I’m a Marylander through and through, growing up in Baltimore, returning to Maryland after college and now again after grad school. It makes me so happy to return to the state I was born and raised in, and to work for the University of Maryland system, where both my parents have spent so many years working (and where the rest of my family attended college).

I attended Elon University in North Carolina for my undergrad, an amazing small, liberal arts school. There I fell in love with media studies. I can’t speak highly enough of the School of Communication there and the impact it has had on me academically. I worked at the radio station (WSOE) all four years, including a year as GM, and was an editor for the weekly newspaper (The Pendulum). I graduated in 2002 with a dual bachelor’s degree in communication (broadcast and corporate)  and journalism.

After college, I moved to the DC area and began a five-year stint as an editor at PR Newswire, an international news distribution service. I loved the job, but it wasn’t challenging enough, so I decided to go back to grad school. I attended Georgetown University, enrolling in their Communication, Culture & Technology (CCT) program, and wrote my thesis on the role social network sites play in changing the face of interpersonal communication, with a focus on potential negative outcomes. This research was facilitated by a survey of more than 600 Georgetown University undergraduates. A digital copy of the thesis can be accessed here.

While at Georgetown, I had the pleasure of working with the wonderful folks at the Pew Internet & American Life Project. I coauthored the Project’s Digital Footprints report, released in December 2007, and its Teens & Video Games report, released in September 2008, and later served as a consultant while at MSU.

nicole_vitak_graduationWhile writing my thesis, I became very interested in the concept of social capital, thanks in large part to a recently published article by Nicole Ellison, Cliff Lampe, and Chip Steinfield. After making the decision to pursue a PhD, I wrote to Nicole to express my interest in attending MSU and working with her and was met with a very enthusiastic reply. And the rest, as they say, is history. While I was accepted to other schools in (ahem) preferable locations, there was never a doubt in my mind as to which school was the best fit for me academically. So it was off to the icy wastelands of the north for the next three and a half years.

While at MSU, I spent a large portion of my time working on a NSF-funded grant in The Online Interaction Lab (TOIL) looking at collaboration on social network sites with Nicole and Cliff. The lab was quite productive, with presentations at ICANCAHICSSiConference, CHI, and ICWSM. Nicole and Cliff also served as some of the best mentors I could have ever asked for, helping me become the researcher I am today.

In my free time, my favorite thing to do is experiment in the kitchen. I love both cooking and baking, and I make my own pasta, granola, applesauce, stocks, sauces, and soups, among many other things. Each Christmas, my family and I make ~3500 cookies over four days and then give them away to pretty much everyone we know (see picture for some of the cookies from 2010). It’s uber stressful, but it’s also one of my favorite times of the year. I’m also a big fan of growing my own food, from tomatoes and basil to carrots and squash (although the squash have not been very successful this year).

More recently, I’ve taken up an old hobby: running. In 2012, I started running races again, the first time since high school, and I participated in the Mid-Atlantic Tough Mudder in September. I’ll be doing my first triathlon in August 2013.

If you’d like to contact me, I can be reached here.