One of the ways that Hastings College graduates stand out when applying for graduate schools or employment is their completion of a senior capstone project. This opportunity allows HC students to apply their learning in a practical way, essentially proving that not only do they know, but that they can do. The vast majority of Hastings students complete a capstone, however, not all win a national award for their research, as senior communications major Garrett Delphia did.
Delphia, from Highlands Ranch, Colorado, received the award for best undergraduate paper at the National Communication Association (NCA) Conference held in Philadelphia last fall.The conference was just the final piece of a year-long research journey.
Learning while interning
Over the summer of 2015, Delphia worked as an intern at C&A Industries, a staffing and recruitment firm in Omaha, Nebraska. While at C&A, he couldn’t help but notice the positive work atmosphere that permeated every level of the company, and was curious how different communicative relationships between employees and employers contributed to the company’s culture.
A few months later in the upper-division research methods class with Communications Studies Professor Dr. John Perlich, Delphia was still fascinated by how communicative processes influenced company culture, and created a research proposal to examine that for the class term paper. Initially, he wanted to compare different companies based on his own experiences.
“I had worked two internships that were markedly different in how I was treated as an intern, which was reflective of their company cultures,” said Delphia. “I wanted to compare the cultures of the two companies to see how their communicative processes influenced my experiences, but I ended up deciding to focus on just my positive experience, and the culture of that company.”
Delphia took a multimethods approach to his research, which included ethnographic observations, surveying employees and an interview with upper management. The ethnographic component was essentially his internship, as an employee himself he was able to observe the company’s culture and communication from the point of view of his subjects.
Preparing for Philly
Despite his research being tied to class assignments, Delphia had to work within a shorter timeline than stated in the syllabus. He was encouraged by his professors to submit his paper to the NCA Conference in the Lambda Pi Eta division, which had a submission deadline of March 1, well before the end of the spring semester.
“The paper for NCA had the same premise as the assignment for class, but still had to be altered to meet the requirements unique of a conference paper,” Delphia said. “I had to work pretty intensely early in the semester to meet that deadline.”
The conference itself wasn’t held until November, which gave Delphia plenty of time to practice and refine his presentation. However, on the morning of his panel discussion, Delphia was thrown a bit of a curve ball.
“They changed the room assignment of my panel, but I was already planning on the original room and overlooked the change,” Delphia said. “I was scheduled to present at 9 a.m., and was all set up in the room at 8:58 when I got a text from Dr. Perlich asking where the heck I was. I had to quickly pack up all of my materials and dash across the hotel to the new room.”
Despite having to swiftly break down and set up right before giving his presentation, for Delphia it was more of a blessing than a speedbump.
“I do better spontaneously than sitting around waiting and overthinking things,” said Delphia. “Being able to just jump right up and give my presentation helped me get rid of my nerves.”
Even if having to adapt last minute had affected Delphia’s presentation, the paper awards had already long been decided. At the conclusion of his panel one of the conference organizers presented Delphia with a certificate for having the best undergraduate paper in his division.
Excellence in teaching leads to excellent students
Although he was thrilled to see the months of hard work rewarded, Delphia wasn’t the only person in the room who was excited about the news. Dr. Perlich, the professor of the class where Delphia’s research originated and the advisor of HC’s Lambda Pi Eta national communications studies honorary chapter, was proud of both his student and how it reflected on the institution as a whole.
“A colleague at the conference asked how we get our students to write at that level,” said Perlich. “As a professor, that’s the best compliment I can get, and it’s one we get a lot at Hastings College. It means we’re teaching them the structure, the rigor and methodology that goes along with solid research.”
Delphia was quick to echo Perlich, agreeing that much of his success was due in part to the faculty at HC. Especially Perlich and Dr. Kittie Grace, who provided feedback and encouragement along the way.
Make it interesting, and the rest comes naturally
Though he enjoyed the entire research process, Delphia’s favorite aspect was going over the results from the surveys and interviews at C&A.
“The most enjoyable part was looking at quotes and results from the employees,” said Delphia.
“Hearing all of those perspectives as to why they chose to stay at the company or go in the first place was cool to see; C&A spends so much time investing in its employees, and it was evident on all levels.”
According to Delphia, when it comes to pursuing research, finding those aspects or the things that one finds interesting, is paramount.
“When I first started looking at things to research, I came across a ton of things but none of them really interested me,” Delphia said. “But then when I came across company culture and what makes people want to work somewhere, something clicked and I truly wanted to do the research.”
As such, his advice for aspiring researchers is simple but crucial.
“Find something that you’re passionate about or truly interests you,” Delphia said. “If you do that, it will seem like less of a project on your to-do list, and more an opportunity to learn.”