MDIA Ph.D. candidate shares about being a storyteller and collaborating with students

Laura Harbert, Ph.D. Candidate in the MDIA school
Cheri Marshall
February 10, 2022

Laura Harbert is a Ph.D. candidate and adjunct professor in the MDIA school. She studied audio documentary at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University (CDS) in Durham, NC, and spent almost two decades as a media professional before deciding to continue her education at OHIO.

Harbert explains that her Ph.D. research includes examining “how the media has traditionally portrayed workers and unions and the implications those portrayals have for class divisions and the socio-economic issues of our time.” Her dissertation is on how school faculty in West Virginia used social media to create a virtual sense of organization and community during a public school worker’s strike in 2018.

“I believe this research is important because the strike in WV was the first major walkout of 2018. During that ‘year of strikes,’ nearly 500,000 Americans, including educators, hotel workers, and graduate students walked off the job, the most in a generation,” Harbert said. “West Virginia’s teachers and other public education workers, calling for more affordable health care and better pay, sparked a new surge of labor movements across the country. And of course, workers and labor unions are in the news now [because of COVID-19].”

Harbert’s passion may be for audio storytelling, but she has had a prolific career and done work in graphic design, writing, and social media management as well.

“I’ve done a little bit of everything – long-form written and audio journalism, music hosting, production, and leadership – in my career. I’ve produced for podcasts like Freakonomics and Inside Appalachia, too,” she said.

“I came back to school because I had a lot of questions about the way our media system is set up in the U.S. and I really wanted to understand some of the problems and challenges in that system. I also wanted to think about solutions to some of those problems,” Harbert said.

Harbert helped develop the podcasting curriculum at MDIA and taught some of the first classes. She said she enjoys teaching and the collaborative work that she gets to do with students. Harbert appreciates that she is always learning from her students, too.

“As an educator, I really believe that knowledge is something a good teacher makes with students. I try very hard to bring that ethos into the classroom,” she said. “Sure, I know stuff, but so do they.”

Despite the times of confusion and uncertainty amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Harbert did not give in to the additional delays and challenges as a student or instructor. She admires the bravery her students have displayed during this time and is grateful to be teaching in a hands-on format once again.

“This semester, a group of students and I will hopefully launch a podcast that shares the work of podcast certificate students,” she said. “I’m very excited about this project; I’ve watched students make amazing work over the past several semesters. Now that COVID lockdowns are easing up and we can work on a production together (in the same room), students’ work will finally get a chance to shine. And it is a spotlight they have earned for sure.”

Harbert also does freelance work for multiple industry clients, from journalism to research. Although she may have a solid clientele to work with when her time is over at OHIO, Harbert recognizes her love for teaching as well and can see herself at a university job in the future.

“And I’ve realized some important things about myself over the past few years too,” she said. “I’m now doing some consulting work and it has been so meaningful to me. I’ve also had the chance to do freelance journalism writing and that has been great too. I am definitely open to staying in a university setting, but I realize that there are other opportunities out there too. I’m not sure I would have realized that in the same way if there had been no pandemic.”