School of Communication Graduand Excels in Academia After Working in Public Relations for 10 Years

October 03, 2023

Nicole Stewart did not experience the traditional path typically taken by academics.

Before beginning graduate studies, Stewart worked in public relations for over 10 years, completing her Bachelor of Arts in Professional Communication at Royal Roads University during this time. In this environment, her work was focused on delivering client-based metrics; including her learning, the conferences she attended and the projects she led. In 2014, she decided to turn her attention towards graduate school, starting in the School of Communication Master of Arts program.

“Graduate school was the first time I was able to pursue projects according to my own agenda,” says Stewart.

“I’ve learned that this is incredibly freeing and fun. If you can dream it, you can do it.”

After completing the Master of Arts program in 2016, Stewart began working towards her PhD in the School of Communication in 2017.

Her thesis Platforms and Everyday Life follows how 50 households (a total of 151 participants between zero and 73) use hardware and digital media platforms in everyday life. The study highlights the platformized, mediatized, datafied, gendered, racialized, cultured, and class-based dimensions increasingly at play for platform families

Her favourite memory at SFU, however, came as a teacher, while teaching CMNS 253 - Introduction to Information Technology: The New Media Inside Oculus Quest 2 Headsets. Throughout the semester, Stewart and her students spent over 25 hours together learning inside meta-spaces like Engage, Spatial, Horizon Worlds, Rec Room, and Echo VR using avatars.

“The class had a magical quality to it, and we learned so much from the virtual worlds we constructed and deconstructed together,” says Stewart.

“It was an amazing class with an incredible group of students. I’ll never forget that semester; it was a one for the record books.”

Luckily for her and her future students, Stewart will continue on with her passion for teaching as she recently started a new position as an Assistant Professor in Digital Media, and Director of the Digital Media Lab at Texas State University.

When asked if she had any advice for current graduate students, she said the following.

“Follow your dreams, but most importantly, have fun and be fearless. Graduate school can sometimes feel overwhelming and isolating, but don’t let the walls of the classroom, the opinions of others, or that thesis or dissertation document limit your learning.”