Growing up with immigrant parents, Aarum (Farrah) Youn-Heil said she feels like television and movies helped raise her. From a young age, it stuck out to Youn-Heil that not everyone she saw on the screen looks like she does. She wondered: “If people saw Asians on TV as outsiders, would they see me like that too?”
It’s that very question that inspired Youn-Heil to seek her Ph.D. from Grady College’s department of Entertainment and Media Studies.
“Pursuing my Ph.D. has provided me an avenue to keep exploring the impact that TV and movies have on people of color,” said Youn-Heil. “Beyond that, I’m curious how we communicate about race interracially and how TV could be a pedagogical tool for difficult racial conversations.”
Ultimately, Youn-Heil, who received her master’s in interpersonal communications from UGA in 2020, wants to use her doctoral degree to become a professor and a researcher. She is eager to help facilitate conversations about race and media both inside and outside of the classroom.
“I hope to be an educator that encourages students to question who and what they see on the screen,” Youn-Heil said.
As a doctoral student over the past two years, Youn-Heil has conducted interviews with individuals about their experiences with interracial communication apprehension.
“During a time of social distancing and a rise of racial violence, people of color struggle having conversations about race interracially,” she explained. “Personally, I see how it has impacted our mental health as well.”
Throughout her time on campus, Youn-Heil has also prioritized helping those pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees at UGA build their communication skills.
As the communications consultant with the Division of Academic Enhancement’s Presentation Collaboratory, Youn-Heil helps students strengthen their public speaking abilities and overcome communication apprehension. And while working as a graduate assistant for the organization International Student Life last summer, Youn-Heil and her peer ran a workshop series solely for international doctoral students at UGA.
“The workshops were dedicated to building their intercultural communication skills and creating thought-provoking research conference presentations,” explained Youn-Heil. “It was an amazing experience getting to be creative and collaborate with a doctoral student in another discipline! I learned so much!”
Youn-Heil went on to explain how grateful she has been for her time at Grady, learning from and working with top scholars dedicated to her research.
When asked if she has any advice for someone considering pursuing a Ph.D, Youn-Heil said: “Take advantage of your curiosity, and go for it! I never felt like a school person. But, as a doctoral student, I think of it less as school and more as a time to be an explorer.”