaching.

“It’s probably my favorite thing next to traveling, my pets and good food,” Sorce said. “There are so many jobs where you don’t see the immediate outcome, but there is nothing like seeing a student’s eyes say ‘I got it.’”

Marie Hardin, dean of Penn State’s College of Communications and Sorce’s teaching mentor, said Sorce’s ability to keep the classroom engaged impresses her the most. She’s a natural.

“Giuliana has high expectations for her students and provides them with the tools to meet them,” Hardin said. “She obviously has incredible cultural depth. She is mature, thoughtful, and yet approachable for students.”

What’s next for Sorce? She is set to defend her dissertation early next year and hopes to travel back to Europe to live and work near family. She will continue her work with MMA and the South African media system, but also sees her work venturing into new areas around the world.

“I plan to do comparative research and South Africa will always be a part of that,” she said. “But it doesn’t matter where. The activism part is what’s really important and intriguing.”

  • Giuliana Sorce w/MMA

    Giuliana Sorce (left) with members of the Media Monitoring Africa group (from left): William Bird, director; Aya Poro, children's program director; Amanda rowen, communications director; Thandi Smith, head of policy; and Wellington Radu, head of programs.

    IMAGE: Penn State
Last Updated November 29, 2016