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Alexander Cho, whose research focuses on how young people use digital and social media, has been awarded a President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship within UCI’s Department of Informatics. The University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellowship Program (PPFP), originally established in 1984, supports research, teaching and services that promote diversity and equal opportunity.

In his work as a digital media anthropologist, Cho has paid particularly close attention to issues of race, gender and sexuality. He received his Ph.D. in media studies from the University of Texas at Austin and, while there, taught classes on critical cultural studies and media studies, Asian American Studies, and gender and sexuality. Cho explains that he devoted many of his classes to “understanding the impact of historical issues of equity and disenfranchisement as they manifest in our digitally mediated environments.” His goal is for students to “emerge with tools to critically question the world around them, including being able to intersectionally unpack power dynamics regarding race, gender and sexuality that they may have previously taken for granted.”

Prior to this award, Cho was a postdoc at the University of California Humanities Research Institute’s Connected Learning Research Network (CLRN) and Digital Media and Learning (DML) Hub, where he led a team in creating a free, bilingual subscription text-message service. According to Cho, the service “provides low-income, mostly Latinx families in Santa Ana with information on free or low-cost out-of-school enrichment learning opportunities in their area.” Feedback from the families who helped pilot the technology was overwhelmingly positive, and results will be published in academic publications as well as in reports for the local community.

When Cho first learned he had received the fellowship, he was surprised. “I wasn’t expecting it at all,” he says. “I’m honored, because [the program] has such a long legacy of producing great scholars.” With the fellowship funding, he’ll now have time to finish the book he’s been writing based on his dissertation. “My dissertation research focused on how queer youth of color use Tumblr [instead of using Facebook] to express diverse viewpoints and find community by challenging systemic homophobia and racism,” he explains. He also hopes to explore a new line of research, “examining the role of social sentiment tracking in social media environments.”

— Shani Murray