Senior Megan Cunninghame came of age during the rise of social media, but it wasn’t until the 2016 elections that she realized the true power social media platforms hold in our society.
Hailing from Monroe, Connecticut, Cunninghame spent her time at CU Boulder exploring the ways media shape culture, politics and social structures––both nationally and internationally. Highlights included working as a political marketing intern while studying abroad in the Czech Republic and overcoming her longtime fear of public speaking. Her experiences have taught her to collaborate more effectively, overcome cultural barriers and think critically about the way she interacts with information and people online.
This month, Cunninghame will graduate with a major in Media Studies, a minor in Political Science and a certificate in International Media. She’ll do so with the distinction of being the Department of Media Studies’ William W. White Outstanding Senior––an award given to students in each department based on a combination of academic merit, professional achievement and service to the college.
We checked in with Cunninghame to learn more about how she found her major––and how it has shaped her view of the world––as well as what it was like to finish her degree during the pandemic.
What led you to choose your major(s)? Is there anything you learned throughout the major that surprised you or that you didn’t expect?
One reason I was drawn toward the Media Studies program at CU was that I was deeply concerned with issues such as fake news and political polarization. I grew up during the rise of social media, so I was only vaguely aware of the issues surrounding these platforms. It wasn’t until the 2016 elections that I finally understood the impact these platforms can have on society at large. I decided to major in Media Studies to better my understanding of the media and prevent myself and others from falling prey to misinformation.
How has the major you studied shaped the way you look at the world?
Media Studies is all about understanding how media shape the world around us. During my time at CU, I did ample research on social media algorithms, specifically on how they are designed to keep people apart. I am now hyper-aware of the fact that the content I read online is meant to reinforce my own beliefs, not challenge them. I try to keep this in mind whenever I talk to someone with different views than my own. Having a difference of opinion should not stop us from connecting with one another.
What’s a challenge or obstacle that you faced during college and how did it shape your experience?
Within my first year of college, I was forced to confront my biggest fear: public speaking. In high school, I avoided this task by any means necessary. I always thought that in order to be a good public speaker, you had to possess a certain quality that I just did not have. It wasn’t until I got to college that I had a teacher encourage me enough to face my fears. Once I did, I realized that public speaking is a skill that anyone can possess, it just takes time and practice to master.
Getting over my initial fear of public speaking positively impacted the rest of my college experience. Once I learned how to give a 15-minute presentation in front of a room full of strangers, anything felt possible. Suddenly, participating in a class discussion, raising my hand in a crowded lecture hall, or bringing up ideas in a professional meeting all felt natural. I now understand that if I have something to say, it is my responsibility to speak up.
Was there a project you worked on or a real-world experience that you gained as a student that you’re especially proud of or that taught you a lot?
Last year, I was lucky enough to study abroad in the Czech Republic where I worked as a political marketing intern under an expert in the field. From the start, I knew this internship was the best match for me as it combined my interests in communications, political science and international media. Not only did this give me real-world experience in the fields I was interested in, but it also gave me the opportunity to work in an international workplace. This experience taught me a lot about overcoming cultural barriers and working with people who are different from you.
Based on what you know now, what is your best piece of advice for other students?
Make sure you are studying something you are passionate about. During my freshman year, I committed to a major that I thought was a good choice for me, but it wasn’t until I started taking classes that I realized I had no passion for the work I was doing. It wasn’t until I switched my major to Media Studies that I realized the true value of my education. I am so thankful for the amazing professors within the Media Studies department who guided me through my college journey. They taught me how to use the knowledge and skills I acquired in class to develop my talents and interests in the real world.
College is rewarding, but it’s also challenging. No matter what you major in, you will always be confronted with hard work. But if you study something you are passionate about, that work will be worth it in the end.
The past year has been especially challenging. How did you adjust as a student during the pandemic and is there anything you’ve learned from the experience that you’ll carry with you beyond graduation?
Like most other students I know, I had a lot of trouble adjusting to online schooling after getting used to the “traditional” college experience. The most difficult thing I had to overcome was finding ways to stay productive and focused when attending classes entirely from my home. The main lesson I learned during this time was that, when no one else is looking, I have to keep myself accountable. I know I will use this lesson in the future to push myself to do bigger and better things, even when no one else expects me to.