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Student Spotlight

The sociology of social media intrigues graduate student

Alberto Mancilla

Alberto Mancillas’ social life is impacting his work.

Networking technology, including Facebook and MySpace, transformed the way the sociology graduate student connects with friends and shifted his research focus.

“I want to see how our trends in society are changing from one value to another, my main focus are interactions with each other.” Mancillas said. “Before we were more communal, an interaction between best friends was going out, playing sports, or watching a movie. Now because of technology; Facebook, MySpace, and so on, we tend to interact, in person, a lot less.”

To get at the question of why people prefer to interact through technology rather than actually meet face to face, Mancillas is honing his research skills as an assistant at the Center for Drugs and Social Policy Research, a position he’s held for three years.

“I plan to use bimodal research approach and conduct surveys asking how their interactions were, prior to the introduction of social media networks,” he said. “With everyone constantly updating their lives through their Facebook status they make it easier for us to feel connected without actually doing anything.”

He’s worked closely with the center’s director Dr. Avelardo Valdez, a sociologist in the Graduate School of Social Work, and its associate director Dr. Alice Cepeda, who holds joint appointments in social work and the Department of Sociology and is also a visiting scholar at the Center for Mexican American Studies.

“They’ve taught me how to do interviews properly, how to go through protocol, institutional review board approvals, how to submit an application, how many revisions I can do,” Mancillas said. “It really showed me the scenes behind the scenes about what goes on to be a real researcher. “

Mancillas began his undergraduate career in CLASS majoring in Spanish but found his passion in an Introduction to Sociology course. He graduated in May 2010 with a sociology degree and decided to stay at UH for a Master’s in the same field.

“We have great minds here; I feel I still have much to learn from them,” he said. “Our school may not be the most prestigious, yet, some of the minds we have here are unmatched.”

Mancillas was awarded the 2010 Joseph S. and Rosella H. Werlin Memorial Scholarship bestowed on UH undergraduates who pursue graduate studies in sociology at the University of Houston.

“It meant a lot that they would honor me with this scholarship,” he said. “In the future I want to come back and be able to give back to the department of Sociology and the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences as they have done for me.”

After earning his master’s degree, Mancillas hopes to pursue a PhD in generational studies or social psychology and expand on the idea that people’s interactions change as a result of technology. He hopes understanding this aspect will allow him to help parents communicate better with their children.

“Parents can use this to better understand their child’s personality, how they interact with people, and with whom they are interacting.

Mancillas believes that a better understanding of social media will help parents be aware of cyber-bullying, and become more approachable and involved in their child’s Internet life.

- Luis Zelaya