Research Lab Provides Opportunity for Students, Department and Industry

Research Lab

By: Mollie Lastovica

For Graduate Research Assistant Damian Dominguez, starting grad school in the spring of 2013 meant an opportunity to work alongside Assistant Professor Billy McKim, Ph.D. and continue his efforts with the Digital Media Research and Development Lab of which he has been part of from the lab’s genesis.

“I took Radio I and II with Dr. McKim and got really involved in the research side of things for our radio projects,” Dominguez, who graduated in December with an agricultural communications and journalism degree, said. “Dr. McKim let me know about the lab and said it might be something for me to try. I loved our first project.”

The Digital Media Research and Development Lab is the result of a collaborative effort among all of the agricultural communications and journalism administration and faculty and works closely with the Extension Organizational Development service unit and Evaluation and Accountability Enterprise. The lab aims to increase partnerships with industry, government and nonprofit organizations.

“The lab is a mechanism for the agricultural communications and journalism team to facilitate undergraduate and present graduate research,” McKim said. “It primarily serves as a way for undergraduates to get involved in research, but it provides opportunities for graduate students, faculty and industry professionals as well.”

Currently, 13 undergraduate students enrolled in AGCJ 491 are working on projects in partnership with Rodeo Austin to assist the show in understanding the demographics of rodeo attendants and to discover why Travis County residents do or do not choose to attend.

In addition to the undergraduates, graduate students M’Randa Sandlin, Pam Robel, Caroline Black, Austin Williams, Annie Specht, Suzann Svatek and Sarah Ho play an integral role in the lab’s development and progression.

“The lab is part of the high impact experience that the college and university have emphasized,” McKim said. “It gives our students some real-world experience without having to leave campus for an internship during the semester.

Dominguez’s role, specifically, revolves around the technical side of things and he refers to himself as the “Tech Guy,” of the lab.

“I enjoy trying to understand things quantitatively,” Dominguez said. “I am a technical guy. I do technical development for whatever we are working on. I learn the basics of everything and try to teach those [basics] to people in the lab.”

He also serves as an advocate and spokesman for the lab which continues to maintain an open-door policy for students interested in research.

“My responsibilities include fostering the lab environment, getting people involved, promoting the lab and keeping people involved,” Dominguez said. “The thing about research is that you can never do it alone.”

McKim points out how work with the lab is advantageous to all students involved.

“Our department and faculty are well-positioned to capitalize on [high impact experiences] and provide students with unique experiences,” McKim said. “At the end of the semester, students will submit their Rodeo Austin research to various peer-reviewed journals.”

Both McKim and Dominguez note that the lab continues to seek agricultural industry partners like Rodeo Austin in order to expand research experiences and capabilities of students.

“They have a need, we have an ability. It is a win-win situation,” McKim said. “It benefits our students and benefits them.”

Both undergraduate and graduate students of all majors interested in research opportunities or learning more about the lab are encouraged to act upon their curiosity.

“If you want to get involved, just show up. Anyone interested should knock on my door or Dr. McKim’s door. We will make time to talk with you about what we are doing,” Dominguez said. “It never hurts to be curious.”


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