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Boom! Ka-pow! Alumna Presents Research at Comic-Con

Julia Stern, ’17, shared her thoughts on fan culture

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There’s a months-old message sitting in her voicemail, but Julia Stern, ’17, doesn’t plan on deleting it anytime soon.

After all, it’s a recording of former Bridgewater State University professor Danielle Kohfeldt informing Ms. Stern that her research earned her a spot at the microphone at San Diego Comic-Con International’s Comic Arts Conference last month.

“It was beyond exciting and I had butterflies,” said Ms. Stern, who majored in psychology. “I was incredibly proud to even be able to be there and was very confident in my work.”

Her research, conducted at Bridgewater as an undergraduate, focused on the manifestation of oppression within comic fan communities, and how people create a sense of belonging within those subgroups while being oppressed. So for a self-described “huge nerd,” the world-famous convention focusing on fandom of movies, shows, anime and games proved to be the perfect place to present and further her research.

“To be able to attend my first time as a professional and have the opportunity to impact the community I love so much was beyond my wildest dreams,” said the Westford, Mass., native. “I was also very excited to be able to network with other academics in fields related to mine and build connections that could boost my future aspirations. I also was able to make many more connections with people in the fan community and if I choose to continue my research in the future I now have an even larger network.”

Ms. Stern’s interest in the topic of oppression in fandom subculture began in her sophomore year honors thesis preparation, and the research gained traction the following year with two grants and an Adrian Tinsley Program for Undergraduate Research and Creative Work Summer Grant. She also found guidance and support along the way in Professor Kohfeldt, as well as Dr. Laura Ramsey during her final year at BSU.

Not only did the grants fund her research, but they may have completely altered her career path. 

“The funding, support and opportunities awarded to me from BSU and the Office of Undergraduate Research have been life-changing,” said Ms. Stern, who was the only undergraduate to present on her panel at Comic-Con. “When I first came to BSU I thought I wanted to be a teacher, but after a variety of experiences I’ve changed my mind. I had no idea what I was going to do from there and floundered, knowing only that I liked psychology. 

“Now through my experiences conducting research, my career path has become clear and I have found something I am truly passionate about.”

Ms. Stern’s Comic-Con experience was also made possible through the diligence of Professor Kohfeldt, even after the professor moved back to her home state of California and began teaching at California State University, Long Branch. She and Ms. Stern had been trying to gain entry into the conference in recent years, but Professor Kohfeldt didn’t let a little distance and a job change create an obstacle.

Partnering with another professor in the Golden State, Profeessor Kohfeldt submitted yet another application with Ms. Stern’s name on it — leading to that unforgettable voicemail still on Ms. Stern’s cell phone.

“This was truly a once in a life-time experience for me,” said Ms. Stern, who is currently in the process of applying to graduate school. “And I am so thankful to BSU for making it happen.” (Story by Charlie Peters, University News & Media)

Read Ms. Stern’s abstract for the presentation at Comic-Con below.

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