Lyric Mandell seems like a typical 20-year-old. She loves to watch Netflix, “90-Day Fiancé,” stay up late, play board games with her family and go bike riding with her bird, a caique named Sugar Ann. But there’s something extraordinary about Mandell. This spring, she was the youngest student to earn a graduate degree from the University of Houston – a master’s in mass communication from the Valenti School of Communication.
But that’s not the end of the higher education road for Mandell. This fall, she will begin a doctoral program in media and public affairs in the Manship School at Louisiana State University, putting her on track to graduate with a Ph.D. at 23.
Being “the youngest” has been a constant throughout Mandell’s academic journey. She graduated high school at 12, attended Houston Community College at 13, then transferred to UH when she was 15. Two years later in summer 2017, Mandell graduated from UH at 17 with a Bachelor of Arts in Media Studies and was recognized then as the youngest person to receive a bachelor’s degree.
Mandell took a year off from school before her passion for learning pulled her back to UH in 2018 to pursue that master’s degree. These astounding achievements are no surprise to Mandell’s mentors at Valenti.
“Lyric is an extremely hard worker and excels at everything she does,” said Jen Vardeman, director of Valenti’s graduate studies program, who hired Mandell to be a research assistant. “She has an exceptional ability to understand what is needed for a final project and if you give her a goal, she’ll get it done.”
Assistant professor Summer Harlow recalls the first time she met Mandell in her graduate qualitative methods class. “Lyric said to me, ‘I know nothing about qualitative research, what can I read?’ I said, ‘You mean beyond this huge syllabus of a thousand course readings?’ She always looked for ways to supplement her knowledge,” recalled Harlow, who says they eventually bonded over their love of diet Dr Pepper.
The lover of diet Dr Pepper, avid reader and self-proclaimed “night owl” shared what fuels her desire to learn and what’s in store for her next chapter in life.
Where does this passion for learning come from?
My mother and grandmother were both educators, and I was inspired by that. At a young age, I saw myself working in education. The happiest moments for me are when I am learning in a collaborative space. Going into academia and being able to impart my knowledge on others is what makes me the happiest.
You spent your most of your teenaged years in higher education. Do you feel like you had to grow up faster than others because of that? How have you changed over the years?
I never felt like I was missing out on anything or was different than the other kids. My mom always said I was three going on 30. I really just wanted to be like the adults around me. I think allowing myself to grow up in an academically rigorous program has been very beneficial to me because I have a very good perspective on development and growth that not a lot of other people have. I think my parents allowing me to purse the things I am passionate about instead of holding me back, really allowed me to grow and be independent and develop into my own person and set my own rules. Although my developmental years were shaped a little different for me, I think I still went through the normal growth patterns.
What will be your focus of study and research at LSU?
My focus throughout my higher education has always been how media affects societies’ attitudes and behaviors. At LSU, I will be able to merge my areas of interest in entertainment, political communications with special attention to where they intersect and affect audience perception and opinions.
What do you look forward to the most as a doctoral student?
The thought of growing as a scholar and being exposed to new perspectives, different cultures and ideas is really exciting. Part of the reason I valued my education at UH is that we are one of the most diverse campuses in the nation and with that we have the opportunity to be exposed to different cultures, ethnicities, genders and sexualities. I got diverse views of ways people see the world. Going into this doctoral program, I hope some of that diversity is mirrored. In addition, I am elated to utilize the impressive research facilities LSU has to offer, like the Media Effects Lab and Social Media Analysis and Creation Lab. I am also really looking forward to being able to collaborate with other scholars in my field and join Manship research groups, including the Race, Gender, and Media, Media Effects, and Political Communication research groups. At the end of the day, I am excited to expand my knowledge, get ingrained into the literature and position myself as an academic scholar and researcher.
What do you plan to do as a career?
I’d like to be a professor on a tenure track position. I’d be interested in pursuing a post-doctoral fellowship or joining an institution that allows me to continue my research. Ultimately, I hope my research will positively impact society and further the understanding of how media affects people's attitudes and behaviors and how favorable media portrayals can change culture for the better. I’ll always have a special place in my heart for Valenti, so teaching at UH could be a great option one day.