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Academic Department Spotlight: Communication and Media

Kristin Cole ‘21
Staff Writer

As another school year begins, so do the many changes around campus that Merrimack students have experienced in recent years. From new sports competitors to new food trucks, new buildings, new majors, and so many new students, it is nice (and somewhat relieving) to see a familiar face around campus. While the Communication and Media department is far from immune to these changes, one of its latest promotions includes one of these familiar faces. This year, the Communication and Media office is happy to introduce Dr. Lisa Perks as the new department chair. 

Dr. Perks is on her fifth year as a Communication and Media professor here at Merrimack. An expert in the field, Dr. Perks has three separate degrees in communication studies: a bachelor’s degree in Communication and Sociology from Wake Forest University, a master’s in Communication from Pennsylvania State University, and her Ph.D. in Communication from the University of Texas, Austin. Prior to working at Merrimack, Dr. Perks taught at Nazareth College for seven years, spending her last two as the program director of the Communication and Media major. As program director, Dr. Perks oversaw scheduling, staffing, program events, and Communication-related issues within the department. As a professor here at Merrimack, some of her favorite courses to teach include Humor and Media, Senior Seminar, and Public Communication. 

In addition to teaching, Dr. Perks has published over a dozen works of research within the field of Communication since 2010. Some of her topics of research are subjects many college students are very familiar with: binge-watching, (Dr. Perks refers to this phenomenon as “media marathoning”) television spoilers, and podcasting. Her 2015 book, “Media Marathoning: Immersions in Morality,” shares her argument that “the media marathoning process invites us to place ourselves into story worlds and negotiate the nuances of morality.” Dr. Perks has also published research studies with current Merrimack professors Dr. Jacob Turner and Dr. Andrew Tollison, specifically about podcasts. Another of Dr. Perks research projects included interviewing patients who went through a cancer diagnosis process. 

Despite her promotion to department chair, which Dr. Perks claims has significantly increased her email traffic during these first few weeks of school, the professor still teaches Senior Seminar courses, and still has ideas for research working through her mind. She is currently working on a research chapter about multitasking and binge-watching, a recent anomaly that will only grow more popular as streaming services begin to dominate the film and television industry. 

Additionally, Dr. Perks is excited to plan for the future of the Communication and Media department. “We’ve encountered so much growth as a department,” Dr. Perks stated. “We’re really proud of our work with undergraduate research and our multimedia course offerings (among other things). We’d like to expand by potentially offering a new minor or two and even pondering another degree program.” 

Developments of these new programs are in their earliest stages, so there is little information available. Nevertheless, the department is laying the foundation for exciting new changes for incoming Communication and Media students. 

In fact, for these incoming students, and undecided students considering a degree in this field, Dr. Perks offers both advice and encouragement. Reflecting on her decision to major in communication, the department chair expressed: “It felt so good to be able to communicate effectively and to advocate for things I believed in–student clubs, volunteer work, social issues, anything.” She also spoke fondly about Merrimack’s Communication and Media department and the unique way it helps students discover the strength of their own voices. 

“Our department offers a great variety of classes that enable students to choose what they want to focus on. It’s really a great vehicle to help students get where they want to be, both professionally and personally. Students learn that they have an important voice and they learn how to use it effectively,” Perks said.

If she does not seem busy enough, Dr. Perks enjoys many hobbies and passions outside of her communication interests. Her home life revolves around her husband and two daughters, aged nine and six, at her home in southern New Hampshire. While her kids may be too young to understand the complexity of her research interests, Dr. Perks has already helped shift the way they watch television. The professor at heart notices female representation in simple children’s television shows and reminds her girls that they do not always have to argue over who plays “the girl characters” versus the “boy characters.”  Dr. Perks also finds time to engage in her passions for gardening, running, and taking care of her family’s chickens. As an expert in studying media marathoning, it is no surprise that Dr. Perks is also a television fan. Netflix is her go-to streaming service, while she still maintains subscriptions to both Hulu and Amazon Prime, enjoying television on all three platforms. Her favorite shows include BBC’s “Fleabag, which she describes as “beautiful and heartbreaking,” CBC’s “Schitt’s Creek,” and “Gilmore Girls.”